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August 2023 Bulletin

Underwater Research Group of New South Wales

Presidents Slate

Hi all,

July done, dusted and dived. It was a great month of mostly calm seas, stunning visibility and worryingly warm weather.

Great to see the boat going out regularly with a couple more convenors coming up in the wings. The boat is scheduled to run every weekend in August and most of the spots are allocated. If for any reason your plans change and you can't make a dive, please let the convenor know, so we can open up spots to other members.

We've also had a few members join this month, including some from Gordon's Bay Scuba Diving Club, so a big welcome to you all. Most have already been on the boat or have a slot reserved in August.

Our AGM date is set for the 7 October. This also means that it is time to take nominations for the next committee, so if you're interested in helping out the club in this capacity please let us know. Details on both the AGM and how to nominate yourself are further down in the bulletin.

A few days ago, DPI released the 2022/23 Annual Performance Report of the Shark Meshing Program, and no surprise here that 90% of marine life caught in the nets were non-target animals, including 16 grey nurse sharks. What is surprising is the reaction to this report in the media and at state government level. A NSW Legislative Assembly petition is asking for the permanent removal of shark nets in NSW went live yesterday. It's called 'Protect Marine Animals and their Environment' at ePetitions ; OR direct link to sign petition is here. A number of councils are now asking that the nets don't go back in for good on 1 Sept and for the first time it appears that the NSW Environment Minister is willing to consider this option.

Speaking of sharks, a few of us spent some time capturing the return of the grey nurse sharks around Sydney and witnessed some spectacular scenes. We've started to notice just how transient some of Sydney sites are for GNS with different individuals spotted each time we went out. While we generally tend to see higher numbers of females in the winter, on one occasion in July we saw mostly very young males at one of the popular sites, only to be replaced the next day by a group of females. We also saw a return of the weird blue groper behaviour where dozens of males aggregate on a single reef off south Bondi.

Hope you all have a great month and see you at the Oaks on Tuesday for our next social, where Nicholas Remy is joining us to talk about handfish.


Duncan Heuer


Reef Life Survey 2023

by John Turnbull

This year’s Sydney Reef Life Surveys were a true labour of love. With all the comings and goings of busy people, we managed to squeeze in 43 surveys across 21 sites - and it only took us 6 months!

Our first surveys of the year were in January at Bare Island in Botany Bay, where we recorded substantial changes after 3 straight La Ninas. Some transects which had been urchin barrens in the past, with a couple of hundred long spine urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) on method 2, now had low numbers, even zero on shallow transects. Other urchin species such as Heliocidaris erythrogramma and Phyllacanthus parvispinus were severly depleted too. Kelp was largely gone in the shallows, replaced by fuzzy brown algae, and mollusc numbers were also down.

The story was better deeper, as much of the impact is thought to be from heavy rainfall producing large volumes of fresh water that sits on top of the sea water. Once we took the URG boat to Sydney Harbour, where we could get to the more flushed and deeper sites, we saw less change, and plenty of the usual suspects. The most abundant fishes were eastern hula fish, eastern mado and yellowtail scad. Despite the shallow impacts, overall the most abundant invertebrates were still long spine urchins, followed by tent shells.

Overall we recorded 148 fish species and 43 invertebrate species thanks to the persisent efforts of our 6 URG RLSers - Josh Moloney, Kris O’Keeffe, Josh Batchelor, Lou de Beuzeville, Nyrie Palmer and yours truly. It was also good to see URG member and RLS trainee Dave Leha’s data coming along nicely.

We had a few unusual sightings too, most notably the orange-spotted sleeper goby (Valenciennea puellaris) at Camp Cove, previously recorded only in the GBR and further north, and the paddletail snapper (Lutjanus gibbus), also a tropical species. Generally however tropical vagrants were lower than usual. At the time of writing, there was a notable boom of a sea lamington urchins underway (Tripneustes sp). On the mainland opposite Bare Island, for example, we recorded 32 Tripneustes on one transect. Due to the interest in the boom-bust process by scientists at the University of Sydney, we will continue to survey the Tripneustes sites over coming months.

