February has been an exciting month with so much to report. We have been blessed with awesome visibility and blue warm water. It has been one of the best summers in recent memory and La Nina has bought a refreshing change from the usual prevailing NE winds and murky cold green water that our summer months are known for.
Myself and Charlie organised a shore dive / social at Kurnell and had a reasonable turn out. David Faulks was one of the divers who turned up and managed to snap the first weedy sea-dragon of the day with his brand-new beast of a camera setup. What a delightful shutter-christening! We hope to run some more of these shore dives in the coming months and want to encourage our newer members to come along and meet some of the older crew.
We also did a trip to Narooma in Feb with a bunch of underwater photographers and dived near perfect conditions. Charlie's article about that trip follows later in this months Bulletin.
We have seen an explosion of sightings and interest in Glaucus atlanticus, Glaucilla bennettae and Glaucilla marginatus a.k.a blue dragons, which have been decorating the foreshores and rock pools of the East Coast. Lou's article showcases some of these sightings with her stunning images and references a new Facebook interest group set up for those that cannot get enough of these creatures.
Since you are reading this in March (or later) you'd have noticed that we are a little late collating the Feb bulletin. At the time of publishing, Pablo and Greer have just organised and run a fantastic initiative with URG partnering with Take3ForTheSea and AVEDA for Clean Up Australia Day. The event was a great success and despite rough seas and being unable to dive, the team participated in a micro-plastics survey and the results are being sent to Macquarie University. We hope to have an article about this included in the March Bulletin. It needs to be called out the immense effort Pablo and Greer put into arranging this partnership. Teaser-alert: the publicity URG has received has been substantial and some exciting prospects are on the horizon as a result. I'll leave it at this for now!
March is shaping up to be a great month of activity. Next weekend is the Sea Slug Census being run by Josh Moloney. Check out the event on Facebook for more details or reach out via email if you want join us - https://www.facebook.com/events/1049316478925355. This is the first Sea Slug Census Inter-location Challenge with 5 different events scheduled across the country in March.
We also have Reef Life Survey towards the end of March so keep an eye on your inbox for comms about that.
Seal Diving in Narooma
Article by Charlotte Elliott
Narooma is a small town in NSW about 5 hours south of Sydney. It’s the gateway to Montague Island, which is home to a couple of very playful fur seal colonies, and the best spot for a weekend with the “puppies of the sea”.
The New Zealand fur seals are slightly smaller and darker than the Australian fur seals. Both types are interactive and playful in the water. The boat ride to the island takes about 20 mins depending on the swell, when you pull up and weigh anchor all the seals on the rocks sit up and begin to head towards the water to play with you.
The seals alternate between hanging upside down at the surface to watch you or playing chicken - rushing at you with their mouths open or sneaking up behind you to tug on your fins. They are mischievous and adorable and it’s impossible to be bored!
If you are lucky with the visibility then the area is absolutely beautiful. Apart from the seals there is plenty of other life to see, from Grey Nurse Sharks to shoals of fish and the occasional turtle.
URG President Duncan Heuer
We stayed at Narooma Palms Holiday Units (clean and comfortable)
We ate dinner at Wildfire @ Lynches (we recommend the curries)
We did the dives with Underwater Safaris ($140 for a double dive not including any gear)
We spent the afternoon at the Blue Pool in Bermagui (gorgeous and worth the 30 mins drive if it’s sunny)
Bermagui Blue Pool
Ex HMAS Brisbane
Article by Michael Abbott
On a recent trip to SE Queensland, we took the opportunity to again dive the Ex-HMAS Brisbane. The last time we dived her was not long after the scuttling, so I was excited to see the changes. We were fortunate to have a few ex URG members living in the area and managed to find one available to join us on the mid-week dive. Debbie and Greg were off doing Heron Island so missed the dive, but Harry was available and recommended we dive with Scuba World at Mooloolaba. We found them friendly and professional. Their boat is a large comfortable RIB with lots of room for the 15 divers, a head and refreshments were provided.
After the trip along the river past the multimillion-dollar mansions we headed out into the deep blue. The further out we got the bluer the water became. On reaching the mooring and following a second safety brief we were free to start the adventure. Harry was the perfect guide, having served in the RAN and serving as Chief Engineer on the Brisbane he knows this ship like the back of his hand. It was nice to just follow along for a change and not think about dive plans and navigation.
