Newcastle is an important industrial town and the sixth-largest city in Australia.
Thousands of ships have visited this major port over the last 150 years, many of which have ended their days in the area, either by collision, or running aground on the notorious Oyster Banks at the entrance to Newcastle Harbour.
Consequently, Newcastle is an excellent destination for those interested in wreck diving. For those more intrigued by marine life, many wonderful reefs and pinnacles are located in the area.
Perched on its high point sponge the little Half – banded Sea Perch Hypoplectrodes maccullochi can survey around a wide area and this aspect gives it a clear view of any prey entering its focus range. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
This impressive dive site off the northern end of Stockton Beach is dived only occasionally. The top of the pinnacle, covered in kelp, is located at a depth of 6 m. The walls, blanketed with sponges, drop straight to 30 m. Kingfish, jewfish, grey nurse sharks, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, eagle rays, blue gropers, samsonfish, trevally and reef fish are regular visitors.
Generally seen in small schools around reefs, under ledges and amongst shipwrecks the Stripy Microcanthus strigatus is often confused with its relative the Mado Atypichthys strigatus but they are slimmer looking fish with brown stripes on a white background. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The 60 m long Davenport which rests in 12 m of water off Stockton Beach, was lost in 1943. The boiler, prop shaft, ribs, winch and other wreckage can be seen best at high tide. Wobbegongs, blind sharks, blue gropers, morays and schools of bullseyes have moved to the area.
One of the most common sea urchins inhabiting reefs, sea grass meadows and rubble areas, the Cake Urchin Tripneustes gratilla has many colour variations over its wide distribution throughout the Asia/Indo – Pacific region. They often hide from light by covering themselves with algae, sea grass, rubble or what ever is available.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Beached in 1974, the Signa sits half out of the water on Stockton Beach. The bow has broken off, and divers can enter the wreck to survey the interior. The engine room and other sections of the wreck lie at a depth of 8 m, and are easily explored. Jewfish, rock lobster and globefish live in and around the remains.
A very common species seen on many species of sponges, the Sponge Zoanthid Epizoanthus sp. forms very visually appealing patterns on its host. At night the polyps emerge and feed on plankton, taking advantage of the sponges incoming currents. ( photo; Neville Coleman)
Stockton Breakwall Wrecks
Oyster Banks is now a break wall, built on top of the remains of the many ships that rest on the banks. The Cawarra, Colonist, Wendouree, Regent Murray, Lindus and Adolsphe can be dived in 6-15 m of water. Many species of reef fish and invertebrates flourish in and around the shipwrecks.
A common, easily recognised species found all along the New South wales coastal reefs, the Black – margined Glossodoris Glossodoris atromarginata feeds on sponges and grows to around 60 mm. It lays white egg ribbons and is distributed across the Indo – Pacific. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Swansea is a southern suburb of Newcastle situated at the entrance to Lake Macquarie. The lake is a favourite of many holiday makers who come to Swansea to fish, sail and water ski. Each day on the low tide the lake flushes the lush sponge gardens in the Swansea Channel with nutrients.
A resident of sheltered rubble reefs and bays, estuaries and silty bottoms the Striated Anglerfish Antennarius striatus is a tropical species that can be seen as far south as Sydney harbour where it is quite common. It has several colour variations and may even be black. However, its striations are still visible under artificial light. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
This brilliant shore dive is best done on the high tide, unless you particularly want a fast drift dive. The channel bottom and bridge pylons are encrusted with sponges, ascidians and soft corals, and the waters within the channel are rich with marine life. Nudibranchs, pineapplefish, lionfish, boxfish, goatfish, leatherjackets, angler fish, sea stars, brittle stars, feather stars, molluscs, cuttlefish and moray eels are often found at depths of 12 m or less.
Endemic to Australia, the Southern Feather Star Ptilometra australis has very long attachment cirri which anchors it to the bottom growths, subject to the strong currents it lives in. Because they were so common on the trawling grounds off shore, the trawlermen used to refer to them as " Passion Flowers" as they cling onto the trawl nets and were so difficult to remove by hand.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Other Shore Dives
The Swansea area offers some exciting shore dives around the old coal loading pier in Catherine Hill Bay and on the wrecks of the Wallarah, Shamrock and Lubra, in depths from 3-6 m. A great variety of marine life gathers in the bay and around the pier, from invertebrates to schools of yellowtail. The sea caves nearby that undercut the headlands at Fraser Park are not very deep but should only be attempted on calms days because the exit can be difficult. Around Moon Island, extensive sponge gardens are found in depths from 12-20 m, and the many caves and swim-throughs are fun to explore. Reef fish, wobbegongs, stingrays, Port Jackson sharks, cuttlefish, blue gropers and morwong occupy the surrounding reef.
Silver bream Acanthopagrus australis occur for northern Queensland down to the Victorian border and are very common in estuaries and bays, and semi - enclosed water ways. They feed on mobile invertebrates and are especially fond of oysters, being a pest to oyster farmers. They become very used to divers at regular dive sites and understand that divers often supply free feeds.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Bonnie Dundee Shipwreck
The Bonnie Dundee which sank off Swansea in 1879 now lies on the sandy bottom in 34 m of water. The hull has collapsed to reveal the engine and boiler and the bow still protrudes from the sand. An interesting assortment of marine life swarms about the wreck including kingfish, jewfish, bullseyes, stingrays, Port Jackson sharks and wobbegongs. Just south of the Bonnie Dundee are the remains of the Advance, which sank in 48 m of water.
The smaller intakes of encrusing ascidians are the mouths, or inlet siphons, and the larger holes are the communal outlets, or exhalent siphons. Leaches Ascidian Botrylloides leachii displays and excellent example of this in its body pattern. All ascidians have a nervous system and can be identified from similar organisms, such as sponges by the fact that their siphons will close on disturbance, where as a sponges will not. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Caves Beach Shoal
Just off Caves Beach, at a depth of 13 m, is a rocky reef broken by gutters and ridges. The shoal is covered with sponges, ascidians, gorgonians and bryozoans and shelters many larger invertebrates and reef fish. On a good day, you should see wobbegongs, stingrays, eagle rays, drummer and, perhaps, a turtle.
Found in Southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and South Western Australia, the Green Moray Gymnothorax prasinus is one of Australias most well known Moray Eels. It grows to 1 metre and is known to be agressive on occasions. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
There are other interesting reefs off Newcastle, such as Big Ben Reef and North Reef and many more wrecks including the Irresistible, Yarra Yarra, Southland, Mud Barge, Commodore and Osprey, in depths from 20-42 m. A number of dive shops, located in Newcastle and nearby Swansea, run regular shore and boat dives to the surrounding areas.
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, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Newcastle, Swansea and Moon Island.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)