Isolation can provide marine ecosystems with a refuge from human impacts. However, information on the biodiversity, ecology and fisheries of remote regions is often sparse. The proposed Coral Sea Marine Reserve could create one of the world's largest and most remote marine parks, yet little information is available to inform discussions. Fish captures from the Coral Sea and adjacent Great Barrier Reef (GBR) were assessed from reports contained in a chronology of spearfishing publications from 1953 to 2009, and reveal for the first time the history of recreational spearfishing in the Coral Sea. Although the area is perceived as relatively untouched, the data indicate that spearfishers have frequented Coral Sea reefs for at least 43 years and reported captures have increased exponentially. Post-1993 trophy captures in the Coral Sea (mean 23 kg) were larger than the adjacent GBR (9 kg). Reef species characterize the GBR catch, while large pelagic species characterize the Coral Sea catch. Provided that functionally important fishes are not targeted, the relatively small scale of recreational spearfishing and the focus on pelagic species suggests that spearfishing currently exerts limited pressure on the ecology of Coral Sea reefs.