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January 2023 Bulletin

Underwater Research Group of New South Wales

Presidents Slate

Happy 2023 everyone! Hope you all are enjoying the great weather we had this December. Such a relief after a very average year. It's also been encouraging to see the boat going out regularly over the xmas period too. That said we are short of convenors so if you want to help out, Pablo and Josh are helping train new ones.

Grey nurse shark at Magic Point

We had a fantastic dive at Magic Point this month. Check out Reka's article on it below. Speaking on articles this bulletin is packed, so I'm not going to rabbit on here in the slate and will let you get stuck in.

Happy reading... and diving!


Duncan Heuer

GBR Better Than Expected

By John Swift

After more than a decade, I recently returned to the GBR to see for myself what the ravages of global warming have done to the dive sites that had impressed me so. I was pleased to find we now have a Coral Sea Marine Park, which covers 989,836 square Kms and lies off the coast off Qld. beyond the GBR, it is one of the worlds largest marine parks, what a pleasant surprise.

URG life member Judy plus Nemo

I wish to point out these are my personal observations and in no way represent a scientific conclusion.

The reality is few dive vessels regularly dive the northern Great Barrier Reef, we traveled with the best known, Mike Ball’s “Spoilsport”. Our first dive was on Holmes Reef and our second day was at Bougainville Reef, we then steamed overnight and arrived at Osprey Reef and dived North Horn, all these reefs are in the newly announced CSMP and rise from great depths. The number of Reef Sharks seen at North Horn during the Shark Feed was great to see and a testament to the protection the CSMP offers, although I appreciated it more in the days when no feeding occurred. We had on board research personnel who collected the listening devices stationed on these reefs so tagged animals can be counted and recorded.

A beautiful Coral garden at the Cod Hole

Our next stop was The Cod Hole and yes there are still a couple of friendly Grouper to photograph, the surprise was the new and fabulous coral garden which has appeared in the last few years. Our last days where spent diving the Ribbon Reefs which still hold many interesting marine specimens for those willing to search them out. The temperature recorded during all these dives was 28C to 29C, requiring little in the way of a wet suit, but pointing to an ominous future.

All I can say is, it’s still fabulous diving, so do it while you can.

A close friend at the Cod Hole

Double Boat Dive with URG - 27 Dec 2022

By Reka Spallino

It is a Tuesday and a holiday in NSW/Australia and what do I do? I do a double boat dive with URG ~ oleee!!! Truth to be told is Claudia who reminds me that the 27th of December is a public holiday. Therefore I check my calendar and decide to put my name on the list. The team is: Kathy (convenor), Joshua, John, Charlie, Duncan, Claudia and myself.

We leave at sharp 8:30am the Marina and with a NE wind and swell we head to the dive locations. The sun is shining, the breeze is blowing through our hair (for those who actually have hair). I am an the only one with a dry suit but I know myself and I have been diving regularly Sydney's waters since a couple of months, not seeing yet a 20C +

Magic Point ~ my very first time ITW = 9:48am

22.5m 53min 18°C viz=8-10m

Just one grey nurse shark at each cave (might have been the same one, we aren't sure), but a huge smooth stingray instead comes towards us. Other creatures encountered include a weedy sea dragon, a crested horn, a few wobbies, some moray eels, scorpionfish and school of king fish.

Congrats to Kathy and her "parking skills" She anchored almost on top of the cave. The parking was so good I was able to find the cave by myself just by following the anchor line and my guts

Henry's Head ~ it is my second time and viz was way better this time ITW = 11:57am 22.4m 40min 17°C viz = 4-6m

One weedy sea dragon, a blind shark, scorpionfish, general school of fish and a couple of wobbegongs The anchor was so secured that this time we had to spend a bit more time trying to retrieve. Good thing Josh had nitrox and some air left in his tank! But hey what happens on the boat stays on the boat, right?

Notes on nature: It is summer in Sydney, outside is getting hot but the water is still chilled hurrah to my dry suit Fun fact: On the 27th of December 1850, the Hawaiian Fire Department was established Note on myself:

Reka ~ Italian-Hungarian, I moved to Sydney in October 2019. Now I happily live in Bondi with my Australian partner. I joined URG a couple of years ago and am looking forward to more water related activities Next to SCUBA diving I love to learn and practice foreign languages.

History Article January 2002

Seahorses at Balmoral:

By Colin J Piper

Simon Dakin and I counted sea horses this morning, Dec 18th, at Balmoral. High tide, overcast.

There were in all 107, more than I have ever personally counted…for details of their distribution, please log on the URG web-site. The count was again done from inside the pool.

We noticed again that there is a great congregation in the wharf/swim platform on the Northern side of the pool, and further, we noticed that only very few are in the upper half of the net. We identified several pregnant ones, as well as several obvious pairs. I personally have never seen sea horses in this 'courting' mode before.

