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June 2023 Bulletin

Underwater Research Group of New South Wales

Presidents Slate

Hey all,

Hope you had a great May! Super warm water still, but very mixed conditions.

For those that missed the last general meeting ... boo! It was a stellar turnout and we had lots of extra guests thanks to Mike Scotland's presentation and his ability to rally a crowd. Amongst others we were joined by Matt from the Scuba Goat podcast (check it out if you're not already a listener) and Marco of Viz notoriety.

Some interesting news to report to the club off the back of this, but first some context. As most of you may know, we are constantly struggling to fill the boat and hence the club's bank balance is always in a precarious position. We are also faced with an increase in annual mooring fees, starting in July. In order to continue the legacy of the club and keep the boat in the water, the committee has agreed to offer two dive clubs in Sydney that don't have a boat, a reciprocal membership rate. We hope this will encourage more people to dive from boat and bring in new convenors in time. We're in the process of finalising the details, and we welcome any thoughts, or considerations from URG members in regards to this matter. While on this topic, we are calling on members to pay their membership fees as soon as possible so we can cover the annual mooring cost, which is cheaper than paying month to month.

In other news, would love to hear from anyone who understands what is going on with this sea dragon behaviour we encountered on a recent URG dive. While diving with the club off Kurnell, we spotted a sea dragon with a gash on its right flank rubbing itself repeatedly on some red algae. Watch the video below and comment on this blog if you know what is happening or have witnessed something similar .

Water conditions are epic at the time of writing. Water temperature is still reasonable, grey nurse sharks are back in higher numbers for the winter months and the giant cuttlefish will soon start getting their jiggy on, so if your wetsuit is dry it is time to rectify that.

Hope you enjoy the articles that follow. Big shout out to Joan who is a new member and also contributed to this edition of the bulletin.


Duncan Heuer

Christmas Island

by Michael Abbott Photographs by Janet Abbott

Christmas Island is an Australian Territory in the Indian ocean (IOT) which is actually the top of a basalt sea mount pushed up to 361 metres above sea level by volcanic activity. The Island is large at 135 square kilometers and is primarily a phosphate mine and a Border Force base. It is often referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean and is famous for its red crabs, sea birds, and coral reefs.It is 1400 km NW of Australia and 360 km S of Java.

This ex British colony is now largely self-governed as a territory of Australia but don't call the locals West Australian as the instant response is “we are NOT.WA ''.. The locals are expats, island born ( in Perth actually due to limited hospital services) or of Malay descent. As with most tropical islands it was hot, humid and food was expensive and sometimes not available fresh. The number of eateries was very limited.While there are sights to see and a lot of crabs walking around this is not a beach island with nowhere to swim and you need a car to get to any of the sights. We were fortunate as the others in our house had both hired a car so we could scrounge a lift.

Janet and I travelled there in May with Virgin Airlines who operate a twice weekly flight out of the International Terminal in Perth. This airport has to be the worst in any Australian capital city that I have visited but let's not go there. We did manage to get there in 2 same day hops but had to overnight in Perth on the return legs.

We dived with Extra Divers, a Quality Accredited Tourism operator and SSI and PADI qualified dive centre. They are highly recommended. The ‘Capital” of this IOT is Flying Fish Cove (FFC) which is the only landing spot and is where Extra Divers have a large fibreglass boat moored. There is a large jetty which was only designed for ships and a phosphate loader which is out of bounds.

We also stayed with Extra in their oceanfront share house. Janets comment was that this is the best shared divers accommodation we have ever experienced.

The wind was blowing when we arrived and did not abate but as FFC is on the leeward side the seas were flat. However the tide and swell made it impossible to use the jetty on our first 2 days of diving. No problems, the DMs swam out the tanks and we swam to the mooring. We were off for some excellent dives. There are no rivers and the island shore drops vertically into the sea from an average 2-3 metres. Just off the edge say 30 metres it plunges into the abyss. As such viz averaged 30 metres plus of deep blue ocean water.

The hard coral was abundant and vibrantly alive. Small tropical fish were prolific in the 28 degree waters. Worth a look is a paper written by J Hobbs and G Allen titled Hybridisation among Coral Fishes at Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. While hybridisation is common on land and in rivers it is rare in marine systems. There are 15 hybrid crosses recorded across 8 families in this paper. I was intrigued on the first dive when I spotted a bi-colour angelfish that was not quite right and a surgeon a bit like a powder blue that I could not ID. Back on the boat David and James were quick to catch on and pointed us to the above paper outlining their unique fishes.

Among my favourites were the schools of Indian Triggerfish (a new fish for me), the ornate hawkfish (another new fish for me) and the yellow puffer hybrid. I also liked the myriad of different butterfly fish.and the numerous ornate angelfish. We also did a couple of Caves where we swam into the island and surfaced inside a cave to look at the satellites. Diving was easy with all dives only limited by your air and ability as long as you stayed above 30 metres and did not go into deco. A sensible rule given the chamber in Perth is some 2500 KM away. All dives had guides and were done as drifts with a SMB deployed at the end for a safety stop and live pickup of individual buddy pairs. Diving relaxed and too easy in warm clear water.

History Article: Picnic Day - March 24th 2002

Colin J. Piper

Bravo Nicky for organising the Shelly Beach day. Superb weather and quite clean water made the event most enjoyable. We all know that there are better dive sites on the Sydney coastline, but there are few that are so pleasant to be at. (that isn’t correct english usage I know…but I am in a hurry).

Nicky arrived about 8am to be eventually joined by myself, Mrs Piper and Jo, a distant relation of ours from the UK, Allan Saben and family, Shaun and family, Janet Hall and Michael Abbott. John Swift and Grahame Burns came along as well, not to dive, but snorkel.

