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September 2023 Bulletin

Underwater Research Group of New South Wales

Presidents Slate

In August we lost a dedicated, long serving diver and club member - Stephen Conwell. Stephen's contributions to URG, alongside his wife Hatty, were extensive over the years and we will publish a full an article in his memory in our next issue. He'll be missed terribly by those close and by the many whose lives he touched. I don't think we'll ever find someone prepared to spend the number of hours he did raising money for the club and keeping us and the boat afloat. RIP dear friend.

Not sure how to follow on from that ...

The AGM is coming up in on Saturday 7th Oct. All the details are at the end of the Bulletin. Friends and family of members are all welcome to attend. Please let us know if you want to serve on the committee. Nominations close a week before the AGM.

Big thanks to Charlie and Sarah for hosting the most entertaining general meeting I've ever attended. To mark what was controversially the 70th bday of URG, they put together an ocean / club themed trivia night for all who attended. We are not entirely sure of whether it was our 70th due to the website having three dates, but regardless it was a night of laughs and surprises. The biggest surprise was the table of the long-standing members taking taking the bronze award (...out of three teams!) Might have had something to do with their ability to differentiate between Ai generated marine creatures and real ones!

Enjoy the articles that follow, and we hope to see you all at the AGM.


Duncan Heuer

White’s Seahorse release for conservation at Sydney Institute of Marine Science

By Elisabeth Tondl

Tuesday July 18th was a bright and glorious morning with beautiful clear water for the release into Chowder Bay of endangered White’s seahorses (Hippocampus whitei) as part of the Sydney Seahorse Project at Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS). Project partners, media, community representatives, and members of the public gathered to look at the seahorses, hear about the project progress and the program for citizen science engagement, and to watch the release of the seahorses into the Bay.

A beautiful day at Chowder Bay for the seahorse release!

Hippocampus whitei are one of only two endangered seahorses species in the world, making SIMS perfectly placed for conservation and research efforts with its location at Chowder Bay. The research into this species was triggered by NSW DPI Research Scientist Dr David Harasti, who observed a significant drop in the Hippocampus whitei population due to habitat loss in Port Stephens.

Three pregnant male seahorses were collected by researchers in January of 2023, and gave birth to over 300 babies in SIMS Aquarium facilities. The baby seahorses (‘ponies’) have been raised by the research and technical teams in the aquarium, which pumps water directly from Sydney Harbour at 1.3 million litres per day, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year to support research projects and conservation efforts.

Andrew Niccum, Facilities Manager at SIMS, described the intensive efforts of the researchers and SIMS staff in facilitating the seahorse husbandry by providing optimal water temperature and chemistry, and regular and various food sources to satisfy their ceaseless metabolism as they grew to their current age of 4 months. “This iconic species well-represents what makes looking after our Sydney ecosystems so worthwhile,” said Andrew Niccum.

Two White’s Seahorses in the display tank in the SIMS Aquarium.

Mitch (Project lead and PhD candidate), Andrew (SIMS Facilities Manager), Emily (SIMS Technical Team), Courtney, Diego and Dave Booth (all UTS Fish Ecology) address the attendees at the seahorse release.

The research team led by Professor David Booth (Fish Ecology Lab at UTS), including PhD researcher Mitch Brennan, and students Courtney and Diego, have fed the seahorses three times a day for the last few months to promote their health and growth. Each seahorse has also been uniquely tagged using a visual elastomer implant by the researchers, so that their survival, growth, and reproductive success can be monitored over time. David Booth commented that the seahorses released are the healthiest and largest of any release to date, thanks to the intensive attention of the team.

Supporters walked over to the Chowder Bay public wharf and excitedly awaited the seahorses, who were transported from the aquarium to the wharf on a trolley. To loud cheers, the seahorses were handed to divers in the water, who released them on the nets around the pool and at the seahorse hotels.

The seahorses are arriving at the wharf.

Seahorses being handed off to Mitch, one of the divers.

Divers tow the seahorse bags through the water before release.

Mitch releasing the baby seahorses. Credit: Jayne Jenkins.