The overall condition of the nets, (both the shark net and the stinger net) continue to deteriorate and we need to be aware as to when it might be replaced. Makeshift repairs are in evidence…no big holes were seen today. The stainless steel braces, which were installed with the current net (middle of 2001) have now almost all broken away, and while those that haven't, did make holes in the net from rubbing action…all of these holes (observed in September) are now repaired.

Some areas of the net on the Eastern side are totally covered with growth, especially near the bottom Generally, the growth is becoming heavier and heavier and as I reported in September, the net must surely be replaced in the next year or so.

That said … the good news is of course that there were more sea horses than I have ever counted. I hope the courting couples get on with it, and the pregnant males give birth soon!

Over coffee (always a MAJOR part of the Balmoral research) Simon came up with an idea to plot the pool with his GPS, produce an A4 template, waterproof it or put on to a piece of underwater slate and in future, identify exactly where the critters reside, without having to generalize with locations such as Eastern side and wharf/pool area.

Watch this space.

Recent Events

We had our end of year social in Manly on 29 Dec. A shore dive was planned for manly, but due to the NE conditions, instead we decided just met for a boozy lunch. It was great fun. Apologies Oliver and Lyn, we only remembered to take a pic after you left!

Member profile - Jens Sommer-Knudsen

This journal post was copied from and written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.

I was recently diving at a well-known Sydney dive spot, called Shiprock, on the Hacking River, south of Sydney. Shiprock is a unique marine environment, in a country full of unique marine environments. The reason for the dive was to take photos for another iNaturalist project, the Sydney Sea Slug Census November 2022. ( If you cannot find a sea slug at Shiprock, you’re not trying.

While drifting around, slightly shivering, I had two thoughts. Firstly, I was thinking about the attraction of citizen science and how important observations of life on the planet can be to promoting our understanding of the world. Diving in cold water, looking for tiny nudibranch can be uncomfortable work, but it was still personally rewarding. Secondly, I thought about how fortunate I was to be able to pursue such citizen science projects so close to Sydney. As I was born overseas, I could appreciate how fortunate we are to have intriguing locations, so close to a major city. This view is often expressed by AF members, especially those who originate from overseas, and who learned to dive in less diverse environments. An example is the subject of this Bio Blurb project member, Dr. Jens Sommer-Knudsen (view Jens' profile). Jens has 1,200 observations in Australasian Fishes, covering 535 species, however, for iNaturalist he has recorded 3,465 observations and assisted in 4,545 identifications.

As you might guess, Jens has always been interested in science, technology and the natural world, growing up in Denmark (and initially Ger

many) and obtaining a SCUBA license at age 16. He began diving in Denmark and Sweden, with a long break until he moved to Australia in 1992. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jens tells us, “Initially I was considering a career in marine science but enrolled in a degree in chemical engineering as back then job prospects were better in chemistry. However, I still gravitated towards biology and specialized in biochemistry and downstream processing, purifying proteins from biological materials. After graduation I started working in industry in a company producing agarose (a hydrogel used in life science research and biotechnology) from seaweed, but after a couple of years I returned to academia, first doing research on molecular plant pathology before getting a scholarship at The University of Melbourne and doing a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry at the School of Botany. At university I joined the diving club and got involved in the committee and went diving on a regular basis; I even bought a Nikonos IV and took photos until it flooded (one day I might dig up my old photos and post them on iNat…). My career has since taken me back and forth between industry and universities and I now do research and consulting in the life sciences, especially pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, biomaterials and food. Recently I have also become involved in a company focusing on making products from cultured Australian seaweeds.”

Diving has become a passion for Jens, already diving in around 30 different countries and overseas territories. Like me, he has developed an appreciation for what Australia has to offer in diversity, telling us, “I have dived or snorkeled in all states and territories apart from Canberra; the biological diversity in this country is amazing and I don’t think there are any other countries where you can see so many different aquatic species. I am trying to dive as many places in Australia as possible and have so far done a lot on the eastern coastline down from Tasmania (including King Island and Flinders Island) up through Victoria, NSW (including Lord Howe Island), Queensland (e.g. Heron Island, Lady Musgrave and the Coral sea on a liveaboard), Norfolk Island, snorkeling in billabongs in the NT (very selectively…), diving on Ningaloo Reef, the Navy pier in Exmouth, Rottnest Island down further south and a bit of snorkeling in South Australia.”

