Diving in cyclonic swell

My diving buddy, Matt, was keen to get in the water today, and despite rising swell arriving from a cyclone out east in Tonga, we foolishly braved the elements, together with a surprising number of other divers. Poor visibility, plenty of surge made for an interesting dive but there were, as there often are, a few gems to be found. Plenty of Moorish Idols can be found patrolling the reef, moon wrasse, including adult yellow moon wrasse, and “packs” of hunting bonito were patrolling the edge of the huge shoals of baitfish.

The highlight was a blotched glasseye – I’ve only ever seen one before, maybe it was even the same one!

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A mini floating ecosystem

Whilst not the best shot it was really quite exciting to find a bluebottle floating in the bay with freshly caught prey hanging in its tentacles, and two resident species of fish sheltering under the float, a bluebottle fish and a juvenile dolphin fish (aka Mahi Mahi). Choppy conditions made it a bit precarious getting close but well worth the stings incurred!

 

Bluebottle fish

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This week in particular, but throughout summer noreasterly winds prevail on the east coast of Australia. With it they bring the scourge of swimmers, the bluebottle, aka portuguese man-o-war. These stinging jellyfish dangle metre long (sometimes more) threads from beneath their float, covered in stinging nematocysts that deliver a painful blow to any unsuspecting swimmer, or fish that it preys upon.

Whilst most people loathe them they do attract attention from elsewhere. Three different species of nudibranch feed on the bluebottles, clinging to the surface of the ocean following them with the wind. Their bodies turn blue as they ingest the nematocysts, which in turn provide protection for the nudibranch. These beautiful creatures look like aliens from another planet with their elaborate bodies.

Glaucus atlanticus

 

A Chowder Bay dive

Diving Chowder Bay can be a silty experience but when there hasn’t been much rain and you can time it with a full tide it can be a macro photographer’s delight. Today it also provided some big fish, a sizeable school of large kingfish and a black stingray came to inspect my buddy and I as we photographed the cute juvenile Port Jackson sharks. Nudibranchs were all out feeding and we were lucky to find an amazing diversity of camouflaged fish, from the gorgeously coloured Small-headed Sole, Large-tooth Flounder, Tiger Piperfish to the exquisitely shaped Thorny-back Cowfish, and a juvenile black Striated Anglerfish.

What a brilliant dive!

Sharks galore!

Whilst you can’t fail to see the hordes of Port Jackson and Crested Horn sharks around at the moment in the midst of their breeding season, and the ubiquitous Spotted and Ornate Wobbegong sharks, there are a few other shy visitors at the moment. There a few Dusky Whalers cruising around the bay, but in addition to this there have been three shy Grey Nurse Sharks too.

I snapped a shot today of one as it cruised passed me!

As well as the sharks there was action at the surface as large shoals of feeding salmon streamed past in their hundreds, like the sharks looking for a feed on the huge amounts of Yellowtail Scad present at Fairy Bower.

An underwater garden

Today my best dive buddy, Matt, joined me on one of our favourite dives in the aquatic reserve. The hardest part of the dive is getting in and out as you have to climb over a fence, down a cliff face, then over a sizeable cliff rockfall zone to get to the entry and exit point, all in full dive gear and camera equipment.

We call it extreme diving, but the reward is access to a beautiful dive spot we call “The Canyons”. The area is rich in corals, sponges, weedy seadragons, and seals have even been spotted here on several occasions.

New corals are appearing and spreading so rapidly they will be accessible to the majority of divers in a few years. One of them is a new species described as recently as 2013 from a specimen from Lord Howe island. Large mats of this hard tropical coral cover the reefs and with them come the species that associate with them.

Coralline algae colonies abound, these purple hard growths often being mistaken for corals are actually an algae.

Sponges abound too in all shapes and sizes from yellow spherical ones, concave mushroom-like ones that fish like to sit in, long finger-like clusters, even purple and blue ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

This dive is weather dependent and can be quite dangerous if you haven’t dived it before, but here’s hoping to continued calm conditions!