Overall it was a terrific survey period, with great energy and commitment by all our volunteers, all URG members. We’re fascinated to be documenting the impacts of extreme weather events and the subsequent recovery, all as part of our regular survey program - citizen science shines again :)

Oh, and by the way, right now the water is cool (around 16 degrees) but clear, with visibility around 15 m, so we’re planning more surveys… this weekend!

Nyrie checking out a healthy soft coral (D. australis) near SYD18

We always love a blue devil on transect

Tripneustes urchin wearing a characteristic seaweed hat

I knew octopus were smart, but can they really do their own surveys?

Surveying North Head, Sydney Harbour

Dive Trip - My first solo car trip in NSW By Reka Spallino

I am an avid lover of travel and adventure ever since very little my parents took me and my sister on long travels. Every year we used to go twice a year from Italy (Firenze) to Hungary (Budapest or Balaton lake depending on the season) by car: 1000 km passing not only via Austria but until 1989 also passing from the West of Europe to the East under the Soviet Union with 2 borders checks to go through, lots of police, lots of passports shown and lots of questions asked. I have travelled a lot even without my parents, with friends, with the partner of the time, solo, on planes, by buses, by boats, by trains, on horses, on donkeys etc. Recently I have done my first solo trip by car in Australia, NSW. Of course it was a SCUBA diving trip! Friday:

I decide not to lose much annual leave and to ask to work from home from 7:00am to 10:30am. Then, I take a pre-drive coffee (I don’t usually drink coffee but I feel like that day) and at 11:40 am I hit the road. From Bondi my first stop is in Morisset (a bit before Newcastle), where apparently as per my fuel app, the 95 is 1.78$/l. The price is really that low!!!

I stop for a standing break: having an energy drink and a spring roll that tastes a lot like fried and has a very bright yellow colour.

The energy drink must work because I feel like new, ready for the rest of the trip. The Australian roads are fun, they are wide and the maximum (I have experienced so far) you can drive is 110 km/h. I remember German roads, 4 lanes and the speed of 160 km/h. My mom’s old Fiat Punto was a love to drive there, pushing its limits, I could feel its vibrations.

Australian drivers and drivers on the Australian roads seem very polite, educated and cautious: none cuts you off, none honks, none tails you and everyone uses indicators. I decide to make a second stop when I see (around Port Macquarie) Oliver’s cafe. To my disappointment, the shop is closed and I end up in Guzman y Gomez for the same standing break with an energy drink and now 2 quesadillas with mushrooms.

On the way back to the A1 I exit the wrong turn and I am redirected to Bushland Dr, which as the name says, is in a very green area. The speed limit is 80 km/h but the road seems too wild and unknown to me for that speed, so I stay at 60 km/h. The sun is setting down and everything is getting darker.

At one turn, a kangaroo crosses a few metres in front of me, I automatically slow down my car and after a couple of seconds, his mate decides to do the same crossing without checking nor left or right. I get automatically all excited thinking “Huuuuu I am really in Australia, where kangaroos cross roads. Where else could I be if not in Australia???”

Afterwards, I remember how my Australian partner is terrified by kangaroos as they killed his beloved car, a sporty bachelor type Alfa Romeo. He is still heartbroken, when I remind him he is not a bachelor anymore and the Land Rover suits us more, especially when going to the snow or SCUBA diving. Until I reach the A1, I hope that no other big muscled jumping animals will cross my path.

And so it happens. I reach destination safely at 6:00pm: I proudly made the first 466 km of my solo car trip in NSW!

Saturday and Sunday:

The only driving I do is from the dive shop to the boat ramp, about 1 km there and 1km back. On Sunday I decide to add a few km (3.6 km x 2) when I go and visit a friend of mine and his wife in the NRMA SWR Holiday Park and we have a BBQ.


I have the whole day off this time, even if I could have worked from the dorm of the dive centre. I wake up at 7am, have my yoga practice, pack all my things (as usual too many for this trip), have a big breakfast and collect my dive gear from the shop. I hit the road at 9:45am.

The traffic seems less but I pass some clouds and storms on the way down. I stop again where my fuel app tells me the fuel is cheaper: Coolongolook and I have the usual standing break with spinach and feta rolls and the energy drink.

Second stop is in Morisset, same place as Friday and to my surprise today the 95 is 1.95$/l. Luckily I fuelled earlier. Fuel apps do work!!!

