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Published on Feb 7, 2012
Swirl Reef is located on the North side of Rottnest Island, which lies about 18km (11 miles) off the mainland of Western Australia, near the port of Fremantle. It is about 1.6km (1 mile) from the shore and encompasses an area of about 300 sq m.
Depths around Swirl Reef vary from 4-16m (13 - 53 ft). The ledges and caves found on this limestone reef, like most in the area, are home to many invertebrate species and harlequin fish, blue devilfish and rock lobsters. Nearby lies the wreck of the Mira Flores, which ran aground in 1886. The remains of the wreck are now scattered at 12m (40 ft), and many artefacts can still be found around the stern section, which stands high off the bottom. The shallowest section of the reef is packed with colourful corals and anemones under ledges in only 3-4 metres of water. This part of the reef is only small, covering perhaps 30 square metres. To the west of this shallow section is a sheer drop off into 16m (53 ft) to the sand/kelp weed bottom, where, if you look under the ledges, you might spot a jumbo crayfish. Potato Cod (a relative of the Goliath Grouper) are found here during warmer months.
Fish life is made up of reef dwellers, like wrasse, harlequins, footballer sweeps, fox fish, sea sweeps, truncate coral fish and the odd ray. On our dive, we spotted a Port Jackson shark basking in a sandy-bottomed hole in the reef wall. Swirl Reef is named for the footprint left in the water after a swell has passed over the crater that defines its boundaries.
The coral walls contain many swimthroughs, formed by the relentless winter surges off the Indian Ocean, their interiors coated with the colors and designs found in abstract paintings. The swim-through in this film clip is accessible from outside the crater through a huge cavernous opening at seabed level, at around 16m (53 ft). The best approach is to enter through this entrance towards the end of your dive and follow the cavern up and out of the top of the reef, at about 5m (16-17 ft).