Diving and Snorkeling (Lizard Island)
Information about scuba diving and snorkeling at Lizard Island Research Station, as well as answers to some frequently asked questions.
All diving at LIRS is "occupational" diving which is regulated by state law and carried out according to an Australian Standard. People who intend to scuba dive at LIRS must provide all the documents listed in the LIRS Diving Regulations to verify their qualifications and experience. Divers who have not previously qualified to scuba dive at LIRS are advised to send a Diver Registration Form with all relevant supporting documents to LIRS well ahead of the trip. This can avoid a costly return visit to Cairns to obtain missing or inadequate things or, worse, failing to qualify and thus being prohibited from scuba diving at LIRS.
To qualify as an independent scientific diver, Australian residents must have one of the following:
- ADAS commercial certificate
- Scientific Diver certificate under the Australian Qualification Framework
- Rescue Diver certificate under the Australian Qualification Framework
- Dive Master certificate or higher.
Except for Dive Master, these certificates are only available in Australia. Overseas scientists visiting Australia for short periods can qualify as independent scientific divers under an additional provision:
- Rescue Diver certificate from any recreational agency plus at least 60 hours of logged dives plus a statement of competency from their home institution.
Divers who do not have the training necessary to be independent scientific divers may qualify as supervised short-term divers (SSTDs). This option is available for Australian and overseas scientists. The minimum qualification for SSTDs is:
- An Open Water certificate from any recognized recreational training agency plus at least 15 hours of relevant post-training experience.
SSTDs must be supervised in the water by an independent scientific diver and they can only dive under this competency option for a maximum of 28 days in a 6 month period.
All divers at LIRS must have a current dive medical that meets the Australian/New Zealand Standard 2299. While this medical can be obtained outside Australia, in practice it can be difficult to verify that the medical practitioner has been trained to an acceptable standard. For this reason, it is preferable to have to dive medical done in Australia prior to coming out to the island. Dive medicals done in New Zealand under AS/NZS 2299 are acceptable. Dive medicals to the recreational standard, AS4005.1 are NOT acceptable. Additional information is provided here about dive medicals.
First aid and oxygen training
Current certificates in both first aid (including CPR) and in administration of medical oxygen are required of all divers at LIRS. Australian first aid certificates are generally good for three years and Australian oxygen qualifications need to be updated every year. Other countries may issue certificates that are good for different periods. LIRS will accept the expiry date on the certificate.
There are many first aid and oxygen courses available worldwide and Queensland law does not prescribe which are acceptable. LIRS requires valid certificates from reputable training organisations. The first aid course should cover actions to be taken to help people who have collapsed or have suffered trauma. At a minimum, this would include safety of bystanders, assessment of priorities, cardio-pulmonary respiration, and ways to deal with various injuries. The oxygen course should cover scenarios in which people can be helped by provision of oxygen and those in which provision of oxygen is counterproductive, potential dangers in use of oxygen, and hands-on training with various items of oxygen equipment. A thorough induction to the oxygen equipment carried in LIRS boats will be provided to divers on site.
All divers must present evidence of their diving experience, preferably in the form of log books.
- The minimum acceptable level for all divers is 15 hours of relevant experience. Dives undertaken as part of a basic training course are not considered "relevant experience".
Independent divers must also have recent diving experience, defined as:
- at least four dives logged in the past 12 months, or
- at least six dives logged in the past 18 months including at least one within the past 6 months.
Divers who have less than 30 hours logged experience can expect to have restrictions placed on their diving activities at LIRS until they acquire more experience.
In summary, the following documentation is required for undertaking scuba diving at LIRS:
- Completed Diver Registration Form
- Approved diver certification card
- Current AS2299 dive medical
- Proof of at least 15 hours of relevant diving experience, including recent diving experience as defined
- Current first aid qualification, including CPR
- Current medical oxygen provider qualification
LIRS provides all LIRS divers with thorough induction to the diving regulations and procedures, including assistance with risk assessment.