I arrive home safely at 4:30pm: I proudly made my whole first solo car trip in NSW!!! 932 km all by myself!

From Florence with 466 km I could have reached the Austrian border just before Villach! Were all these km worthy of a weekend of double-boat dives?

YES! We did Fish Rock on both days. On Saturday The Aquarium ITW=9:48am 21.1m 63min 18°C viz=6-8m The Cave ITW=11:57am 23.5m 67m 18°C viz=6-8m

On Sunday The Cave again ITW=9:39am 24m 67min 18°C viz=8-10m Fish&Chips ITW=11:45am 31.8m 56min 18°C viz=8-10m

URG dive 22 July 2023

By Charlie Elliott

For any aspiring convenors, the committee have recently set up a boat checklist through the SafetyCulture app which has digitised all the items you need to remember when running a trip and made it easy to report back on any items you find amiss. With this prompt on your phone it’s easier to feel confident that you have remembered all the steps to set up, safety briefing and packing up the club boat. If you are interested in learning how to take our boat out, then this is the moment!

With this added confidence our President, Duncan, has been working on finally getting his convenor sign off so that he can run trips on the boat. He’s has several dry runs and was ready to take some divers out with supervision from Jens. This is how I found myself signed up for a dive on the boat less than 24 hours after landing in Australia from a month in the UK.

For once the early start was pretty painless as I had been awake since 3 am, just waiting for the alarm. The sun was shining as we set off from the marina, although there was a cold wind making us grateful that the plan was for a single dive from Kurnell to make the most of the incoming tide.

Water looked brown as we headed out but seemed to have cleaned up slightly before we reached Monument. We anchored on the sand, potentially a little far out, and kitted up. I was diving with Sarah and we headed down the anchor line and made sure the anchor was well wedged in the sand before checking our compass and heading in the direction of the reef. We had a longer swim than expected and the vis was not in our favour. There was so much sediment in the water! Once we hit the rocky reef we headed left along the sand line. Some notible encounters were 3 Weedy Seadragons, a couple of passing Port Jackson Sharks, a pineapple fish and local Syngnathidae expert Andrew Trevor-Jones. I also enjoyed spotting one of my favourite fish, an Old Wife, that appeared to be half way between it’s juvenile colouring of orange stripes and its adult form of silver stripes. Every photo of the few I took shows the dust cloud of sediment in the water, potentially related to the new wharf being put in just around the corner? I blame this for missing the anchor line - the boat said they saw our DSMB go up when we must have just been on top of it, but we drifted off during our safety stop and the boat was kind enough to collect us before heading home. Reducing surface swims if you miss the anchor is definitely one of the luxuries of taking the URG boat out with a small group.

Despite the vis it was amazing to be back in the water and see some of my URG friends after a month long surface interval. Thanks to Duncan for convening and Jens for supervising; I can’t wait to get back out on the boat next weekend!

History Article

Slate April 2002

by Erik Schoegl

Well, I started last month’s Slate on the note that we had finally solved our problems with the boat engine. Little did I know that events would soon prove me wrong. Within the last two months, we have now had three distinct sources of engine trouble, including a failed starter motor and a failed thermostat. All this on a motor that’s about four years old – the mechanic tells us that we’ve got a lemon. So at an extraordinary committee meeting last week it was decided that we need to get a new engine and, more importantly, that we have the funds on hand to do so. On the one hand this means that hopefully soon I’ll be able to report that our engine troubles are over and not be proven wrong in less than a fortnight. On the other hand, our finances are beginning to get a bit stretched, and prudence requires that we will have to address this in the near future.

Furthermore, there’s some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that Karen Audova has resigned as club secretary. Karen has held this position since as far back as I can remember and done an excellent job. In the last couple of years she hasn’t been diving, but nevertheless continued to work on behalf of the club – that’s dedication by any measure. We’re all very grateful to Karen for her contribution and of course now very much hope that she’ll find some time to join us for a few dives. So now for the good news: Carolyn Davidson, already a committee member since last September, has agreed to stand in as acting secretary until the next Annual General Meeting – where hopefully she’ll agree to be formally nominated as secretary. Carolyn is bringing a lot of enthusiasm and competence to the position and we now have new people in two key positions – Janet Hall started as treasurer last September and is watching our finances like a hawk, which is a good thing in these difficult times. Now if we can only find a new candidate for president in time for the next AGM, we’re all set.