The citizen science phase of the project has commenced. Divers and snorkellers can upload photographs of the seahorses they observe in Chowder Bay to the Sydney Seahorse Project on iNaturalist (, where the seahorses can be identified and tracked using their unique visual tag. The day was a wonderful celebration of the

magnificent work of the research and technical teams, and of the beautiful marine ecosystem at Chowder Bay and in Sydney Harbour.

Newly released seahorses making themselves at home on the nets. Credit: Jayne Jenkins

Newly released seahorses on the Seahorse Hotels. Credit: Jayne Jenkins

I closed out the day with a night dive with buddy Daniel, entering the water at 5:10 pm to a temperature of 16 °C for 110 min. The ‘ponies’ were everywhere, settling into their new home – on the nets, seaweed, plant growth, hotels, and even free swimming to explore. We saw groups of ponies with their tails entwined, getting used to life out in the big ocean. Otherwise all the usual nightlife was out in Chowder Bay – a shy blue lined octopus at the end of the wharf, a large olive coloured striate angler, a pipehorse in the pool, bubble snails, nudibranchs, bobbit worms… A great dive even if I was chilly in my 5/6 mm wettie!

Newly released baby seahorses on plants, the nets, and seaweed during our night dive. Great to see their tags showing clearly. Credit: Daniel Sly.

The Sydney Seahorse Project is a collaboration between SIMS, the University of Technology Sydney, and NSW Department of Primary Industries, and has been generously funded and supported by Mosman Environmental Foundation, The Lim-Sutton Initiative, SailGP, and Taylors Wines.

The importance of being dry ~ My drysuit saga Series 1

By Reka Spallino

On Saturday we meet up at the Sans Souci Marine and we head out for the usual double boat dive. The boat is full: Duncan, Jens, Libby, Vishal, David, John and I. First destination is Voodoo. I heard a lot about that site and apparently it is beautiful but pretty hard to reach from the shore.

We divide the groups into John and David group A and Libby, Vishal and I group B. I am the first one ready and I jump into the water. Once I jump I feel water coming into the drysuit. It is at the level of the zip so I rapidly go back to the boat and ask someone to check it.

My BCD is not removed but the zip is checked and I am told it is sealed and good to go. I jump back into the water, and I have the feeling that the water is still coming in. I decide to dive anyway to check the overall status of the drysuit. Before descending at the anchorline I inform my buddies that I might shorten the dive but I will inform them when I decide to turn back to the boat. I am there in my beloved ocean and I still feel water coming in. I start to think:

“Maybe it is the water entered previously that is moving around in my drysuit”

“No, the water is still coming in”

“OK if the zip is fine but I feel it is coming in from the left side, it must be then my valve. It is indeed on the left”

“But that is just too much water for the valve”

“Maybe the zip is closed but its seal is broken”

“That is what people say, drysuits are meant to break and the first to go is the zip”

I am not enjoying the dive. I am not taking pictures. I am not looking at the blue. I am there but I am not. I imagine how I can test the leak and I think about where I should send my beloved drysuit to be serviced. I am not cold but I am wet and the meditative part of diving that I love and that relaxes me heaps, it is gone! After 20 min I decide it is pointless to keep on diving, I inform my buddies and head back towards the boat. I was still deep (19m) so the safety stop is a must. At 5m I realise for the first time in the dive that I am super heavy and as an open water newly certified I need to hold the anchor line with one hand. At this point I am proud of myself for deciding to shorten the dive.

I come up to the boat and once I remove the fins, I realise that the wetsuit is flooded. From the knees down on both legs, it is FULL of water. I sit on the bench, remove the BCD and after opening the black zip, I see the metal zip (the one that seals for real the drysuit) is actually still 2mm open. Joy and happiness are filling my heart. The drysuit is not broken, the zip was just left open. I am so relieved, I don’t need to test the leak, I don’t need to send it away and not dive for weeks until it is fixed.

After the first 5 minutes of euphoria I decide to get undressed and come out of the wet misery. I open both zips completely, remove the boots and watch my feet becoming double the size (my drysuit has neoprene socks and the water because of gravity expands from the legs to the feet). I understand that getting out of there is not going to be fun nor easy. I can open both zips but that is all.

My membrane drysuit has a slightly longer back part, because that is the part you lift over your head and once you do it, you can remove your head from the neck seal and get it out from the front zip. Once the head is out you can remove your right and left arm and then come out completely. Now the heavy water and gravity are dragging all the parts of the drysuit down, it is impossible to move any part upwards and therefore for me to exit. I still try a couple of times but it is a no go!

