Fish Rock Cave is a unique formation that allows a cave penetration dive which by all measures is quite safe and provides divers with a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a host of marine species which inhabit its darker recesses.
Fish Rock Cave starts at 10 m and during summer/autum is a haven for grey nurse sharks. The diversity and amount of marine life in the cave make it an absolute "must visit" place for any scuba diver and underwater photographer: it really must be seen to be believed. Sponges, Tubastrea corals and large gorgonians cover the walls, and schools of bullseyes sometimes pack both cave entrances. Wobbegongs and rock lobster are viewed on a regular basis.
It is images such as this one which pumps the adrelin through anybody that has a pulse. The opportunity to be part of a scene like this excites the adventure in all of us and to know that it is all posssible when diving New South Wales illustrates that Scuba Diving is the Greatest Adventure Experience on the Planet.
This brilliant image from inside the cave captures the scene at the height of the Grey Nurse Season. ( photo: Peter Hitchin, South West Rocks Dive Centre)
Although Fish Rock appears barren above the surface, its real beauty lies in the dark underwater cave that runs right through the boulder. Fish Rock Cave (120 m long) starts in a wide gutter at 10 m, and ends in another wide gutter at 24 m. Sponges, tubastrea corals and large gorgonians cover the walls, and schools of bullseyes sometimes pack both cave entrances. Wobbegongs and rock lobster are regularly found in the cave.
Because the cave it eternally shrouded in darkness the creatures which inhabit it often have their night time colour pattern displayed, as has this Blotched Bigeye Heteropriacanthus cruentatus.
( photo: Jon Cragg, Fish Rock Dive Centre)
The journey through is a wonderful experience and requires a torch as the passage is dark in places; start at the deep end. The cave is narrow for the first 15 m, then rises to form a 5 m-long chute. At the end of the chute, the cave is about 6 m high, and begins to open up. At this point light can be seen coming from the shallow entrance. About 100 m further on, just near the entrance, are a number of bubble pockets where divers can talk, Swimming the length of the cave does not take long, and the swim through is quite safe for most divers.
White Black Coral 'trees' Antipathes sp. are common place across all the off shore reefs in the area. The red, or orange creatures seen wrapt around the branches are Grasping Snake Stars Astrobrachion constrictum. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
There are several other exciting dive sites around Fish Rock. Shark gutters have been discovered on the southern side in 25 m of water where grey nurse sharks gather over winter and spring. These gutters are lined with sponges and black coral trees and are a great place to see wobbegongs, stingrays, blue gropers, cuttlefish and turtles in fact, one resident loggerhead turtle often tags along on the dive. The western side of the rock is overgrown with pretty coral and sponge gardens which accommodate many species of reef fish. The most dramatic diving is on the rocky walls which drop to 35 m on the eastern side of the island. Here, pelagic fish, eagle rays and bronze whalers cruise past in the currents.
Another brilliant composition by Peter Hitchin portrays a Grey Nurse Shark Carcharhinus taurus surrounded by masses of bullseyes. This image is one of several taken by Peter which gives an immediate impression as to how phenominal this dive site can be.
( photo: Peter Hitchin, South West Rocks Dive Centre)
Hidden in the darker nooks and crannies one might be lucky to spot ( with a torch) the Reef Lobster Enoplometopus occidentatus. This species was once thought to be strictly tropical, but new knowledge such as images now being recorded from dive sites have shown this species to range further south than ever expected.
( photo: Jon Cragg, Fish Rock Dive Centre)
Showing recent damage to one of its arms, this Vermillion Biscuit Star Pentagonaster duebeni is in the process of growing a new one. This type of damage is often caused by Harlequin Shrimps which only eat the arms of sea stars and then let them go. Recently the presense of such missing armed sea stars led to the discovery of Harlequin Shrimps at Julian Rocks. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Fish Rock is one of a number of outcrops off South West Rocks, a sleepy, little town 480 km north of Sydney. An old jail stands on the shores of historic Trial Bay, built between 1877 and 1886 of local granite. The jail was abandoned 17 years later and is now a popular tourist attraction. The area has lovely beaches and stark granite headlands where people watch dolphins frolicking in the surf. Two dive shops based at South West Rocks run trips to the following dive sites.
The Grey Nurse Shark Carcharhinus taurus showing the protruding teeth which almost caused its demise. The species was almost hunted to extinction by spearfishing because it was thought to be a man eater. This hysteria was of course hyped up by the media because its teeth appeared so feasome. Today thousands of divers swim in close encounters with Grey Nurse without fear, or threat.
( photo: Peter Hitchen, South West Dive Centre)
Agnes Irving Shipwreck
The Agnes Irving, a paddle steamer, sank at the entrance to the Macleay River in 1879. The wreck now lies in 12 m of water. Visibility varies, depending on the weather, tidal conditions and movement of the sand. When visibility is good, the engines and boilers can be explored, and the paddle wheels are still recognisable. The wreckage is now encrusted with thick growths and inhabited by reef fish and invertebrates.
Not as common on the mainland reefs as it is at Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island the very toothy Mosiac Moray Eel Enchelycore ramosa is an inhabitant of caves and ledges and is generally only seen out in the open at night. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Many interesting wells, gutters and ledges are founding the shallow water around Green Island. The bottom is covered in small sponges and corals, where macro-photographers will find plenty of nudibranchs, flatworms, boxfish, lionfish, moray eels, egg cowries, Spanish dancers, sea stars, feather stars and shrimp. Reef fish, cowfish, leatherjackets, morwong, wrasse, butterflyfish and pufferfish are particularly common. Inspect the ledges as these shelter slipper rock lobsters, blind sharks and small wobbegongs. Also regularly sighted around Green Island are stingrays, turtles, kingfish, bullseyes, sweep and drummer.
Certainly one of the most colourful stony coral polyps, Faulkner's Stony Coral Tubastrea faulkneri lines the sides of caves and beneath ledges along the reefs of the central New South Wales coast and has even been recorded as far south as Jervis Bay. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The best hard and soft coral growths in the area are around Black Rock, especially on the western side of the island. The bottom is covered with plate corals in depths of 8-12 m. Many species of fish congregate around Black Rock, and usually divers swim among schools of yellowtail, bullseyes, kingfish and trevally. Numerous varieties of reef fish and invertebrate species are easy to find. Divers often see turtles, cuttlefish, lionfish, wobbegongs, stingrays, and moray eels, and occasionally large, white-spotted shovelnose rays, resting on the sandy bottom near the edge of the reef.
A common resident of the reefs along the New South Wales coastline, the Cardinal Scorpionfish Scorpaena cardinalis resides on open reef and is a skilled 'wait and watch' ambush predator.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Many other reefs and pinnacles off South West Rocks can be visited when conditions are favourable. Most of the year, clear blue water from the Great Barrier Reef reaches this area (which is only a few kilometres from the Continental Shelf) and brings with it an interesting assortment of tropical fish and invertebrates.
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 South West Rocks and Fish Rock Cave.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)