Port Stephens is a beautiful, relaxed holiday area located 230 km north of Sydney. This picturesque, blue-water bay is bordered by clean beaches, rugged bushland and a number of weather-beaten offshore islands.
Scuba diving outside Port Stephens is fantastic, with plenty of reefs, deep drop-offs and historic shipwrecks ideal for underwater photography. Inside the bay, the scuba diving and snorkeling takes in several of the best shore dives on the east coast of Australia, with an unbelievable variety of marine life and fascinating sea creatures. All sites inside the bay are best dived on the turning high tide, as dirty water from outflowing tides and strong currents can be experienced at other times.
One of Broughton Islands beautiful beaches. The reefs around the off shore islands are covered in stony corals and very rich in fish and invertebrate life.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Not found on mainland reefs, the Rose – ringed Nembrotha Nembrotha rosaannulata only lives amongst beds of the colonial ascidian Sigillina cyanea found in the channels between the off shore islands off Port Stephens.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Most of the dive shops servicing the Port Stephens area are based at Nelsons Bay, although one is located on the other side of the bay at Hawks Nest. All operators run regular shore and boat dives, as well as very popular night dives. Conditions and visibility may vary, but no matter how rough the seas are outside, divers are still able to enjoy an excellent shore dive inside Port Stephens.
The dive sites around halifax Park and Fly Point abound in nudibranchs. One of the most common is Bennetts Hypselodoris Hypselodoris bennetti. The image shows two specimens mating, which occurs as they swap sperm packets and then both move away to lay separate egg ribbons. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The rocky reef, with its huge variety of sponges, soft corals and associated inhabitants, drops straight into the main boating channel at Halifax park (beware of passing boats) providing shore dives to 30 m. Nudibranchs, seahorses, anglerfish, sea stars, spider crabs, pineapplefish, moray eels, sea hares and many species of tropical fish are everywhere. Often the water is thick with stripeys, mado, yellowtail, bullseyes, blue gropers, pike, morwong, bream and sweep. Closer to the bottom live cuttlefish, octopi, lionfish, goatfish, leatherjackets, globefish, boxfish, catfish, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, stingrays and electric rays. The biological diversity of this area is so great that Halifax Park and nearby Fly Point were declared marine reserves in 1983.
During the day Red Morwong Cheilodactylus fuscus sit around on the bottom resting, or form into large schools and lay around near a fish cleaning station to be cleaned. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The dive entry at Fly Point, Nelson bay is a simple walk in effort. Getting down to the shore is also simple, with well made concrete steps and even rest rooms in the park adjacent to the car park. However, the Marina and all the traffic invited by the huge Dolphin/Whale Watching business has made things a bit more complicated around town. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Fly Point is a dive site that drops in a series of ledges to 24 m. Until a few years ago, the area was very rich in marine species but has since suffered a bit from too many divers and the construction of a marina at Nelsons Bay. The marine life at Fly Point is similar to that found at Halifax Park, with large colourful sponges being the dominant bottom feature.
Only 20 mm in size, this juvenile Common Loinfish Pterois volitans was photographed at Fly Point. Over the last 10 years there has been an upsurge in interest in recording species of this dive site and lots of new records and behaviours have been photographed by locals. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Diver entry at the Pipeline has also been updated and today ( near the fallen logs) a well designed series of steps and railing have replaced the old "fall down"adventure entry. At my age these days it is a very wecome upgrade and I can certainly thank all responsible as it adds so much to the dive ( especially when one might be clambering down with 3 camera systems. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
This pipeline, which runs deep into the bay, is overgrown with sponges, ascidians and especially soft corals, at times the marine life carpeting the bottom is even more prolific than that at Halifax Park and Fly Point. At 12 m divers are in the middle of the action. Species most commonly seen along the pipeline are nudibranchs, spider crabs, sea pens, sea horses, flatworms, feather stars, plenty of soft corals, cuttlefish, moray eels, reef fish and occasional school of pelagic fish. Stingrays, shovelnose rays, electric rays and wobbegongs are often found resting on the sea floor.
Left: Common at the pipeline and out in the bay, the Fat Sea Pen Caverularia obesa may often be seen out and feeding during periods of incoming tides. Like all octocorals its polyps have eight, fringed tentacles. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Right: Feeding on the last morsels of its prey the solitary ascidian Clavellina meridionalis, the Purple – lined Nembrotha Nembrotha purpureolineata grows to a huge size at this location reaching a length of 70 mm.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Laying in a large sponge the 'wait and watch' ambush predator Red Cardinal Scorpionfish Scorpaena cardinalis lies in a position which allows it to launch onto any passing fish, or crustacean. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
A number of fascinating dive sites have lately been discovered around Broughton Island, at depths from 12-35 m. Caves, colourful sponge gardens, walls and gutters attract masses of fish. Divers regularly see turtles, stingrays, grey nurse sharks, pelagic fish and the occasional manta ray. If conditions allow, a visit to the island is well worth the 30-minute boat ride up the coast.
In 1903 the SS Oakland foundered off Cabbage Tree Island. The 45 m long hull, essentially intact, still sits upright in 27 m of water, and is an exciting dive. Schools of kingfish, sweep, bullseyes, yellowtail and trevally mingle above the wreck, which shelters numerous reef fish, several resident stingrays and a couple of large wobbegong sharks.
On the right hand side of Fly Point there are entire reefs made up of the bryozoan Pleurotoichus clathratus. This bryozoan is the main food source for Atkinsons Okenia Okenia atkinosonorum. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The rocky reef surrounding Little Island drops into 35 m and swarms with a great number of pelagic fish, kingfish, trevally, mackerel, yellowtail and turrum. Although there is only a sparse covering of sponges on the rocks, the fish population will be enough to entertain most divers.
Pretty sponge gardens line the gutters, ledges and caves on the rocky reefs of Boondelbah Island, at depths from 20-30 m. A variety of reef fish, invertebrate species, wobbegongs, blue gropers, stingrays, cuttlefish and schools of kingfish are found around the island.
Atkinson's Okenia Okenia atkinsonorum feeing on its prey the bryozoan Pleurotoichus clathratus. As can be seen in the image, the nudibranch eats out the entire flesh from the bryozoans skeleton and leaves it bare.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
A small island off Point Stephens, Shark Island is situated where the bottom drops abruptly into deep water. The rocky reef forms walls and ledges to 35 m thick with colonies of sea whips, gorgonians, bryozoans, sea ferns, ascidians, sponges and soft corals. Reef and pelagic fish are common. Blue gropers, kingfish, red morwong, lionfish, bream, stingrays and Port Jackson sharks are regularly seen.
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 Port Stephens, Nelson bay and Broughton Island.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)