Hope you all had a safe and jolly festive season. We were uncharacteristically blessed in Sydney with tropical warm and blue water for the most of December. Charlie managed a dive at Kurnell in a 3mm while I swam around with my 7mm unzipped. We saw a ton of weedy sea dragons, including two babies and two egg-carrying males.
We dived Bare Island a few days later that were horrified to experience a massive reduction in temperature! 15 degrees! But at least we saw some cool critters including a freshly hatched baby PJ.
Shark update: We saw a great number of the grey nurse sharks in Bondi over the summer, counting up to 8 individuals on a dive. Traditionally encounters have been higher in the winter months, but due to the accessibility of the dive site not many people venture out there and so sightings weren’t common throughout the year. This is super encouraging as now there is evidence of year round residency and will help our cause to get the spot registered as an aggregation site. Over the winter months the area was dominated by female sharks and over December we saw mostly males.
For those that missed the last social general meeting at the Oaks, one of our members Sarah Han de Beaux gave a talk on the sharks along with special guests Sean Barker and Pete McGee who are very knowledgeable on the topic. She has also given the Spot-A-Shark website a facelift and is now managing the process of ID’ing submissions. If you encounter any grey nurse sharks, anywhere on along our coast, please submit them to Spot-A-Shark so we can track their movements. “Lumpy” the affectionately named male hunchback shark (scoliosis) reappeared again and we are pleased to report he is looking fatter than a goose. This is the fourth time in four years I’ve managed to photograph him on a dive and get a positive ID that it is the same individual. Sarah informed me that he was first photographed in 2011 when he was estimated to be about 120cm and only a year old.
Lumpy (two males in this image)
As most know, our club relies heavily on boat activity to keep our finances in the green. COVID hit us hard, so for those that are double jabbed please see the calendar for up and coming dives: https://www.urgdiveclub.org.au/dive-calendar . We are also happy to train any member willing to learn how to drive a boat so we have more boat convenors.
For members who are into underwater photography, we intend to run a special boat dive soon where members can bring their equipment, or try out some of ours and end the day with a post-processing workshop to put some punch back into those colours that often don’t show up straight out of the camera. Contact me directly if you are interested in this and I’ll put you on a list to make sure that you know when it is happening.
RSL will be starting up again soon, so anyone wanting to brush up on their fish ID skills and contribute to science please get in touch with Josh Moloney and watch the dive calendar.
Big thank you to Michael Abbott for taking on arranging the monthly Bulletin. If you find the inspiration to put virtual ink on a MSWord doc, please send it to us to get published. We are always eager to read members' recounts of recent dives, travelling trips or tips or anything marine related.
A quick reminder that our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/133586603455160) is a great recruitment tool for new members. Please share your photo, post when you go on the boat and like/comment on posts from other members. FB’s algorithms are designed to prioritise posts that get high engagement, and make them appear in more people’s feeds. This means more views and we get more interest from the general public.
That’s about all the news I can think of. Peace, love and happy diving.
Fish Rock "Rocks" URG by John Swift
Five hours North of Sydney is South West Rocks, the home of Fish Rock island the
jewel in NSW diving and located 2Km off the coast of Smokey Cape, it is in my
opinion just the best. It’s proximity to the continental shelf allows an incredible
diversity of both temperate and tropical species, from Grey Nurse Sharks to
Juvenile Emperor Angel Fish (pomacanthus imperator), the list is diverse. We were
lucky enough to see a fever (group) of Large Stingrays, hovering in the current.
On the surface Fish Rock gives no indication of the 62 metre cave that lies below,
or the spectacular and confronting array of marine life that awaits any intrepid diver
that enters. I say confronting because if entering from the deep entrance (24 m),
you swim over 3 or 4 huge Wobbegong sharks resting on the bottom and then
ascend up a vertical chimney with only your torchlight piercing the darkness. The
reward is the spectacular abundance of marine life that live in the cave, over 100
painted rock lobster (panulirus versicolor) adorn the crevices and one or two
endangered large Black Cod (Epinephelus daemelii) attempt to hide in the darker
corners. Grey Nurse Sharks are regularly seen silhouetted in the shallower (12 m)
eastern side of Fish Rock as you exit.
There are many other dives around Fish Rock that don’t require entering the Cave,
these include Colorado Pass, Fish ‘N Chips, the Aquarium and a number of others I
am yet to attempt. Being an island, Fish Rock allows many places to hide from the
sometimes energetic currents, so there is nearly always a protected dive site to
We dived with South West Rocks Dive Centre, their professional approach to
diving, local knowledge and general protection of the Fish Rock marine life, make
diving with them a pleasure.
Diving the Coral Sea – Nyrie Palmer
The Coral Sea Marine Park runs alongside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and at one-and-a-half times the size of France, it is one of the largest protected areas. In late December, I visited the Bougainville and Osprey Reefs with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, and it really was the trip of a lifetime.
The infrequently visited Bougainville Reef is a 12-hour stomach-lurching trip from Cairns, far into the Coral Sea. From the vast blue abyss rises a tiny atoll of 4km by 2.5km, so small you wonder how anyone ever found it, and how such a large number of wrecks could possibly have run into it.
Wall diving is the main game on this reef, with sea-fans in wonderful autumn colours lining the sheer sides of the extinct volcano. Deep ocean upwellings result in a proliferation of life with massive schools of bumphead parrot fish, yellow-tailed barracuda, jacks and reef sharks. The deep waters and distance from shore means that the viz was seemingly infinite and the temperature was a no-wet-suit 30 degrees.
The Bougainville Reef can only be accessed by liveaboard, and when the water and wind on their best behaviour.
North of the Bougainville Reef by 60km is the more frequently visited Osprey Reef: 25km of pristine reef that lies atop of an extinct volcano in the northern Coral Sea.
The Osprey is known for its abundance of reef and silver-tipped sharks and its spectacular night dives where the water seems to boil with feeding predators including eels, bass and giant trevally (the sportscars of the reef).
This reef offers a phenomenal variety of architecture with swim throughs, coral caves, grottos. The wall dives were a mass of life and colour and enchanted me while I hung weightlessly at the top of a 2000m drop to the sea floor where relic species still thrive, including glass sponges (prolific in the area over 100 million years ago) and toad fish (only recently though to be found only in South America).
Where the Great Barrier Reef has borne the brunt of recent bleaching events, the Bougainville and Osprey Reefs have remained relatively unscathed. The return trip to Cairns via the Great Barrier Reef was by comparison incredibly patchy with visibility at 10 metres and water temperatures of up to 33 degrees. However, there is still hope for the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef, as some bleached corals can survive while they await the return of their algal symbionts – we have to hope that La Nina provides some relief to the reef.
I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Coral Sea Marine Park to members of Underwater Research Group – I thought that the Great Barrier Reef was great but the Bougainville and Osprey Reefs were phenomenal.
Editors Note. Photos to follow next month.
Editors Note. There was a long period when the club did a yearly trip on Undersea Explorer to both Osprey or the Great Detached Reef. I was lucky enough to fo a couple of them and totally agree with Nyrie's comment.