By Duncan Heuer
Dear members and readers,
What a strange period we are all living through!
I would have never dreamed that I’d be looking back at a year of URG presidency and thinking that my most impactful moment was discharging myself prematurely from hospital with a broken leg to make the 2020 AGM.
While on the topic, the committee voted to postpone the next AGM until we can meet in person. As an association we have up to six months from the 31 July 2021 to hold an AGM in extenuating circumstances. If for some reason we are still locked down we will look to hold this event via Zoom. Needless to say we’ll keep you all updated.
On the diving front, as you’d expect, the club is unable to operate.
In some exciting news, a number of us fortunate enough to live within 5km of a beach have been using the time to document resident grey nurse sharks in Bondi. One of our new members, Sarah Han deBeaux, has been leading the charge with this. We have now confirmed over 40 individuals aggregating in Bondi. We are now using this as leverage to pressure DPI into considering Bondi as a new aggregation site and started a petition to get public support behind replacing the shark nets with non-lethal alternatives.
This campaign, backed by URG, is focused on Waverley because we see it as a chance to use Bondi as the first domino to fall in NSW due to public support behind an unlikely mascot - Norman the grey nurse shark. Norman, along with Raymond the stingray, Alex the seal and Dolly the dolphin are the names given to any grey nurse, stingrays, seals or dolphins appearing on the immensely popular daily Instagram feed of a local aerial photographer - DroneSharkApp.
The petition on change.org has attracted over 8000 signatures during its first week and we are getting a lot of media attention and support from organisations eager to see these bastions of the 1930's replaced with something more effective and less harmful. Sarah’s article explaining more follows this slate announcement.
Lastly, since we don’t have a lot of other news and dive stories to share, please check out Mike Scotland’s DiveLog Australia August edition. He rang me specifically to ask if I would bring some of the articles to URG’s attention because he felt that the content was right up our alley, and I don’t disagree. Page 12 on Bivalve gastropods and Page 26: Cuttlefish, are packed with informative content that promises to satisfy the inner marine scientist in you.
Lastly, please if you have spent any time in the water we would love to know about it so send me any content you have for the next Bulletin as we are always looking for content. Until then enjoy the next two articles from our two contributors Sarah Han DeBeaux and Michael Abbott.
Hopefully see you all in person soon.
Campaign to Protect Grey Nurse Sharks in Bondi
By Sarah Han De Beaux
Image: Vanessa Torres Macho Photography
Bondi Beach is arguably one of Australia’s most iconic beaches. The ancient Aboriginal rock carvings in North Bondi show an abundance of marine life, including sharks, that the Indigenous community cared for over thousands of years. Today people like Jason Eggledon, an aerial photographer who runs a popular instagram account: DroneSharkApp, has made the oceans more accessible to the public by posting videos daily of the sharks, rays, seals and whales he spots. He has even given names to these various marine locals, and increasingly people have begun affectionately referring to “Norman the Greynurse Shark”, along with “Alex the Seal” and “Raymond the Stingray”.
A community of divers have been gathering evidence of the resident grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) population in Bondi and we can now prove that a significant number aggregate in Bondi and return year on year. We collected a database of over 40 unique individuals with sightings of up to 11 sharks on a single day.
Image: Duncan Heuer
Why are grey nurse sharks endangered?
The GNS population was actively decimated in the 1960-1980’s due to their fierce appearance and the perception that they were “man-eating.”
In Australia there are two separate and distinct populations: an east coast and a west coast population. The east population is listed as Critically Endangered in both federal and NSW state governments, which means they should receive the greatest level of protection in Australia.
During a diver survey commissioned by DPI in 2001, only 207 individual sharks were counted along the east coast. Later estimates in 2013 suggest that about 1500 individuals are left in the population. Contrast that number with the popular target of at least 5000 individuals, a globally recognised threshold for a species to survive extinction.
GNS are one of the slowest breeding sharks we know about. They are ovoviviparous, meaning the young hatch inside the womb, with the young eating each other until birth, when only two pups will be born (one per uterus). Females become sexually active from between 5-8 years old and only breed once every 2 years after that making recovery a slow process.
Current threats facing the population?
The deployment of shark nets are one of the many pressures facing GNS, which also include accidental fishing and documented damage the hooks cause internally to these sharks. While the strength of the fishing lobbies makes it very difficult to halt fishing activities in areas where we find GNS, the one thing that the public could and should get behind is the removal of the shark nets.
According to a report by the Fisheries Scientific Committee "Shark meshing on Sydney beaches began in 1937 to reduce the numbers of sharks and thereby reduce the risk of shark attacks." These nets were specifically designed to entangle sharks, but also entangle other marine life. Recently, Waverley council along with a number of other councils in NSW has voted to object to the nets but the issue remains a state decision and hence the importance of our campaign to educate the public on the ineffectiveness of this program.
As most readers here would know, the nets do not create a total barrier between swimmers and sharks. They are about 150-170 metres long, 6 metres tall and placed below the surface suspended between 2 and 8 metres from the sea floor. Sharks can swim under, around and over them. Bondi has a width of 800m so the net covers less than a quarter of that distance.
Non-lethal modern alternatives are being used in Western Australia and overseas, so it is surprising and alarming that the NSW state government seems adamant to hold on to these outdated practices.
Image: Sarah Han DeBeaux
What are the campaign objectives?