We all dived at various times, managing to avoid the Pitt Street-like conditions, caused by the incredible number of dive schools operating there. Where do all these dive students go? I have always held the view that new divers are what must sustain dive shops in Sydney … I wonder what percentage take up the pursuit seriously though? If last Sunday is any indication, there must be many thousands of people out there who know how to dive, but don't. Judging by the conditions last weekend, they don't know what they are missing. Let me tell you that Jo, more used to diving in the UK, thought it was a great way to spend the day. Like Balmoral, there is a terrific coffee shop at the site which was patronised by all of us at some stage I think.

Great day …again. Full marks to Nicky for organising it, and I look forward to the next one. Check the photo on the web-site to see what you missed.

Trip report- The Steps by boat- 20 May 2023.

By Joan Avon

The text message on Thursday night read “.. forecast is moving around a little for Saturday, but worse case scenario, we will be going to the Leap”. Initial hesitation at my first URG dive being cancelled was replaced with relief that we were going to dive one of my favourite sites in Sydney. A motley crew of Josh B, Atul, Vishal, Charlie, Duncan and I formed and we would be diving the Steps.

Even though it was a site I have normally done as a shore dive, it was lovely and very relaxing making our way via Botany Bay, looking at the jellyfish, puttering past Towra Reserve and past Silver Beach and the oil pipe on the way to the Steps instead of the usual route on the road behind the mangroves.

It was high tide, the fisher people were either standing in the water partly submerged or backed up to the rock wall, so it was fab to be able to jump off the boat and know we could climb back on the boat and not get smashed on the rocks.

So what about the diving, you say? Conditions were an outgoing tide with a surprising 5-6 metre visibility. Spotted two weedy sea dragons in their respective kelp patches, a dying octopus whipping her tentacled arms at pesky fish nibbling at her fraying body, a pair of old wives, a pretty sizeable porcupine fish. I think someone mentioned they saw a scorpionfish. Close to the anchor point with over an hour in the water, the underwater sand storms deteriorated visibility to 1 metre and the surge was increasing- it was time to exit.

weedy sea dragon feeding - photo by duncan heuer
Weedy sea dragon feeding

Lessons to remember – Warm sweet drinks post dive are the bomb (thanks for the chai Charlie). Also, thanks to the group for making it a totally relaxing dive- in particular to Josh B, the covenor and to Atul for skippering.

Similian Islands Thailand 2002

By Michael Abbott

I recently took the opportunity to dive on the remote Similian Islands of Thailand. This involved a pre-dawn pick up on the streets of Patong Phuket and a 3 hour high speed 110 kph, no blinkers, either side of the road mini bus ride north almost to the Burma border. The drivers in Thailand see no reason to obey any rules of the road as they can make a local arrangement with the Police if its their turn to get pulled over. I saw it happen. I then transferred at a rickety river jetty to a fast day snorkel boat for a 2 hour open ocean ride to meet the live aboard ship’s rubber ducky. After the first dive this trip was worth the effort.

I dived on board ScubaCat a large steel twin hulled “house boat” with so little freeboard the back deck was constantly awash but it made a stable living and diving platform with good crew and food, nice cabins and only a few other guests. I dived around Similian Islands 8 & 9 the most Northerly of the Group at sites called Donald Duck Bay, Turtle Rock, The Boulders, Christmas Point, and North Point.

The diving was brilliant with 40 metre viz, big building size boulders, and lots of fish. There was some growth similar to coral at northern NSW but mostly bare rocks. The highlight was the tropical fish, 40m viz and 27 to 31 degree Celsius water temperature. Their brochures advertise whale sharks and manta rays but honestly they don’t see them very often as they are wild animals and it’s a big flat blue ocean up that way.

Bear with me while I give a fish count. A 5’ great barracuda at a cleaning station, gorgonian gobies, blue spotted rockcod, bassletts, blue fin trevally, checkered snapper, oriental sweetlips, blue, titan, scribbly & giant triggerfish, reticulated, longnose, and vagabond butterflyfish, and the biggest school of bannerfish I have ever seen. Also Moorish idols, skunk anemone fish, humbugs, golden sergeant coral hawkfish, lined surgeonfish and a big tuna cruising overhead. The schools of powder blue surgeon fish where my new favorites. You see a lot more in 40 metre viz.

I also saw yellow lined snapper, rays, blue lined angelfish, java rabbit fish, yellow head parrot fish, Jansen’s wrasse, clownfish, black tipped, silver, gold, and robust fusiliers, shrimp, lobster, parrotfish, honeycomb morays, lionfish, turtles, long toms, ring-tailed cardinal fish, orange goat fish, and monocle bream. Other fish included rainbow runners, freckled hawkfish, bird wrasse, three spot angelfish, and flowery cod. A huge black ray came in to play but at a depth of 35 metres and it was about 40 metres away in that viz. and below us it was mistaken for a manta by the dive master and caused a huge stir with some divers finning madly down into a current to try and get close to it.

If you are in Thailand don’t bother with diving Phi Phi etc with their average 7-10 metre viz. but make the effort to do a short liveabaord at the Similians where I did 6 dives in 2 days and the underwater visibility averages 40 metres. It is quite a sight.

Recent Events and News

Dive Log

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

Upcoming Events



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

Group Meetings at The Oaks

URG’s monthly general meetings at the The Oaks Hotel (upstairs in the Licensees Flat) in Neutral Bay from 6pm for an 7pm start are scheduled for the following dates.

  • 13 June

  • 11 July

  • 8 August

Boat Dives

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.

Reef Life Surveys

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

Boat handling lessons. Pablo and Josh 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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