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URG Bulletin June 2021

President's Slate - June 2021

Hi all,

We are please to announce that the boat is now back in action and humming smoothly. Please keep an eye out on organised outings via our facebook group or the dive calendar on the website.

We are very excited about our club trip to Lady Musgrave and surrounding islands/dive sites. On the tail end of the trip is an optional double dive on the Tobruk wreck. Dates for the full trip are 18th to 26th September. An email about this went out on the 28 May, so check your inbox for details and contact Denise or Deborah if you are keen to join.

Thank you to John Turnbull our research officer who has spearheaded URG's decision to put in a submission to raise our concerns about the proposal to build a tunnel under middle and main harbour. Lots of toxins in the harbour that are are locked into the sediment now but would affect wildlife if disturbed. No contaminants report was available to the public during the consultation. There is a parliamentary enquiry into this now. We encourage all members who are so inclined to submit individual submissions as these do carry weight. I have attached our official submission as an appendix to the Slate, so feel free to use it as a template for your own response to this.

Reef Life Survey (RLS) has also secured a grant to train additional divers. Please register your interest by emailing John T and registering with RLS. If you are already qualified there are plenty of opportunities to dive from the URG boat for free when completing surveys.

A big thank you to Pablo, our Return and Earn charity membership has been approved, from Friday 4th June 2021 URG will be listed on the machines and the app. This is a big win to get listed here, as competition is fierce amongst community groups for this sort of thing. Any funds raised will be used to support Ocean Clean-Ups such as coffee / air fills for participating volunteers.

We are always looking for content and also a volunteer to coordinate collating our monthly Bulletin. Please help us our by sharing our dive or ocean related stories with us or let us know if you would like to take on the role of editor for a period of time

As always a big thanks to those who have been keeping the flame alive during this past difficult year. Due to lower than usual participation in club activities we are asking members to put on their creative caps to see how we all can get involved or think of any opportunities that can drive engagement or funding opportunities. Reach out if something comes to mind.

Lastly, if anyone wants to convene shore dives please reach out. While they don't contribute to revenue they certainly help by keeping the club alive and active, especially for newer members who are looking for dive buddies.

Happy winter diving everyone.

URG President

Duncan Heuer

Image taken at Heron Island last year. I haven't been to Lady Musgrave so this will have to do to build excitement for the trip in September!

Appendix - URG Submission

Re: Parliamentary Inquiry into the impact of the

Western Harbour Tunnel (WHT) and Beaches Link

The Underwater Research Group of New South Wales, or URG Dive Club, and is a non-commercial organisation of people who share an interest in, and a commitment to the underwater world. Its aim is to further all aspects of underwater exploration, research, safety, photography and conservation. The URG Dive Club was formed in September 1953 and is still going strongly today, with over 50 members in the Greater Sydney region.

URG members have been diving in Sydney Harbour and surrounds for over 50 years, and have a particular interest in the health of the Harbour and its marine life. We have reviewed the plans and potential impacts of the proposed WHT and have a number of serious concerns:

1. The WHT Environmental Impact Statement (EIS, January 2020) and subsequent Submissions Report (September 2020) did not sufficiently consider the impacts of tunnel construction to the marine environment and natural resource assets of Sydney Harbour. Resuspension and redistribution of contaminated sediments, and the spread of dissolved toxic chemicals in the water were not adequately assessed and have the potential to harm and kill Sydney’s unique, often rare and threatened marine life.

2. The Contaminants Report (Golder-Douglas 2017) was commercial in confidence until after the public submission period was closed, so the project was not subject to appropriate levels of transparency.

3. As detailed in the Sydney Morning Herald article (Feb, 2021) ( very high levels of banned toxic chemicals (tributyltin - TBT, dioxins, arsenic, mercury) are in the sediments of the Harbour and especially Berrys Bay. These have the potential to re-enter the environment as a result of the proposed construction activities.

4. The impact of toxicants on marine life includes death, accumulation of contaminants in benthic animals and movement of toxins up the food chain to birds, fish and humans.

