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July 2023 Bulletin

Underwater Research Group of New South Wales


Presidents Slate


Hope you enjoyed the perfect conditions June delivered. I was jealously watching from Bali and it has been a while since I've seen such persistent flat oceans. We managed to grab a few dives in Bondi before jet-setting to more turbulent waters.


The GNS are back in good numbers this winter and we're working on a citizen science project with Valerie Taylor to help gather data on their distribution and population density. Come to the general meeting next week to find out more about this and how to get involved.


Here is some footage we captured in June.



Big thanks to Hatty Conwell for processing all the new members and annual renewals. Thank you too for those members that renewed on time so we can pay our mooring costs. It is good time for a call out to those interested in learning how to skipper the boat. We need more convenors to make sure the boat is well used on weekends and members have opportunities to dive. Please join me in the coming weeks to get signed off.


At our next general meeting on the Tuesday 11 July at the Oaks, we have two amazing guest speakers - Dr Jennifer Matthews and Masters Student Laura La Motta will join us to chat about their research on the coral species in Sydney harbour. Hope to see you all there.


Lastly I wanted to thank Michael Abbott for pulling together articles for the bulletin. It is a big job to make sure we have content of interest. Please help us by emailing stories of the dives you're doing during the month. It doesn't have to be War and Peace or professional editorial. We're just keen on hearing your stories. A big call out to Reka who has been one of our most prolific contributors in recent months. Her article follows. Hope you all enjoy the read.


Cheers,

Duncan Heuer


Double Double Boat Dives in June

By Reka Spallino


Saturday 17th of June I was supposed to pick up my sister from the airport coming back home after a 5 weeks holiday/family visit overseas. When she tells me she is more than happy to take the train, I don’t spend too much time trying to convince her. I quickly jump on the URG dive boat calendar and see the boat is going out and there are 2 people on it.I text a friend, also a member of the URG, and we are rapidly ready to go.


Magnificent double boat dives at Cape Solander and Two Gorges with Joshua as Captain

ITW=09:50 am 21.8 62min 17°C viz=15+m

A grey nurse sharks covered by little fish, a huge port jackson, school of cow nose passing by.

ITW=11:58am 21.2m 53min 17-18°C viz=15+m


Few swim throughs, lot of school of fish, hearing whales underwater and then seeing them on the surface with dolphins Saturday 24th of June I thought my sister was celebrating her son’s birthday but she decided to do it on Sunday instead. Again, who am I to contradict her? So once more, I quickly jump on the URG dive boat calendar and see that the boat is planned but there is just 1 diver on it. I text who I believe might come and also might convince people to come and magically 4 divers are going out.


Spectacular double boat dive at Magic Point and Pistol Shot with Pablo as Captain

ITW= 09:50 am 22.3m 61min 17°C viz=20m

Lots of grey nurse sharks in the first cave and one in the second cave, 2 giant cuttlefish, 2 wobbegongs, tons of school of fish


What amazed me in both dives was the visibility. It is my first winter diving (thanks to my dry suit) in Sydney and Australia and on the planet to be honest. I was also very surprised by the lack of other diving boats. Not sure where they are at the moment but please stay there! So, if you are equipped for colder water, do as I do: book something with your sister, let her cancel it and come on an URG double boat dive


Disclaimer: I spent the week between the two Saturdays with my sister and my nephew, working from their place.. I am indeed a good sister and auntie!


DIVE REPORT

by John Swift


Diving the Coral Triangle


As one of the eight major Coral reef zones in the world, the Coral Triangle is recognised as a global centre of marine biodiversity and a global priority for conservation. It contains at least 500 species of reef-building corals in each ecoregion and is located between the Pacific and Indian oceans and includes, amongst others; Indonesia, PNG, the Philippines and Timor-Leste.


I have recently been lucky enough to spend ten exciting days (total 21 dives) aboard the very comfortable Liveaboard “Mermaid 1”, diving in the Coral Triangle, on the southern side of the Banda Sea, from Maumere to Alor and return. The trip to Maumere took three flights and two nights accomodation, the return trip was a little better, still three flights but all in one 25 hour period, we arrived home very tired but elated after diving some of the most exquisite dive sites imaginable.


