Rowley Shoals is made up of three pear-shaped atoll-like coral reefs lying south of the Timor Sea off Australia's north-west coast. On the edge of one of the world's widest continental shelves, they belong to Western Australia.
Each atoll rises steeply from the ocean floor the country's best geological examples of shelf-edge reefs. They cover 80 to 90 square kilometres within the rim of the reef, including shallow lagoons inhabited by brilliant corals, over 600 species of magnificent fish and abundant marine life such as giant clams. Snorkelling is nothing short of fantastic.
Named after Captain Rowley who sighted the Imperieuse Reef in 1800, it is believed fishermen from Indonesia were visiting the reefs from at least the mid-18th century, looking for sea cucumbers, turtle and trochus shell and shark fin.
Clerke and Imperieuse Reefs have large permanent sand cays, but Mermaid Reef has no permanent land except at low tide, when several cays are exposed. The ebb and flow of high tidal ranges have sculpted the reefs into dramatic formations.
Because of their isolation, untouched pristine environment and rich marine life, the reefs are protected.
The Getaway crew was taken to Mermaid Reef, the most northern of the three atolls, by the Great Escape Charter Company.
The Rowley Shoals are an essential stepping stone in the spread of genetic material from the Indonesian archipelago to reefs located as far south as Ningaloo. The fauna of the Shoals show more affinities with the reefs of the Indonesian region than with the more turbid inshore reefs of Western Australia.
Thanks to it being protected and fishing totally forbidden, there is a rich reef community of more than 210 species of coral in beautiful gardens, 390 species of fish, 264 molluscs and 82 echinoderms such as starfish and sea urchins. You see creatures you've never seen before and they certainly haven't seen humans in their environment either.
V in the Wall dive has a 30 metre drop. Another dive is the Cod Hole, around 18 metres deep with lots of bommies and cracks. It has three large resident potato cod who like to get up close and personal. The Net is an intricate web of reef, bommies, overhanging caves and cracks. It reaches 40 metres with an average depth of 18 metres. It has stunning coral formations and is thick with fish.
There is only one shipwreck at Rowley Shoals. It is believed to be the English whaler Lively, a three-masted, rigged vessel of around 250 tons. It struck the western edge of Mermaid Reef in the early years of the 19th century. Two anchors and several iron knees still lie on the flat reef.