We descended down the mooring line and across the crossover line to the starboard bow. Once settled and all Oks given the tour began by descending down the forward stack straight into the boiler room. A cursory look at the two boilers then through a doorway to the engine room. The reduction gearboxes are massive and are open to allow inspection of the cogs. We then ducked in and out and explored around the stern. A return to the mooring past the toilets along deck one was a highlight. As promised by our guide the best pelagic marine life is along the port side.
Dive two followed a similar plan but entry to the engine room was via a large access hole cut in the side of the ship and we spent more time on deck one finishing on the bow for the obligatory Leonardo Titanic portrait. I liked the gun and missile control room. While the instruments are all gone the control panels etc are all in place. The other highlight is the stern and bow guns with barrels pointing forward and aft ready for action.
Dive depths were 26 and 22 meters with a lot of the time spent around the 18-meter mark and finishing at 13 meters on the bow. Following the required safety stop dive time was in the order of 50 minutes each. There is a Queensland requirement to limit dive time to 50 minutes. Similar to most Government funded wrecks there is a time slot allocation to mooring leases of 3 hours. This limits dive time and does not allow for any extra surface interval. Obvious rules made by bureaucrats who were not divers. However, on air 50 minutes is pushing the deco limits anyway. Why did I choose not to do the Nitrox?
The benthic marine life on the wreck is not prolific consisting mainly of low encrusting plate corals and algae. There are a few small black corals starting to grow. While for many including our guide, it is about the ship for Janet and I it was more about the fish. I did not have my tropical fish books so will limit observations to known fish or family’s rather than fish and species count.
We saw snapper, kingfish, jellyfish, batfish, 6 eagle rays, 3 species of trevally, angelfish, blue tangs, schools of moon wrasse, sergeants, girdled palma, lionfish, saddled toby, assorted butterflyfish, hawk fish, Octopi, clownfish in their anemones, emperors, Moorish idols, bannerfish, triggerfish, silver butterfish, parrot fish and potato cod. Inside the wreck was swarming with ladder fin pomfrets, cardinal fish bullseyes and small silver (Hardy heads?) fish.
At times on the outside of the wreck the viz would drop to less than a meter. This was when the masses of bait fish took shelter around the divers from the marauding schools of trevally and kingfish.
Ok so those in Sydney really hate me the viz was a good 15 meters of deep blue water and the temperature was 26 degrees on the bottom.
Thanks to Harry and the crew at Scuba World Mooloolaba for the day.
Pics by Michael Abbott
Creature Feature: Glaucus atlanticus
Article by Lou De Beuzeville
Glaucus atlanticus, or the blue dragon, is a type of planktonic nudibranch. Unusual for nudibranchs, it is neustonic (a new word for me, it means living at the interface of sea and air). They travel on the surface because they have a gas-filled bag in their stomach. They are closely related to the Glaucilla species such as Glaucilla marginatus below.
These gorgeous blue nudis are stunning for their bright blue colour and the up to 84 papillae (fingerlike things) in 3 pairs of clusters that adorn their bodies. Although their dorsal side is a bright blue with a silver streak (unlike G. marginatus which is just blue), their underside is a light silver, allowing them to hide from predators above and below the water surface. They grow to about 3cm.
Glaucus atlanticus from above & below
G. atlanticus eat most of the “blue fleet” they travel with: Physalia physalis (blue bottles)*, Porpita porpita (the cute round blue button things), Velella velella (By-The-Wind-Sailors).
Members of the blue fleet that are preyed upon by G. atlanticus
They have some sort of protection from being stung themselves, yet take the stinging nematocysts from blue bottles and store them at the end of their “fingers” to use later on other prey. (I read that blue bottles can actually empty their gas-filled float to escape Glaucus!) Another thing I read (but not on a paper) was that if hungry enough they will eat their own kind.
G. atlanticus chowing down on blue bottle tentacles
Blue bottle tentacles
G. atlanticus are hermaphrodites. There’s a hole at the side for a long boy part (so that they don’t sting each other when mating). And another hole for the girl bit. Only it’s between two close together legs so I haven’t actually seen it.
So how to find them? Generally, look for them on the beach if there’s been a strong NE wind or swell and there are blue bottles around. They will often roll themselves up into a ball as below.
G.atlanticus rolled up
If anyone is interested in seeing them, there’s a new Facebook page set up for people to post sightings so others can know where to go. The group is named Glaucus & “Blue Fleet” sightings – Greater Sydney and can be found https://www.facebook.com/groups/248403610156937/
*before anyone says we have utriculus, apparently we don’t. See Worms and a conversation on iNaturalist. They now believe there’s just one species of blue bottle.