Wreck Reef Expedition: shipwrecks, reefs and a shadowy early mariner

Drawing of Porpoise Cay after Porpoise and Cato are wrecked on Wrecks Reef in 1803. Marooned sailors erect tents on the tiny island and fly their flag upside down to indicate distress. Porpoise is grounded on the reef (far left).

Wrecks, reefs and a seabed search to identify a mysterious early explorer in Australian waters will be the main topics of conversation during the museum’s latest voyage.

On 30 November 2009 our maritime archaeology team sets out on a two week expedition to explore Wreck Reefs in the Coral Sea, one of the reef systems being considered for a proposed Coral Sea Marine Park 230nm off the Queensland coast.
View Wreck Reefs in a larger map

The team will search for ships wrecked during the 1800s and explore the surrounds of nearby Bird Islet, which was mined for guano (bird excrement) and used as a whaling station in the second half of the eighteenth century.

During this voyage, the museum is collaborating with Silentworld Foundation, which is part of Australian Shipping company Silentworld. The foundation is a non-profit organisation established to further Australian maritime archaeology and research plus improve Australia’s knowledge of its early maritime history.

Explorer Matthew Flinders named the reefs in 1803 when the vessel he was traveling in, HMS Porpoise, was wrecked there with another vessel, Cato. While there, Flinders found evidence of an earlier wreck – one he estimated to be of a 400 ton ship. Along with other wrecks in the area, part of the museum’s expedition is to search for evidence of this pre-1803 wreck.

The second part of the expedition will focus on the ocean surrounding Bird Islet. This island has a rich history and its surrounding ocean is largely undisturbed by divers and marine archaeologists.

Since little is known about the Coral Sea reefs, this expedition has the potential to answer many exciting questions regarding Australia’s maritime history and help identify various shipwreck locations.

The museum plans to publicize the expedition’s results through this weblog, video streaming field work, film, public lectures and workshops. The project will also connect archaeologists, marine biologists, historians, filmmakers, curators and students with historical records, museum collections and Coral Sea archaeological sites.

Slientworld will operate the 22 metre live-aboard dive research vessel Nimrod Explorer, which will be the expedition’s main boat (link to specs). The expedition’s second boat Silentworld 11 will provide advanced communication equipment for the expedition’s web updates, internet access and weather updates. Depending on the weather, a third boat Pirate may also be available to complete a resupply run to the mainland midway through the project.

Check this blog over the next few weeks for historical highlights and crew expedition updates.

– Contributed by Kieran Hosty, Curator Technology, Archaeology

More information

History of Wreck Reefs

17 thoughts on “Wreck Reef Expedition: shipwrecks, reefs and a shadowy early mariner

  1. glad u have arrived and that the weather is good. it is diabolical here. dont want to hear too much about wrecks but want to see pictures of you both 30ft below etc!!! lot s of love Mel xxx

  2. Great to see this taking place and hats off to the Silentworld Foundation for making this trip possible.

  3. Pingback: Wreck Reef Expedition: shipwrecks, reefs and bird excrement : Old Salt Blog – a virtual port of call for all those who love the sea

  4. Keep safe on the adventure of a lifetime, can’t wait to see the film. Hope all those stories about sharks and sea snakes were just that, am very glad I am going to St Lucia! LoL to you all and find something AMAZING and tell the world. xx

  5. Have a fabulous time, keep safe. Thinking of you in the sunshine while winter has hit with vengenance over here.
    Hope you manage to find treasures that may change the course of history. xx

  6. December 1/09

    To all the intrepid and enthusiastic seafarers
    aboard – here’s wishing you success with this exciting (ad)venture –
    Search and you shall find!
    Greetings and love to all.
    Be safe!

  7. Happy diving and discovering. Will be thinking of you all and following your progress keenly.

    Love from us both,
    Meri and Rob

  8. Best possible wishes to all the team for a successful and happy expedition.
    So looking forward to following progress day by day.

  9. News for Jacqui

    Simon expecting TWINS!
    All yr lights fixed – was there anything else?

    Hope all is going well. xxM

  10. Hello to all of you.
    How absolutely exciting. Have a fantastic time. I look forward to staying in the loop with news each day.
    Take care
    Love Amanda

  11. Hi Folks, good luck with yr search for that old wreck. It really is an interesting proposition and I look forward to checking yr progress. I am excited about finally checking out Bird Is and any trace of the whaling station. I can only imagine what a magnificent place you are at. Thank you for taking me there, albeit electronically. Have a great trip, full of discovery, cheers arthur.

  12. Trust the team has now arrived on site, cheerful despite frustrating delays, and that the Great Dive will be able to start shortly.

  13. Pingback: Wreck Reefs expedition: history of the area «

  14. how exciting. At last I know some famous explorers. Have a great time and be safe and happy.

  15. Rodney are you still alive! Hope you guys are having a ball but do please keep a close eye on Roddy – he’s a potential liability!

  16. Hey Heather,

    Happy birthday for 18th January.

    All the best to the whole expedition team. May the waters be calm and safe, especially for the divers.

    Good luck


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