The day started with a light breakfast and our first dive of the day at 7.30 AM, all dives were guided, I believe this a must in areas with potentially strong currents, currents are to be dived around, not in, and a good guide will keep you safe. Ours was fabulous, with 20 year’s experience he was nearly a fish whisper. Four dives per day, including the night dive were possible and yes I did two night dives.

We sailed and dived around the most beautiful Indonesian islands, many with only a small village, an unspoiled vistas greeted us every morning and a days diving welcomed us. Water temperatures were interesting, on the Northern side of Alor ( The Pacific Ocean side ) the water was 29 Deg. C but on the Southern side ( The Indian Ocean side ) the temperature was 25 Deg. C and the distance between the two was only 15 to 20 N. miles, amassing. The marine life reflected this change in temperature and was noticeably different.


Much of the Marine Life I had not seen before and was particularly taken with the Violet Sea Apple (Pseudocolochirus violaceus) which is often referred to as a sea cucumber, although they are actually class Holothuroidea and very brightly coloured. They are aposematic, which means they have warning colouration to signal to predators that they are unpalatable or poisonous. If the brilliance of the colours in this case are an indication of it’s toxicity, even swimming close maybe dangerous.


Mermaid 1 anchored under active Volcano

Blue ribbon eel, Rhinomuraena quaesita

Don’t stand on me

Violet Sea Apple, Pseudocolochirus violaceus


Cocos (Keeling) Islands

By Michael Abbott


Captain William Keeling in 1609 of the East India Shipping Company was the first to site the uninhabited islands. It was not until 1827 that a Scottish trader Capt John Clunies Ross commenced a settlement of the Islands and the family maintained control until 1978 when the Australian Government bought the islands.


The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of 27 islands and is a true coral atoll located 3700 kilometres west of Darwin. Only 2 of the islands are inhabited and they rise to a maximum of 3 metres above sea level. Evidence of erosion due to sea level rises or storms is everywhere on the inhabited islands with sandbagging along many beaches. The nearest neighbour is Christmas Island which is over 900 kilometres away and like Christmas, Cocos is an Australian Territory. The main industry was coconuts but now seems to be Border Force and Tourism.


Janet and I visited in May and dived with Dieta at Cocos Dive while staying across the road from the airport terminal with Annelies at Cocos Castaway on West Island. Everything is very close by with the exception of the wharf but the dive shop picks you up from accommodations for a double dive day out on the lagoon. Most diving on the edges of the open ocean drop offs or in openings to the lagoon.


Diving operations are very similar to a day out on the URG boat, starting with loading the small aluminum boat, off for a dive, a long surface interval then a second dive. Dieta provides lunch and hot drinks in the interval and an opportunity to walk on the sandy beach at Direction Island. Safety briefings and information on the sites, fish and island history were all very detailed and extensive.


It was windy early in the week with a small chop in the lagoon but we got out all days. As the week wore on the weather just got better and better with warm sunny days, flat seas, 28 degree, water and viz between 20 and 25 metres. At our lunch stop In the shallows we were circled by black tip reef sharks and could ID fish from the boat. The water was so clear the boat looked like it was floating above the sand.


The Manta Rays and the Dugong did not make appearances but the diving was still very good. Coral is mainly hard Brain, Gorgonian, Plate or Cauliflower types and in very good condition. There were lots of reef sharks, white tips, black tips and grey reef sharks and lots of colourful reef fishes. Fish on every dive included Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Hawkfish, Trevally, Triggerfish, Surgeons. The same hybrid fish as at Christmas Island are found at Cocos.,


Also on many dives were Garden Eels, Glassfish shoals, flute mouths, hingback shrimp, Soldierfish and Fusiliers. On a clear sandy bottom out from the coral bommies I saw a school of Milkfish and Janet found a Toby.