Links to more information about scuba diving at LIRS
LIRS recognises two categories of snorkeler: independent snorkelers and group snorkelers. There are different regulations for each category.
1. Independent snorkeling
2. Group snorkeling
There are risks associated with entering any body of water and additional risks exist in coral reef environments. All prospective visitors should make themselves aware of these issues and consider how to manage the risks. A risk assessment must be conducted by each group before they will be allowed to dive or snorkel using the Station's equipment. Frequently asked questions are answered below. Please contact the Directors with any other queries.
Frequently asked questions
1. What sort of wetsuit should I bring?
Surface water temperature ranges from 30 degrees Celsius in summer to 23 degrees C in winter. It is usually windy in winter so wind chill is a consideration during trips in the Station's open boats. Scuba divers who spend a long time in the water each day (i.e. multiple dives of more than an hour each) generally wear at least a full length 5 mm suit year round, often adding a vest and hood in winter. For single scuba dives of up to an hour, a 1 mm long suit or 3 mm short suit keeps most people comfortable between October and March but additional warmth is needed outside these months. Snorkellers do not usually need a wetsuit for warmth between October and March and a 3 mm long suit or a 5 mm short suit are usually adequate during the cooler months. As well as warmth, protection from stingers (see below) and from sun should also be considered.
2. Are deep water, strong currents, rough seas and poor visibility hazards for diving at Lizard Island?
The water is less than 20 metres deep at the base of the reef all around the Lizard Island group and depth does not exceed 35 metres within a kilometre of the reef crest. Most research diving is conducted in water less than 10 metres deep. Moderately strong currents can occur at particular places and at certain times but there are many places where currents are nil to slight. Lizard Island is big enough to provide some protection from wind-generated waves on its lee side in all but the most extreme weather condtions. Underwater visibility is normally 8 to 12 metres but this can be reduced subtstantially in extreme weather conditions.
3. Are box jellyfish a problem at Lizard Island?
Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) can be lethal but these animals are usually found close to the mainland. We know of no reports of box jellyfish sightings or stings at Lizard Island. The risk of encountering a box jellyfish at an offshore locality such as Lizard Island is very low but it is probably higher during and after flood conditions on the mainland during summer. A lycra suit or a wetsuit provides protection to the parts of the body that it covers.
4. What about irukandji and other marine stingers?
Irukandji syndrome is a very painful and potentially deady reaction to stings from a range of jellyfish species. The small, transparent jellyfishes that cause irukandji syndrome can be found in offshore waters. There has been an increase in the number of reported irukandji stings in Queensland in recent years, including two deaths. An irukandji sting occurred at Lizard Island in March 2004. A 21 year old male was stung on the forearm and had to be evacuated to Cairns by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He had an unpleasant two days in hospital but recovered completely. Other marine stingers also occur at Lizard Island. These can cause pain but are not lethal. They usually occur during the warmer months, especially during northwesterly monsoon condtions. Again, a lycra suit or a wetsuit provides protection to the parts of the body that it covers.
5. And what about sharks and crocodiles?
Many kinds of sharks are found in the waters around Lizard Island. The ones most commonly seen are white-tip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus), black-tip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos). Only one shark attack is known from Lizard Island. It occurred in the early 1980s when a person swam out to examine the floating carcase of a black marlin. The attack was not fatal but the extent of the victim's injuries is not known, nor is the species of shark involved. Rarely, research divers have reported incidents of sharks approaching closely and on one occasion a researcher was bumped by a shark.
Estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are common on the mainland adjacent to Lizard Island and they are able to swim long distances at sea. Sightings at Lizard Island were infrequent prior to 2004. Since then, crocodiles of 1 to 2.5 metres in length have been seen periodically and several have been captured and removed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Divers and snorkelers should leave the area immediately if a crocodile is sighted, report the sighting to LIRS, and not return to that area for at least 48 hours.
Dr Anne Hoggett , Director, Lizard Island Research Station