Underwater views of diver and fish school near the ex-HMAS Tobruk artificial reef scuttled off the coast near Bundaberg, Fraser Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Underwater views of diver and fish school near the ex-HMAS Tobruk artificial reef scuttled off the coast near Bundaberg, Fraser Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Meet the permanent residents of navy ship dive site

TWO years on from the scuttling of Australian navy transport ship, ex-HMAS Tobruk the wreck is continuing to grow as one of the Fraser Coast's best tourism drawcards.

With many travelling to see the impressive ship, Hervey Bay Dive Centre instructors have revealed the real standout is the site's permanent residents.

The team has now recorded four resident turtles, a hawks bill (Harry), two greens (Crush and Buttons) and one very large loggerhead (Larry).

Several very large grouper have also moved in.

One sizeable warhorse, named Cooper due to its comparison to a mini cooper, is about 2metres long.

Along with the tens of thousands of varied bait fish and common reef species populating the ship, Hervey Bay Dive Centre has also recently identified lionfish, banded shrimp, an octopus, a hooked-nosed sea snake and several species of soft coral.

PADI Dive Master and Skipper Rachel Gibson said her favourite friend to catch up with was Crush the turtle.

"He is the coolest creature and so very interactive with our dive tours. In a nutshell, he could probably conduct the tours for us," she said.

Hervey Bay Dive Centre Owner Ed Gibbson said the extraordinary marine habitat developing around the wreck had been influenced by the ship's relative location to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

To date, the former heavy-lift ship has not disappointed, with the Hervey Bay Dive Centre recording its 121st dive trip to the wreck last weekend.

Mr Gibson said another exciting element of the ship had been watching drivers return multiple times to explore the wreck further.

"The ship is so big we believe that one would need to have at least 12 dives or more to really capture all aspects of the ship and her environs," he said

The Ex-HMAS Tobruk rests on its starboard side at 12m to 14m depth about 25 nautical miles from the Great Sandy Straits Marina at Hervey Bay.

While initially labelled a scuttling mishap, because it did not settle on its beam on the seabed, professionals now say the wreck offers better access to divers, while resting on its side.

A former landing ship of the Royal Australian Navy, the multipurpose ship was capable of carrying soldiers, heavy vehicles and tanks.

Decommissioned by the Australian Government in July 2015, she became a tender of Queensland in 2016, before being towed to the Port of Bundaberg from Sydney in 2016 and scuttled on the Fraser Coast in June 2018.

Divers can descend to the 127m long wreck during the slack tide in two 45-minute sessions, one hour apart.

The wreck suits divers of all experience and boasts wide passageways and internal areas, enabling divers to swim the full length of the former tank deck.

The Hervey Bay Dive Centre's team of PADI Instructors and Dive Masters have developed safe and exciting Tobruk dive tours to suit all levels of diver certification.

Beginners can access the entire port side of the vessel including the propeller and rudder (which is normally buried under the sea floor), while more advanced divers can access other parts of the ship beyond 18 metres deep.

Many of these areas don't require a torch due to an open hatch above, while deeper tunnels in areas beyond 30 metres will require light.

PADI MSDI instructor Matt Bradley said the experience of exploring the ship makes for a special dive.

Anyone hoping to dive the wreck can book at diveherveybay.com.au.