Then I have a brilliant idea! I lie down on the bench belly facing up, lift my legs up and ask Jens to help me get out as much water as possible from there. I don’t know how much water I must have collected from the Pacific but it is definitely a lot. Once I lift the feet up and Jens helps me keep the zip open, I can literally hear a “squash” of salty and cold water on my face.

Jens asks me to turn over to try to expel some more water. At this point I am face down with the head between the bench and the boat floor and the water just keeps coming. While we are doing this manoeuvres John and David come back to the boat and I am not sure what they must have thought. After 3 minutes I stand up and I happily see the feet and leg size reduced.

Slowly and carefully Jens helps me come out from the drysuit, that is all but dry now. I know I will be cold but just the idea that there is nothing broken with my baby, makes me have a stupid happy smile on my face for the rest of the day. I decide not to participate in the next dive and try to keep warm. On Monday I head for a pre-work dive in Camp Cove to test and make sure my drysuit is actually functional. I arrive at Camp Cove as usual, at 6:15am, I gear up and head to the beach. It is one of my weekly pre-work dives, a solo dive and I also have my pony bottle with me. I check the zip multiple times to be sure it is fully closed. I enter the water and as soon as I enter, that horrible feeling: cold wet water is coming inside.

If you do not have a drysuit you will most probably not understand. To me, a drysuit in Sydney is necessary. It changed my life: from cold wet water diving to dry water diving. I can feel the cold, it just depends on how I dress up and if I inflate air in the drysuit or not. But the life changing sensation of being dry, that’s what makes me dive every week, pre-work and solo too. Now the amount of water in the drysuit is even more than on the weekend. I immediately exit, head back to the beach and slowly slowly on the ramp made of rocks remove my gear: the camera, the pony bottle, the torch, and the BCD.

I check the 2 zips and both seem sealed. I reopen them and close paying special attention to the inner one, the metal. All is again triple checked. So I start to think that there is indeed an issue with my precious baby. I get the idea of testing under the shower on the North side of the beach. I go underneath, open the tap and get the water running on me. Now I can’t feel any water coming in.

I have to go back into the ocean and if water is coming in, there is definitely a leak that must be fixed. Slowly slowly I re-gear, the BCD, the torch, the pony bottle and the camera. I head back into the ocean and again the water is coming in. I submerge myself trying to understand where it is coming from. I feel it on the left side, would say chest level. It must be the zip that even if it is closed, it still doesn’t seal properly. I know I can’t stay long there, otherwise I will have problems with exiting the drysuit and this time I am alone in Camp Cove on an early Monday morning. I stay 2 minutes and wet like a cormorant who just went hunting underwater, I exit and go back to the car. I am very frustrated, I hate diving with water on me. I got so used to diving dry that now the idea of having Sydney’s cold water on me, just repulses me. I text my partner and my friend that the dive has been aborted and go back home. At home prior, during and after work, I look for leaks in the dry suit and can’t find anything. The zip seems fine and I don’t find any other visible tear. I contact my diving friend who not only recommended this dry suit but also has one and ask for recommendations on where I could service it. The drysuit was made in the UK but there is no way I am going to send it for what I believe is a minor repair back there. My friend recommends the Southern Cross Divers in Mosman. According to Google they are closed on Monday but open on Tuesday at 8:00. It is Monday but I can’t wait so I decide to send them an email asking if I can bring my drysuit on Tuesday because it is leaking. Baz replies in a couple of hours and confirms I can bring it. Because his reply is pretty short and concise, I decide to call him to make sure the opening hours are correct. If he wouldn’t have replied I wouldn't have called him on the only free day of his week. Expecting no reply on his cell phone, I get very surprised when he actually answers and tells me they are open from 7:30am.

