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URG Bulletin May 2021

President's Slate

We were blessed with spectacular dive conditions over the last month. I’m convinced that the experience we recently had at Magic Point with Janet, Michael, Charlie, Erik and John Swift was one of the best I’ve had in Sydney.

This month we recommenced our general meetings at the Oaks Hotel after a long period of being unable to gather in groups. Please note that if all goes to plan we’ll be having these every second month and have fixed the following dates for the rest of the year: 6th July, 7th Sept, 9th Nov.

John and the RLS team have been busy with surveying multiple sites on the east coast. You can read all about it in the May bulletin.

Pablo and Greer have been proactively building a public profile for URG’s by partnering with big names such as Tangaroa Blue, Take 3 For The Sea and Friends of Chowder Bay and getting club members involved in beach cleans and diving against debris. I had the pleasure of attending the most recent event which was a CEO beach clean up at Manly Cove. There were some interesting people there including Valerie Taylor, Zali Stegall - MP for Warringah and James Griffin - MP for Manly.

Here are some of the results from this amazing initiative:

  • 27,603 Rubbish items were taken off the beach including 20,000+ small pieces of plastic, plastic film and polystyrene

  • 87 Kilos of Rubbish removed

  • Heaviest item - A 2P Parking sign

  • Strangest item - A tennis ball with barnacles growing out of it

  • 55 - CEO and business leader participants

  • Over $31,000 has been raised as of this morning.

Pablo also informed me that URG is now listed as a recipient on the list of not-for-profits that people can select in the Return and Earn scheme across NSW. This is a fantastic result as it is not easy to get on the list. If you are taking any items to recycling you can now opt to donate the money to URG. Read more about this here:

Thank you so much Pablo for the work and effort you are putting into all these initiatives. It is much appreciated by all of us.

Our URG dive trip is planned for September and it is a liveaboard pontoon on the southern barrier reef off Lady Musgrave and the surrounding reefs. Please contact Denise if you want further details.

Michael and Janet have a trip booked to South West Rocks from 28th October to 5th November which includes 8 nights accommodation and double dives everyday with SWR Dive Centre. They are eager to extend the invite to all members, so call Lily at SWR to book if you are interested in joining them for all or part of this trip.

Lastly our club boat will be out of action for a few weeks while we service the motors. Please keep an eye on your emails and/or the Facebook group as we will let you know when the boat is back in the water.

Happy diving.

Duncan Heuer

Reef Life Survey - April 2021

By John Turnbull

URG members have been busy giving their time and expertise to conduct Reef Life Surveys on the east coast of Australia over the last few months.

Kris O’Keeffe, John Turnbull, Josh Moloney, Lou de Beuzeville and new RLSers Josh Batchelor racked up a total of 30 surveys in Sydney up to early April. Some locations, like Bare Island, have multiple sites (east side, west side and south side) whilst others like Bluefish Point are worth visiting just for one site!

John Turnbull was lucky to get a chance to survey Norfolk Island in March, joining a crew of 4 other RLSers from other states to complete all key sites over a week-long stay.

Then in early April Kris, Josh B and John joined north coast RLSers Margo and Ash, local Sue and new RLSer from SA Flora to survey Jervis Bay, completing 32 surveys in 4 days. Despite some big winds and swell, the team got to survey outside the bay, and the north, west, south and Bowen Island sites.

Sydney surveys have now recommenced, as the conditions continue to improve after the floods, and Port Stephens surveys are planned for May. It’s a busy time for anyone prepared to master the skills of RLS, but most rewarding too!

From the Archives - MAY 1964

By Michael Abbott

A recent addition to the group’s equipment is a 17 foot boat and out-board motor. The group was able to secure this at a very reasonable price and after some minor renovations will be available for members use on a roster system. It should hold at least 6 divers and equipment, and through its use the group hopes to considerably extend its diving activities.

The fish shelters at Congwong Bay, on which a number of research projects were under-way, were unfortunately badly damaged by the very heavy seas running earlier in April. They will be rebuilt and cemented into position as soon as possible.

Attention is drawn to the "subject preference" forms now being compiled. If you have not yet filled one in, please do so tonight. Forms are available at the committee table and are self explanatory.

Many members no doubt read with interest the article in the Sunday Telegraph dealing with Clarrie Lawlers discovery and observations of the tropical cleaner prawns (Stenopus hispidus) in Congwong Bay. These were kept under observation each week-end for 8 months and eventually sent to the museum. The results of the observations provided a definite scientific "first" in this field and congratulations go out to Clarrie for his work.

Clarrie Lawler

On Sunday 26th. April, a group of U.R.G. divers carried out a salvage operation off Bare Island, La Perouse. A cache of very old army shells had previously been discovered by the U.R.G. and the Randwick Historical Society, which now controls Bare Island, was informed. They were most anxious to secure the shells for their museum and the U.R.G. was able to supply the divers for the job. A representative selection was salvaged and presented to the Historical society. Needless to say it was first ascertained that the shells were no longer in a dangerous condition. The Historical Society will be able to supply more details on the type and origin of these shells later, but it is believed that they are at least 60 years old. They contained large numbers of lead shot and had the unusual feature of a wooden nose cap. These shells can be examined on Sundays at the Bare Island museum. A further batch of much larger shells is still to be salvaged by the group after the safety of such an operation is verified.

The U.R.G. Diving Schools are still being regularly conducted and if anyone is seriously interested in assisting as an instructor, David Landor, who is running the schools, would be pleased to hear from you.

Several new members have joined the committee, which for general information is listed alphabetically below. Any of these men will be pleased to answer your questions regarding club activities and to put forward your ideas and suggestions at committee meetings.