5. Proposed mitigation measures, such as shallow silt curtains, will not contain toxic chemicals in the sediment plume as the construction and staging sites experience high waves, currents and wind activity. The potential for accidents, such as dredge spoil spills, must also be considered.

6. The Environmental Risk Analysis and Revised Environmental Measures should be reassessed to include the risk of poisoning of the environment, marine life and humans.

7. Highly valued, threatened and protected marine life that resides in the Harbour or near the heads, within the locality of the WHT impacts, includes (source: diver photographs):

We would like our concerns to be considered as part of the Parliamentary Inquiry.

Magic Point - May 2021

By Erik Schlögl

Not having written this quickly enough, this dive report didn't make it into the last bulletin, though Duncan did mention the dive in the President's Slate. He wasn't exaggerating; the two dives we did at Magic Point back on the 2nd of May ranked with the best to be had in Sydney. The first dive especially I'd say was the best dive I've ever done around here. The photo which accompanied the Slate last month gives an inkling why: Grey Nurse Sharks, huge schools of Yellowtail Scad and good viz. Though the viz was somewhat impaired at times by the Yellowtail - John Swift and I were diving together, and on the first dive we lost sight of each other quite a few times because the fish were so dense, even though we were only three or four meters away from each other. And then there was a bit of a "sardine run moment" (I've never been to see that off South Africa, but we've all seen pictures at some stage, I guess) swimming through a dense school of fish and almost running head first into a Grey Nurse Shark.

The Yellowtail were a bit less dense on the second dive, so I counted more sharks on that one: 7 Grey Nurse Sharks, 8 Banded Wobbegongs (Orectolobus halei) and 3 Spotted Wobbegongs (Orectolobus maculatus). I definitely regretted not putting the wide-angle lens on my camera that day, but Duncan and Charlie were kind enough to point out an interesting pipefish to me, a Bentstick Pipefish (Trachyrhamphus bicoarctatus), just the thing for the macro lens. This species has been observed around Sydney a few times, but I'd only seen it before in Malaysia, twenty years ago. Of course, there were also plenty of the usual Sydney marine life species around - you can see the species recorded at Magic Point on iNaturalist here:

Many thanks to Michael and Janet for convening. It would have been a pity to miss out on these dives, and Michael managed to get us to Magic Point and safely back on a pair of boat engines that weren't being 100% cooperative.

Sydney RLS 2021

Report by John Turnbull, June 2021

We’ve really had it all thrown at us the last two years of RLS in Sydney. Last year Covid arrived just as we were getting the URG boat in the water after months of setup and refinement. Along rolls 2021, and we have a 1 in 100-year rain event that smashed water quality for weeks. Aerial maps of chocolate milk-coloured Hawkesbury river water running out to sea, down on the East Australia Current, and into Sydney Harbour (where we had moved our boat for RLS!) said it all.

Compared to some people, who suffered much greater impacts from these events, we have been fortunate. But it did feel like Mother Nature held a bit of a grudge.

We normally aim to get Sydney surveys done before heading down to Jervis Bay for surveys, but this year we were only half finished by then. So, on our return from Jervis Bay we picked up the slate, reel and dive gear and kept going. At the time of writing this report (I say this as we still plan to do a few more) we had completed 56 surveys across 25 Sydney sites, about half before Jervis and half after. You can see the completed sites on this map, flagged in yellow:

One of the most rewarding aspects of this year, for me, was to see the dedication of the RLS volunteer team: Kris O’Keeffe, Josh Moloney, Lou De Beuzeville, newly-certified RLSer Josh Batchelor and visitor (will she come back?) Flora Jennifer. Rain, wind, southerly swells, and cold conditions on some days didn’t deter them… although there were the few days when we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces underwater, where we had to pull the plug (due to data quality, not motivation!!).

We recorded 129 fish species and 93 cryptic fish and invertebrate species. The most abundant fish was the eastern hulafish Trachinops taeniatus which averaged 320 individuals per transect. The next most abundant was the yellowtail scad Trachurus novaezelandiae followed by mado Atypichthys strigatus. These are all planktivores which may have benefitted from the excess nutrients and ensuing algal growth that flowed from the floods.