What is equally as impressive about Jens is his dedication to citizen science. While I contribute photos as time allows, Jens has truly made citizen science an active part of his life. He joined the Underwater Research Group of NSW some years ago and tries to participate in as many citizen science projects as possible. He tells us, “I joined URG because of my interest in marine research as well as to learn more about marine biology. URG is one of the few dive clubs that “dive with a purpose”, which I find very appealing. I have recently been appointed the research officer and am now trying to expand our academic and industry contacts to develop, or be a part of, new research projects with high impact. URG NSW was founded in 1956 and the club has some valuable historical observations, including, for example, 12-hour surveys conducted at Shiprock all the way back in 1966 ( A number of members are certified for Reef Life Surveys (RLS) ( which is a quite challenging, but rewarding citizen science activity, generating data that gets included in scientific publications. Some very experienced URG members regularly train aspiring RLS divers to become proficient in conducting these surveys and participate in RLS surveys not only around Sydney but also places like Jervis Bay and Lord Howe Island. URG has a dive boat that can take up to 6 divers and a skipper, and it is used nearly every weekend (weather permitting) for various research projects as well as pleasure dives. In addition, the club and its members are involved in other projects such as Dragons of Sydney (Weedy Sea Dragons), Sea Slug census, Grey Nurse Projects and a number of our members also contribute to the Shiprock project, as well as clean-up dives. In the past we have been involved in Marine Debris surveys, Balmoral net marine growth monitoring, collecting cuttlefish eggs for university research projects, and more. For future projects we are, amongst other things, looking at getting involved in monitoring biodiversity at marinas, assisting research and surveys relating to seaweeds and potentially looking at some marine archaeology projects as well. Outside of URG I have participated in Citizen science projects in Victoria (e.g., invasive sea stars in Port Phillip Bay), recording marine biodiversity in East Timor (Timor Leste) and participating in coral reef restauration in Indonesia.”

Jens’s diving has been worked in with his professional schedule and other factors such as lockdowns. He tries to go diving at least a couple of times every month and takes one or two dive trips to other parts of NSW and Australia every year. Even when diving for fun, Jens says, “Whenever I find some interesting observations or good photos, I post them on iNat. I learned about iNat from other members of URG, and my first postings were from Shiprock. One of the aspects of participating in a citizen science project, such as Australasian Fishes, that I really like, is that one can contribute to expanding knowledge about distribution of marine species and help to document the effects of warming of the ocean. Many research projects have limited resources to do surveys, and this is definitely an area where citizen scientists can provide a very significant and important input – quite a few projects would not work without the commitment and effort of volunteer scientists! I have personally had the good luck to have some of my observations included in local field guides, and in some cases I have observed species that had not previously been seen in those locations and as such documented an extension of the known range. I think it is great that iNat encourages so many people and citizen scientists to become interested in, and document the natural world. While it can be a bit daunting to identify observations at first, one would be surprised how quickly one learns and sometimes it can become a bit of an obsession to be able to figure out what rare species one has found… I now have a significant library of books to help me identify the species I find, but even then, I occasionally manage to find species that are not described in the books – which is quite exciting… When this happens, there is very often an experienced iNaturalist contributor who can help identify these cryptic species. I’m still amazed by the extensive knowledge some of the members have and how willing they are to share their knowledge and time – it really feels like your part of a dedicated and friendly community!”

While I am grateful that Australian Fishes is a successful citizen science project and that it has attracted people like Jens to contribute to our growing database, learning about members such as Jens, is very inspirational. Such participants have seamlessly integrated citizen science into their own lives, finding the occasional synergy with their professional endeavours as well as their individual hobbies, interests and passions. There is no doubt that the efforts of individuals like Jens, and organizations like URG, along with other citizen research groups, will pay massive dividends as the databases grow and the periods of study and observations increase. Like Jens, I have heard from other project members who actively seek opportunities to expand their engagement in citizen science, finding both enjoyment and personal fulfillment from recording, in a meaningful way, the natural environment for current and future study. At Australasian Fishes, we hope to publicize more of such opportunities, where members can join other projects and contribute to science to the extent they desire. I’d write more, but I see a sea slug which needs to be recorded.

This journal post was copied from and written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.

Camp Cove - Article in OzDiver

OZDiver has published an interesting article on Camp Cove. Check it out the OzDive article here on page 9.

Meanwhile, John Turnbull has been busy mapping Camp Cove in a 3D Model. More of his work on modelling is in his flickr acount.

Image by John Turnbull

Upcoming Events

Expression of interest for PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Looking for anyone interested in a dive trip to PNG either late April or early June 2023


6 Nights Rabaul Rapopo Plantation

Rapopo, breakfast only, transfers, WiFi, 6 nights, 10 dive package - AUD 2200

6 Nights Walindi Walindi

Walindi, full board, transfers, WiFi, E&S fee, 6 nights, 12 dive package - AUD 2100

Flights – to be arranged either yourself or Simon from Diveplanit

If you would like to join us please contact Kathy Giles or 0437789038

Boat dives have resumed post COVID19 lockdowns and the URG cat is heading out 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 the Dive Officer.

Boat handling lessons. Pablo is willing to run more lessons in boating skills covering everything from docking to to knots. Contact him via facebook if interested.

Editors Note

Articles to be submitted to Michael via email. Please attach photos separately and simply paste the text into the body of the email as the words. Why not tell other members about a recent dive or your favourite dive site local or OS?

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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