Tuesday I arrive at the shop at 7:20am, wait for the official opening hours and then enter. The shop is very small, the compressor is running and a tall man (who surprisingly reminds me of my Hungarian grandfather) takes me and my drysuit to the back of the shop. There are a lot of unique diving equipment, the one I assumed you see just in the museums. If I wouldn’t be there because of a problem with my drysuit, this place is actually very interesting. Baz connects my drysuit to a 15l tank and inflates it. By his saying it is inflating very slowly, the tear must be really big. Hmm I have not seen anything that big on the membrane. He is very surprised by the slowness of the process, then he checks the tank and it is just at 20 bars. We laugh and he swaps the tank with a less empty one. Unfortunately the drysuit is still inflating slowly, again per his saying. He puts some water on the zip and no bubbles are formed there. Then, a light in his eyes, he disconnects the dry suit, opens the zip and checks the collar at the neck of the drysuit. And there the truth comes: there is a hard plastic yellow collar that keeps in place the silicon membranes on the neck, the one that goes from the shoulder to the neck and the opposite one that goes from the neck to the shoulders. That hard plastic yellow collar on the left side is completely out and this is the reason for the water coming in.

Ding ding ding! Jackpot!

I feel like an idiot, because at the end of last year I could feel that same collar on my collarbones and I was able to reput it in place. Now I was so focused on the zip that I didn’t think to check other faulty elements. I apologise because I feel it is something I could have spotted and fixed by myself. But Baz is nice, he fixes it and in a total of 35 minutes I am able to go back home with my baby fixed. Thursday morning, it is time to test the drysuit again. I go to Clifton Gardens, not only because I enjoy the cruise dive but also because it is close enough to the Southern Cross Divers. If something goes wrong, I still have time to pass by their place before work. I enter the water pretty late for my standards, at 8:00 am. I am terrified of another leak but I have to try it. On Saturday I have another double boat dive. If my drysuit is not fixed, I rather leave my spots to someone who can enjoy the ocean more than I can without a drysuit. Finally I enter and I am dry. No water coming in, I am so happy that I spend the first 10 min just enjoying the scenery, not even taking pictures. The meditative feeling is back.

After 64 min I exit, go back to the car, get undressed and text my partner and my friend that my drysuit is fixed! Saturday I am back to the boat for a double dive. This time it is Joan, Victoria, Kathy, Vishal, Atul and myself. Once more I am afraid of getting water into the dry suit. The last time I jumped from this same boat was 1 week ago and my dry suit got all flooded. I decide to jump first to give myself time to check the dryness. I don’t feel water coming in and I remember the nice feeling of it. Everyone asks me how the dry suit is performing and I am happy to announce all is good. I do both dives: first is Voodoo Wide and the second is The Leap South East. At the end of the second dive I keep feeling my feet wet, especially the left.

Honestly I can’t remember if prior to all this “water-coming-in-accidents” my feet were ever dry or not. This is the only part of neoprene in my drysuit, so I start to blame that and also the boots. It is not a major issue but I keep wondering if this should be my drysuit normal behaviour or not. After the dive I go to my local shop to refill the tanks and to wash my gear and afterwards I head home. At home methodically I arrange all my gear to dry. When I hang out my drysuit I realise that there is way too much water in my neoprene socks. And in this moment I remember that if those were ever wet, they were wet from the outside, not from the inside. Now the left sock has 5 mm of water whereas the right one has maybe 3 mm of water.

Something is again not right.

Once upon a time a friend told me that to check for tears in a drysuit you should put a torch in it and if you see the light, there you go the tear is found. I take my Mares Eos 20LRZ (V2) and thoroughly inspect my drysuit from the inside to the outside. Pretty rapidly I am able to see at the level of the left knee for a length of 2 mm the light of my torch and I know this is where the water is coming from. I am happy but also concerned.

I try to google ways to fix it but I know myself, if there is a specialist who can fix it, I would rather pay for him/her to do it than risk fixing it wrongly by myself. That is the beauty of living in a service economy.

My specialist is Baz again. In 1.5 days and for $50 he fixes the left leg and also the right leg. Apparently there was a little tear there too. Almost a week after the repair I am able to test my drysuit again on a pre-work dive in Camp Cove. After the dive I check my body entirely and can confirm that the feet, legs, arms, and torso are all dry. If I were in Sydney the next weekends I would definitely go back on a boat dive to have the “final” test but unfortunately I am not. Were the tears caused by the first time my drysuit flooded on the boat? Did that same accident cause the plastic ring at the collar bones level to move? I will never know. Sometimes things just have to happen and I have to learn a lesson. My lesson this time is more a reminder that my diving equipment is breakable.