A campaign has begun in Bondi to raise awareness, increase protection and to gain momentum to remove the lethal shark nets that have killed a number of them in recent years. Tagged GNS have been recorded migrating over 800 km between aggregation sites and have been recorded returning to the same sites in consecutive years so it is vital to get these Bondi sites recognised officially to help protect and then not put nets designed to entangle right next to them.
Register Bondi as a new official GNS aggregation site critical for their recovery. Based on our evidence we have more than satisfied the NSW (Otway) definition of what is required to determine an area as an aggregation site.
Install signage and DPI’s GNS Code of Conduct on the walkways near to the entrances to the dive sites to educate the public about how to behave around them
Seek to remove or replace the lethal shark nets of Bond and ask that the state government considers non-lethal alternatives (e.g. drones).
How you can help
We need strong community support to get the nets replaced and to get the site listed as an aggregation area. If you have any GNS photos from Bondi over the last ten years, please upload them to www.spotashark.com. A petition was launched on change.org and during the first week it attracted over 8000 supporters. Please support our campaign, share it with your networks and let us know if you have any high profile contacts who may be willing to back this. All details on our website: www.savingnorman.com.au via this QR code.
Crossing Ningaloo off the Bucket List
By Michael Abbott
In May 2021 between Covid19 lockdowns and border closures Janet and I managed to take Ningaloo off the Bucket list. It is a very long trip to Exmouth in Western Australia so we elected to take the two flights and cut the travel time to flying 7 hours. Really it is much easier to get to the Pacific Islands if you want a diving holiday.
We stayed at Escape Resort, Cnr Welch & Murat Roads, Exmouth. This is a new resort with corrugated iron huts built around a swimming pool and restaurant. Quite comfortable and self-catering is available with a kitchen and BBQ in each hut. It is however a long walk to the shops.
We dived with Dive Ningaloo DN (Dive Ningaloo 0456 702 437 INFO@DIVENIGALOO.COM.AU) who were an excellent operation. Very professional, safety conscious and friendly staff. We were at the height of whale shark season so the town and ramps were extremely busy. We did manage to see some whale sharks from the boat but alas none underwater. Due to the ever-changing weather at this time of year we managed to sample all their diving areas.
If you have dived in the Indian Ocean e.g. Maldives etc you know what to expect. Lots of topicals but different to the Pacific. Many more Angel fish and many less butterfly fish. Apart from that and the odd indigenous fish to the Indian ocean you will recognise most of the tropical fish.
All dive days were double dives except the pier. The DN bus picked us up from our accommodation and dropped us back. Paperwork was completed on the bus and all gear is stored on the boat. BBQ lunch is provided, and the boat is large and roomy taking around 20 divers all up. Generali 1 guide to 6 divers.
The first day was at the Murion Islands. Water temperature 26 degrees and viz around 10 meters. The water temperature remained fairly constant throughout the trip. Diving here was easy with depths of 5 to 12 meters. We particularly like a spot called “Whalebone” with dramatic canyons and a large school of very small chevron barracuda . We also got to self guide on this dive which is always a preference. Sixty minutes dive times and 50 bars were to be observed at all times.
Day two saw a southerly come through due to a west coast low off Perth. This meant we dived Lighthouse Bay on the north tip of the peninsular. Depth here to 14 meters and this was our favourite site of the trip. Fist site was called “the Blizard” which summed up the area with clouds of glass fish and small yellow striped fusiers blocking he 10 meter viz to zero. Hunting amongst the schools were smooth flutemouth, small barracuda and mackerel, emperors, lionfish, olive sea snakes and a whitetip reef shark. Hiding under every ledge we found cod and gropers.
The usual tropicals throughout the trip included moonwrasse, batfish, humbugs, teardrop, chevron, dash and longnose butterfly fish, parrotfish, bannerfish, spangled emperor, blue and emperor angelfish and black dartfish.
Day three was the Navy Pier which I covered in an article last month.
This was the end of our self-guided dives. Most guides were very good but as is the norm everywhere they all tend to have a circuit and swim at speed to complete the planned dive. This was because day four saw the southerly pick up dramatically and turn SE. This had us move to the western side aka the open side and dive on the outer edges of Ningaloo Reef. We spent 3 days diving out there between breaks in the weather. Depths get down to 30 meters, but dive sites are all in 8 to 20 meters. Scenery is much more dramatic with better corals, steep walls, and deep narrow canyons to traverse. Visibility also improved up to 20 meters. Water temperature was cooler at 25 degrees. Not many pelagic fish here as fishing pressure is high. There were some extra tropical fish in blue lipped and 6 bar angelfish, blue damsels, surgeonfish, yellow trumpet fish, Indo Pacific sergeant, freckleface hawk fish, and 3 spot rabbitfish. There was also a brief sighting of a manta ray.
We also spent a lovely day on a tour of the land sites and snorkelling in the lagoon. The diving was nice but works out much more expensive than our normal Pacific ocean dive locations e.g. Fiji, Solomon’s, or Vanuatu etc due to the distance and mainland Australia prices. If it is on your bucket list you really need to concentrate on the whale shark swims which are different operators to Dive Operations except Exmouth Dive and Whaleshark which I do not recommend. My tip is to book multiple whale shark swims in case one day is cancelled and forgo a few dive days to mitigate the cost. One dive day or double dive at each of the 4 different dive areas would suffice to experience the diving in the area.
In summary diving is very nice cool tropical diving and is a good example of the differences between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. If you get the opportunity, cross it off your bucket list.