Both the research and the environmental side of the club remain very active. We’ve been continuing our biodiversity survey in the waters around Royal National Park in spite of our engine troubles and the URG had a good turnout at Cleanup Australia Day on Balmoral Beach. In the last few months the club has in put several submissions on environmental issues; in particular one on a discussion paper on the protection wobbegong sharks (NSW Fisheries has finally woken up to the fact that wobbegong numbers are in serious decline) and another on the revised draft zoning plan for the Solitary Islands Marine Park (put forward by the Marine Parks Authority). The main issue with the latter is that it falls short of key conservation targets in all of the major ecosystems represented in the park. In the established scientific literature it is recognised that an absolute minimum of 20% of each ecosystem type within a marine park should be protected in ‘no-take’ sanctuary areas, until further research permits more targeted management practices. Even a small decrease of this figure has the potential to significantly degrade the effectiveness of the park as a whole. The point of the sanctuary zones is to ensure sufficient residual fish stock to repopulate fished-out areas. At a recent mini-symposium on marine biodiversity protection in NSW held at Sydney Aquarium an interesting example was cited: At an island in the Philippines that had been fished for a long time, 25% of the fishing grounds were declared as a `no-take’ zone. Within a few years, this resulted in a 54% greater catch. Yet the NSW government remains blind to this evidence, preferring to cater to the recreational fishing lobby (who, as it seems, also lacks understanding of basic biological processes). 20% sanctuary zones is an absolute minimum – and one should note that no extractive activities of any kind are permitted in terrestrial national parks, raising the question why a Marine Park worthy of the name should be any different. Well, I’ll get off my soapbox now…

Best Wishes, Erik

El Presidente

Batfish by Janet Abbott

Recent Events and News

Dive Log

This free read is highly recommended. Dive Log Australasia. please share with your diving friends.

Upcoming Events

The AGM - Saturday 7 Oct 2023

Address: The Diddy - Longueville Sporting Club, Kenneth St &, River Rd W, Longueville NSW 2066

We have a private room with a projector from 12.30 - 5 pm and we will get expressions of interest for bowls which is $10 a head. Low tide is 9 am on the 7th so we are wondering about a shore dive at Gordon's Bay that morning for members who want to. More details and discussion to following that the general meeting next Tuesday.

Expression of interest for the 2023/24 committee now open

If you're interested in putting up your hand to join the 2023/24 committee we'd love to hear from you. Please have a role or something in mind that you're committed to helping the club achieve.

Register your interest via membership menu on the website:

Group Meetings at The Oaks

I hope you are all looking forward to our next general meeting on Tuesday 8th of August in the Licensees Flat (upstairs) at the Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay. We have the room booked from 6pm onwards. Join us after work for some beers, food and chatter before the formalities start at 7pm. If you haven't been to one of our catch ups before, just ask the bar staff for directions on where to find us.

This month Nicholas Remy will be joining us to talk handfish in Tasmania. I know a few members have been lucky enough to dive with and even help with research on these fascinating creatures so I'm sure there will be a lively discussion.

Members, prospective members and guests are very welcome to join.

We hope to see you there.

Boat Dives

Boat dives are organised most weekends from the St George Motor Boat Club Marina in San Souci. Check and Facebook for dates and conveners to book onto dives.

No listing . Means there is no convener assigned to this day. However, all members are invited to organise a dive if they wish. You will need a URG Committee approved boat driver as well as a minimum of four (4) divers paying the usual maintenance contribution. Please coordinate the use of the boat with Josh, Jens or Pablo

Reef Life Surveys

Sydney RLS is complete for 2023. I am sure John Turnbull would be happy if you where to sign up to help next year? That gives you a year to train up on the procedure and fish ID.

Boat handling lessons.

Pablo or any another committee member are willing to run more lessons in boating skills covering everything from docking to to knots. Contact via email or Facebook if interested.

Editors Note

Published Items. The opinions expressed in the “URG Bulletin” are not necessarily those held by members, or the committee of the URG Dive Club. All material published in the URG Bulletin will remain the property of the original author or artist. Please give acknowledgment when citing articles.

Please check with the author informing them of your intention to republish their material, prior to publishing your article.


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