Helmut Apel, Barrie Bowden, Howard Couch, Frank Davis, Jon Jansons, Barry Jentsch, David Landor, Clarrie Lawler, Les Leigh, Bryan Robertson, Wez Tyler.

The club has decided to assist the Shark Research Group with the printing of a newsletter. It will publicise the objects, activities and results of the groups research. The group needs keen divers to assist in several projects now being formulated. Contact David Landor, who is one of the U.R.G. members in the Shark Research Group for details.

Members are reminded that the U.R.G. now dives every Sunday morning at Congwong Bay, La Perouse. At these dives, other supplementary dives at a variety of locations are often arranged. New divers are always welcome and needed to assist in research projects now underway. The club still holds its monthly dive as usual, and all members are particularly requested to attend if possible. The location of these monthly dives is announced at the general meeting preceding it.

Friends of Chowder Bay - Dive against debris

By Deborah Dickson-Smith

In April, URG together with Friends of Chowder Bay took part in a beach and underwater clean-up at one of my favourite local dive sites: Chowder Bay. This was a clean-up like no other, with support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Sydney Office and the Royal Thai Consulate in Sydney.

Team Thailand! Volunteers from TAT and the Thai Consulate.

Held at Clifton Gardens Reserve, on the foreshore of Chowder Bay, volunteers were rewarded with Thai massages and a delicious Thai lunch provided by Spice I Am, followed by a Thai Cooking Demonstration by Chef Sujet Saenkham Founder and Owner of Spice I Am Restaurant and Thai Performance by Siam Classic Dance Group at Taronga Zoo.

Volunteer Pete McGee liberates fishing wire from the delicate sponges adorning the jetty pylons.

So how did this come about? For months (let’s be honest, years now), divers in Chowder Bay have been dismayed by the amount of debris left behind by recreational fishermen and picnickers. The fishing debris has become of particular concern now that marine scientists have chosen the bay to try and boost Sydney’s declining (endangered) population of White’s seahorses with the installation of Seahorse Hotels.

Volunteers are rewarded with Thai massages.

So a few weeks ago, a few dedicated divers formed a group, The Friends of Chowder Bay, with an aim to highlight the amazing creatures to be found underwater here – seahorses, pipefish, several species of frogfish, nudibranchs, octopus, cuttlefish, decorator crabs, to name but a few – and also highlight the increasing threat of fishing debris.

At our first clean-up event, divers freed the Seahorse Hotels of metres and metres of fishing line as well as dozens of fishing hooks, sinkers and plastic lures. Our efforts caught the attention of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Sydney office, and they got in touch, offering to help with the next clean-up.

Thai Consul Sareeya Panyadee joins divers underwater.

According to TAT Director, Suladda Sarutilavan; “in efforts to show our appreciation for those local heroes volunteering their time to protect our oceans we are proud to support the effort of local conservation group Friends of Chowder Bay. The travel restrictions imposed on us all by the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired, in many of us, a heightened awareness and appreciation for our precious natural environment. Many tourism operators in Thailand have spent time in lock-down looking at ways to operate more sustainably.”

Friends of Chowder Bay clean up crew.

40 volunteers took part, including seven scuba divers, who spent a combined 456 minutes underwater collecting over 2kg of debris, much of this fishing debris with an estimated 200m of discarded fishing line, 63 metal hooks and sinkers and 25 plastic fishing lures.

Jayne Jenkins, co-founder of the Friends of Chowder Bay, with volunteer Pete McGee.

Above water, volunteers collected 191 cigarette butts, 54 straws and other plastic cutlery items, an estimated 250 plastic fragments, 120 plastic bag remnants, 155 polystyrene fragments and 27 balloon fragments.

PADI’s Michelle Brunton records data for Project Aware.

Data from the underwater clean-up was uploaded to the Project Aware global debris database, while topside clean-up data was uploaded to Tangaroa Blue’s Marine Debris Initiative, helping campaigners and scientists find solutions for marine pollution.

Volunteers, including SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium’s Melissa Retamales and the Underwater Research Group’s Pablo Bolomey help sort and count debris.

Thailand’s underwater world shares many wonders (and indeed critters!) with Australia and suffers similar threats – from plastic pollution and fishing debris. Mosman’s Chowder Bay is a unique biodiverse marine environment, home to many colourful critters including frogfish, decorator crabs, moray eels and the endangered Whites (Sydney) Seahorse.

Endangered White’s seahorses. Image: Pete McGee

Volunteers were also treated to a presentation from marine scientist and SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium aquarist Mitchell Brennan, who is monitoring the progress of the Seahorse Hotels

The show of support from TAT and the Royal Thai Consulate Sydney highlights the tourism office’s efforts to promote Thailand as a sustainable tourism destination, with tourism operators in Thailand encouraged to conserve their local environment, use local produce, support local communities, and minimise their carbon footprint.

Taronga Zoo Director Simon Duffy and Thai dancers welcome volunteers to the Royal Thai Pavilion.

One such example is a new offering from Sunsail yacht charters. The company has partnered with Ocean Crusaders for a Phuket Clean-up Flotilla in March 2022, a week of sailing the Andaman Sea and undertaking beach clean-ups to help preserve this beautiful part of South East Asia.

Following a delicious Thai lunch, volunteers were treated to a cooking class with Sujet Saenkham Founder and Owner of Spice I am Restaurant, in the Thai Pavilion at Taronga Zoo.

If you’re interested in taking part in future clean-ups at Chowder Bay, join the Friends of Chowder bay Facebook group.


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