We were not keen on the practice of not leaving a boat sitter but luckily on the one dive that had to be aborted due to a raging current all divers made it back to the mermaid line and managed to drag themselves to the boat. We had a quite experienced older dive group which I assume is due to the cost, accommodation options and isolation discouraging backpackers.


On our off gassing days we could hire bikes and ride to many beaches with lots of Hermit Crabs with which to to play or take a tour to Home Island where the predominantly Muslim locals live. These people are the descendants of the “workers” bought from Malaysia by Clunies Ross to work the Coconut Plantation. A tour of the house belonging to the “Kings of Cocos” i.e. the Clunies Ross family on Home Island is very worth doing.


Eating options consisted of DIY, the Airport café, an open air fish restaurant or a Malay Restaurant. You will probably try them all as they seem to take turns closing in order to share the limited customers. If you're looking for white sandy beaches, warm days and clear warm water then Cocos is for you.











History Article

Fabulous Fiji

By: John Swift


The soft coral capital of the world they say, but it’s usually said without enthusiasm as if the diving in Fiji is only average, don’t believe it, the diving is fantastic - a little expensive by Australia standards ($120.00 for a double dive) but down 10% to 15% since Sept 11.


Ra Divers is a friendly local dive operation on the North Eastern tip of the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. The diving here is coral bommies, with anemone fish on the top, schooling barracuda on the edge, but it’s the giant gorgonian fans, sticking out 1 metre from the wall that really knock you out, not one or two, but lots everywhere and in good condition. I was there during March near the end of the wet season, the water temp. was 27C to 28C, a bit like a bath with vis of 15 to 20 metres, going in June July would reduce the temp a couple of degrees and give you vis of 20 to 30 metres, maybe a better choice. During my 12 dives here I saw tropical marine life I had only seen before in a reference book, a huge range of cute butterfly fish couples, that pair for life. But it was the night dive that really blew me away. I saw a reef lobster, bright orange in colour and not a bit like the painted rock lobster which we also saw, plus a large basket star (Astroboa nuda) 80cm in size, that tried to run and close from our beam of light. What a sight. I also found one of the most impressive marine animals I have ever seen, a flame file shell (Lima sp.), the brilliant crimson colour with vivid blue bio-luminescence pulsing around the edge and long crimson strands billowing around the opening make a most impressive sight.


Margery and I then jumped into a local taxi and did the four hour drive to the Coral coast on the other side of the island, the diving here is still excellent. We met a cool Fijian (wears his cap on backwards plus sunglasses) the new manager of Mikes Divers and dived the vertical walls only 200 metre from his village, I saw a nurse shark at a lot closer range than I would have liked, eagle rays and a magnificent white wall of soft coral 40 metres long and 20 metres high and covered with soft white coral from top to bottom.


So if you get a chance to dive in Fiji, take it. I only saw one turtle and it was swimming very fast plus few large fish, but the colour and abundance of the marine life make diving here a real pleasure. Just try and not think about the price.


Editors Note. Having been to 5 different parts of Fiji I can concur that the diving is very good. Its easy to travel too, safe and not really any more expensive than other similar dive locations.


Recent Events and News


Dive Log

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


EXPRESSION OF INTEREST

CHRISTMAS & COCOS ISLANDS – AUGUST 2023


Hi dive buddies, unfortunately PNG is not to be this year.


Looking for expressions of interest for Christmas & Cocos Island. 7 nights each island.


16 boat dives, accommodation, flights ex Perth. Around AUD$4700. Per person twin share.

Contact Kathy 0437789038


Upcoming Events


Group Meetings at The Oaks

URG meetings at the Oaks in Mossman are scheduled for the following dates:

  • 11 July

  • 8 August


Boat Dives


Boat dives are heading out most weekends from the St George Motor Boat Club Marina in San Souci. Check https://www.urgdiveclub.org.au/dive-calendar 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.


Reef Life Surveys

RLS is underway for 2023. Contact John Turnbull or Kris O'Keefe to help out.


Shore Dives

Shore dives do occur add hoc and are best organised between members at gatherings or on the Facebook page.


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 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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