Montague Island, a large rocky outcrop located 9 km off the town of Narooma . A non-breeding colony of up to 400 Australian fur seals lives on the island in winter and spring.
On reef dives one can see sea whips, finger sponges, gorgonians, ascidians, bryozoans and sea tulips, feather stars, sea stars, sea urchins, basket stars, nudibranchs, octopi, shrimp and cuttlefish.
Reef fish are abundant and include leatherjackets, boarfish, blue gropers, old wives, wrasse, red morwong and green moray eels. Pelagic fish are often seen; also watch for giant sunfish and manta rays.The Blue Pool at Bermagui is a marvelous place for snorkeling.
'We knew it was going to be a great dive, even while we were gearing up. There were fur seals swimming around the back of the boat. Once we were in the water and sitting on the rocky bottom at 15 m, we had dozens of seals zooming around us and putting on a fantastic show. They charged between us blowing bubbles as they went, while others played tag or just swam somersaults for the sheer joy of it. After a few minutes we all joined in, somersaulting, twisting, turning and rolling to amuse the seals. ( photo: Neville Coileman)
They seemed to enjoy the entertainment and performed more of their own. A few even came up to us and felt our gloves with their whiskers and noses. Some of the seals spent the whole time sunning themselves on the surface, but they at least had their heads under the water, watching the commotion below. Then a large manta ray cruised through the activities, and several seals followed it off into the distance. A few of us moved into the shallows where the seal haul-out area is located. Every couple of seconds a seal would dive into the water, glide through the thick kelp, and shoot straight past us. We could have stayed with the fur seals for hours, but had more dive sites to explore.'
Montague Island, a large rocky outcrop located 9 km off the town of Narooma, is the site of a lighthouse built in 1881 and a nesting area for thousands of sea birds, including sea eagles, terns and little penguins. A non-breeding colony of up to 400 Australian fur seals lives on the island in winter and spring, and smaller numbers can be seen at almost any tome of the year.
To see, or get images of the Splendid Sea Perch Callanthias australis, divers must be prepared to go deeper than 20 metres. This species occurs in deeper water and is only recorded from a few dive sites. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The island is surrounded by deep water. The Continental Shelf, only a few kilometres away, brings clear water to the island for most of the year, and with it comes a surprising number of tropical fish. The local dive shops at Narooma and Bermagui usually run double dives to the dozens of excellent sites around the island.
Similar to most of the dives around Montague Island, the Keyhole is a rocky wall that drops from 20-35 m plus. This wall is covered with multi-coloured sea whips, finger sponges, gorgonians, ascidians, bryozoans and sea tulips, and the more mobile species such as feather stars, sea stars, sea urchins, basket stars, nudibranchs, octopi, shrimp and cuttlefish. Reef fish are abundant and include leatherjackets, boarfish, blue gropers, old wives, wrasse, red morwong and green moray eels. Occasionally pelagic fish are seen; also watch for giant sunfish and manta rays, which are sometimes found in the temperate waters around Montague Island.
The Magpie Perch Cheilodactylus nigripes is a very easily recognised species which has its northern limit of range on the south east coast. It grows to 40 cm and is generally seen in depths of 15 to 60 metres. It feeds over sandy bottom by taking in mouthfulls of sand and filtering out the organic content, allowing the residue to pass out behind the gill covers. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Hundreds of seals live on the boulders around Seal Bay when the colony is at its peak, and grey nurse sharks also hang out there during the summer months. The bottom of the bay is covered in boulders that form gutters, ledges and walls that drop into 30 m of water. There are a number of gutters around the island, and these are usually the best place to see the sharks hovering just above the bottom. Also found around the boulders are eagle rays, Port Jackson sharks, wobbegongs, boarfish, stingrays, fiddler rays, blue gropers and giant cuttlefish.
Other exciting dive sites around Montague Island include the Bubble Cave, The Pinnacles, The Den and The Grotto, all of which are found in depths from 20, 40 m. There is always somewhere to dive in all but the worst conditions.
An undescribed species restricted to the south east coast of Australia, the Banded Stingaree Trygonoptera sp. may be seen around the shallow low profile reefs, sand and sea grass meadows at Montague Island. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Usually found in depths below 20 metres, the Eastern Nannygai Centroberyx affinis may be seen as a solitary beneath ledges and in caves during the day, or in huge schools at dusk when they all come out and feed on nightime plankton.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Originally discovered by myself at Montague Island in 1978, the Honey – Coloured Okenia Okenia melita was eventually described in 2004. It is an Australian endemic and grows to 30 mm.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
There are plenty of interesting shore dives in the area around Montague Island. A drift dive in the Narooma Harbour, at a depth of 6 m, can be fast and fun. When the water is clear, divers see numerous small fish and invertebrates. Mystery Bay has some interesting rocky reefs where there are plenty of fish, stingrays and nudibranchs. At Horseshoe Bay, off Bermagui, the rocky shore drops off steeply to beautiful sponge gardens and abundant marine life at a depth of 20 m. Check with the local dive shop for advice on shore diving in the area.
Down under the kelp fronds the view is amazing, just like a mini forest. Kelp forests of Ecklonia radiata occur all around the island and hide a wealth of unfamiliar species. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Reef walls are carpeted by the attractive little sea anemone Anthothoe albocincta which can be seen in shallow and deep water. Although they may appear colonial, each is a separate animal. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Huge coral – like formations growing up to 1 metre across on the reefs are actually colonies of stony bryozoans. The Cabbage Bryozoan Adeonellopsis mucronata can be seen in deeper water along the south east coast and appears to also occur in Victoria. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in living taxonomy and marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Narooma, Montague Island and Bermagui.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)