I treat it the best way I can, I wash it, lubricate it and dry it after every dive, I get it serviced yearly and repaired accordingly. But I also have to remember that this is material stuff and therefore it is indeed destructible. One little thing can happen and the butterfly effect is there.

Are the struggles with my drysuit over?

Yes, for now.

Will they be back?

Yes, for sure. But I know where to go and I am ready for any future “challenge”. Until then, happy dry drysuit dives to me!

History Article - Dive Safari of 1994.

by Michael Abbott

3/6/94 leave Sydney in Ambivalence and drive for 12 hours towing the boat to Sandon River. Stopping only every 2 hours or 200 kms which ever came first to fill the tank as 5.8 litre V8s like their petrol. Late PM meet with others and watch some members pitch tents in the dark and rain. I slept in the ambulance on the stretcher.

4/6/94 Awake to a beautiful day to discover the bar has not enough water to get the boat across. Talk to fishos who advise to wait for tide & give lots of good advice on the best way to get across the bar. Out to sea finally where Mathew & Simon use a GPS. This is a new gadget the size of a small cassette player that they pulled out of the work ute. It uses satellites and shows latitude and longitude numbers to locate a spot from Co-ordinates that they had worked out off a sea floor map. Drop anchor in 7 meters right on Pimpernel Rock. I was sea sick so did not dive. This was to be one of the very early dives on this new spot.

5/6/94 8.50 am I dive with Tim Cashman & Grahame Burns @ Pimpernel Rock Depth 39, Viz 15+, sea half meter & glassy. 6-7 big grey nurse, fish in the thousands, 100s of red morwongs, & tropical fish, & excellent corals WOW. 11.58am I dive Buchanan’s Reef. Depth 10, Viz 10, sea half meter & glassy. Lots of small juvenile fish & nice corals.

6/6/94 awake to overcast & big choppy seas so debate then drive to Coffs Harbour. Trying to stay in front of a Low pressure system moving south from the tropics. Predicted huge seas. 12.25 PM I dive with Duncan Leadbitter at South Solitary Island South Point. Depth 24, Viz 8, sea big & choppy. Clown fish and lots of tropical fish, & nice corals. 2.20 PM I dive with Grahame at South Solitary Island South East Buoy. Depth 14M Viz 5M, 1 grey nurse, Moorish idol, & raccoon face butterfly fish. Late PM move to SW Rocks.

7/6/94 weather washout

8/6/94 11.20 AM I dive with Tim Cashman on the N Pinnacle at Fish Rock Depth 24M, Viz 22+M, sea 2M. 18 big grey nurse sharks, 8 wobbe’s, 3 lion fish & fish in the thousands, 200 Kingfish, & tropical fish, I write in my log “equal to best dive ever”. 1.30 PM ditto last dive but viz down to 12 m and only 8 grey nurse?

9/6/94 we move again to North Haven. 10.25 AM I am diving with Tim Cashman on the wreck of the Titan an uninspiring upside down crane. Depth 35.5M, Viz 6M, sea 2 M with a strong southerly wind and a roaring current.

10/6/94 we move again to Forster. 10.25 AM I am diving with Matthew Stanton at Spot A on Latitude rock. This was after looking for the Pinnacle for a long time. Depth 15M, Viz 4.5M, This was a sheltered location with only a 3M swell and southerly sea chop with a strong southerly wind. A very nice dive lots of small southern species of fish.

11/6/94 Storm system has caught up with us, we ring the others joining us for the weekend and cancel. We pack up and head home tired but more experienced only having lasted part of the planned safari. Hi to all my old buddies who where there. Michael

Upcoming Events

The AGM - Saturday 7 Oct 2023

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

12.30 pm 7th October - AGM - for our Annual General Meeting this year we will be heading to The Diddy - Longueville Sporting Club. Look forward to a social lunch, lawn bowls and welcoming the 2023-24 committee. Stay tuned for more information and if you are interested in being part of the new committee please get your nominations in here

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

On the second Tuesday of every month please join us after work at the Oaks 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.

Members, prospective members and guests are very welcome to join. A big thanks to Charlie for her work as Social Secretary this year ensuring that there is always an entertaining or enlightening agenda.

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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