The most abundant invertebrate was of course the black long-spine urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii which averaged almost 200 individuals per transect. Noting that the invertebrate transect is one fifth as wide as the fish transect, this is a high density of invertebrate; two urchins per square metre. The next most abundant invertebrate, the tent shell Astralium tentoriiforme, was about one third as abundant. It seems to like bare or algal encrusted rock so may benefit from the urchin barrens created by C. rodgersii

I asked a few of our team what they liked most about the Sydney surveys this year. Here’s what they said:

Josh B: My favourite thing overall was getting certified (author note - it took JB over a year, due to the disruptions noted above). My favourite animal this year was the Rainbow Cale and my favourite site this year was Clifton Gardens wharf with 10 m viz.


Teasing Josh B (just kidding, don’t put that in) (author note – I did!).

Favourite site and animals was Clovelly because of the really super cool and odd hydrozoa creatures feeding on plankton.

Least favourite dive….let’s just say it required me being returned to shore after one dive… (author note: surge + forgetting seasick tablets = unhappy Lou)

Kris: My favourite survey dive was at Shelley Beach where we had the usual large schools of luderick (Girella tricuspidata) , Silver Bat Fish (Monodactylus argenteus) and quite a few Lyretail Dartgoby (Ptereleotris monoptera) in the shallows of North Shelly Beach. My favourite fish was tropical Eviota teresae found on transect at Shelley beach. It will be interesting to see if these persist over/after winter.

Josh M: I enjoyed seeing the tropicals, sunset wrasse Thalassoma lutescens inside North Head and the fine-spotted fairy-wrasse Cirrhilabrus punctatus at Gordon’s Bay. Both my favourite dives and fish this year!

And now my turn… my favourite sites this year were Shiprock, Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach North, which had the highest fish species richness; 39, 35.5 and 33 species per transact against an average for all sites of 21.

Clifton Gardens wharf was pretty good too, coming in just in front of the third site in Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve in terms of fish species, and topping the list of species on method 2 (mobile macroinvertebrates and cryptic fish).

Overall it was great to get so many surveys done, and we couldn’t have achieved this without the support of Sydney Institute of Marine Science, which gave us access to their jetty in the Harbour, Ian Potter Foundation, which is supporting the RLS Lap of Australia Project, the RLS mini-grant, Underwater Research Group who provided their dive boat and of course our amazing volunteers!

Images above can be found online on John's flickr account via thees links:

From the Archives - 1964

By our history officer - Michael Abbott

Here is a report originally written by Clarrie Lawler, published in 1964

The April 1964 group dive was held in heavy rain at Fairlight. The weather being so foul the dive was organised from the Eastern, or pool, side of the cove to obtain shelter for clothes, gear etc. under rock ledges. In spite of these conditions about 10 divers and 3 trainees had arrived by 10am. All divers with the exception of the trainees entered the water and followed the reefs in a westerly direction towards the opposite shore. The reef here is about 25 to 30 ft. deep and honeycombed with small caves and crevices. There is a very large amount of coral, sponge and other marine growth in this area and the numbers of slate pencil sea urchins must reach the thousands. While there is a great deal of the brilliant green or light blue encrusting coral "Pleasiastria" only one growth of the brown, Tabular coral "Coscinaraea" was found.

Ata point about midway between both shores of the cove and wedged in a crevice at the foot of a steep undersea cliff was found a large, old type anchor. The length of the stock of this anchor was over 7'-6" and the distance across the flukes was all of 6ft. Traces of wire rope led form the anchor toward the north western shore, where large pieces of steel plate were discovered.

Four specimens of various sized red whelk shells were collected for Dr. D. McMichael of the Australian Museum and one unidentified Port Jackson shark was seen near the anchor.

After lunch, ditch and recovery exercises were carried out in the pool. All trainees and three group divers successfully took part in these training manoeuvres, the times needed for completion varying greatly.


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