Sydney South has a great deal to satisfy local scuba divers and stacks of interesting marine life to interest visiting scuba divers, snorkelers and underwater photographers.
Dozens of dive shops and charter boat operators offer trips to the many excellent offshore dive sites, reefs and deep-water shipwrecks along Sydneys 100 km plus coastline. While at Sydney Harbour, Port Hacking and Botany Bay and along the southern bays and headlands there are an amazing number of shore diving sites.
Upper Sydney Harbour was always a 'Muck dive', even inshore, but there was always something to find, no matter how uninteresting it might have been to others. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Sydney may be the largest city in Australia, and the pace of life rather hectic at times, but Sydneysiders know how to relax, and most do it on or near the water, sailing, surfing, swimming, fishing or diving. One of the major dive centres in the country, Sydney has a great deal to offer the visiting diver. Dozens of dive shops and charter boat operators offer trips to the many excellent shore dive sites, reefs and deep-water shipwrecks along Sydneys 100 km plus coastline.
One of my favourite dive sites on the Northern side of the harbour was Fairlight. Right 'smack bang' in a direct line for the heads and beneath the entry ledge was the only secure site for hundreds of braciopods. There was a wealth of marine life out on the reefs.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
A number of brilliant shore and boat dives are found along the stretch of coast from South Head to Cape Banks. Sydney Harbour also has numerous interesting dive sites with an excellent range of reef fish and invertebrates.
This stretch of reef adjoining Camp Cove on the southern side of the harbour produced an amazing number of new records and interesting underwater wildlife. I could go in alone, lose myself in the kelp and discover to my hearts content, and I did so for many years. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The irrepressible Mado Atypichthys strigatus is present on many dives around the New South Wales coasts and embayments, but they hardly ever get noticed due to their always being there. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Rarely seen in the harbour itself, the Firebrick Sea Star Asteriodiscides truncatus is an inhabitant of the outer coastline reefs and the patch reefs and offshore 'Bommies'. Due to its very conspicuous nodules and vibrant colours it is very easy to recognise. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
In 18 m of water, just off the beach at Camp Cove inside the harbour, is a rocky reef. This is an easily accessible reef and is populated with pipefish, boxfish, cuttlefish, octopi, old wives, moray eels, anglerfish, morwong, brittle stars, sea stars, sea hares, nudibranchs, stingrays and other marine creatures.
There used to be lots of these Red – lined Flabellina Nudibranchs Flabellina rubrolineata living on the hydroids along the slope at Green Point Camp Cove. The mussel bed slopes and strewn about rocks and rubble was a really good 'muck' dive. the visibility was never that good, but I believe it has cleared up over the last 30 years? ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Royal Shepherd Shipwreck
The 40m-long Royal Shepherd sank in 1890 after a collision. The boiler, engine, prop shaft and other scattered bits of wreckage rest on the sandy bottom at 28 m. Moray eels, conger ells and numerous small reef fish live among the remains, which are often surrounded by schools of yellowtail and bullseyes.
Especially significant because they 'sit' on the bottom and were easy to photograph, the Sergeant Bakers Aulopus purpurissatus are 'wait and watch' ambushers with lightning fast strikes. As this one has no extended first dorsal spine it is a female. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The Gap is an excellent boat dive to 22 m, where boulders form caves and gutters. Numerous sea stars and nudibranchs inhabit lovely sponge gardens. Divers will usually see Port Jackson sharks, blue gropers, kingfish, bonito, yellowtail, bullseyes and many reef fish along the gutters.
Another 'wait and watch' ambush predator, the Cardinal Scorpionfish Scorpaena cardinalis is a common resident of rocky reefs adjacent to the coast, as well as inshore and in the harbour itself. The most photogenic specimens were in deeper water that we accessed them from local trawlers acting as dive boats.
It took me years to work out why we always had several sharks following the boat out on each dive. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
I look at this image today and cringe.
To think that I used to snorkel out from Clovelly Pool ( on the left hand side of the image) to the drowned shore line terraces a few hundred metres off Shark Point, dive to 30 metres for 30 minutes, surface with little air and snorkle back to the pool is incomprehensible.
No wonder I had trouble getting dive buddies.
However, I found living animals nobody in the world had ever recorded before. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Shark Point offers great shore diving. Where the reef drops into 20 m of water are lush sponge gardens, ledges and caves. Rock Lobsters, stingrays, moray eels, weedy sea dragons, pineapplefish, blue devilfish, Port Jackson sharks and cuttlefish are usually easy to find. Reef fish are plentiful and pelagic fish school off the point. Behind Shark Point is Clovelly Bay, a natural ocean swimming pool, and a wonderful night dive in only 8 m of water.
Gurnards were fishes that trawlers brought up in their nets. Until I got a camera in 1968 I had understood that Gurnards lived on the sand.
This Eastern Spiny Gurnard Lepidotrigla pleuracanthica was crawling around on its modified pectoral fins on low profile rocky reef and I had the image to proove it.
( Photo: Neville Coleman)
A popular shore dive to 14 m, Thomsons Bay also has an underwater trail. An astonishing assortment of marine species can be observed in the gutters or under the ledges and boulders, including stingrays, goatfish, electric rays, Port Jackson sharks, wobbegongs, rock lobsters, nudibranchs, moray eels, leatherjackets, lionfish, cuttlefish, sea perch, bream, flatheads and morwongs.
The Malabar, which ran aground in 1931, sank on the northern side of Long Bay. Plates and machinery from the ship lie on the boulder-strewn bottom in depths of 6-1- m. Many species of reef fish reside in the bay, as well as wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, stingrays and cuttlefish.
Bare Island – Botany Bay
Left: Bare Island Botany Bay is a super shore dive site. A long 'rock hop' with weight belt, tank and camera to the front of the island, but on good days it is worth it. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Right: The closest good shore dives at Bare Island was from the rock shelf at the left hand side and right hand side of the island just beneath the Jetty. These sites are in fairly shallow water and a lot of reef can be covered underwater.
( photo; Neville Coleman)
A number of excellent shore dives are popular around Bare Island. The island is surrounded by pretty sponge gardens, caves, small drop-offs and gutters in depths from 9 to 18 m. Marine life found around the island includes nudibranchs, moray eels, cuttlefish, sea horses, cowries, weedy sea dragons, pipefish, blue gropers, shrimp, crabs, stingrays and plenty of reef fish.
My first discovery and pictures of living colonies of Cavanaghs Egg Cowry Prionovula cavanaghi ( 1968). The species was originally known and described from dredged specimens. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Many excellent dive sites are located along the coastline from Botany Bay to the Royal National Park. This area has the clearest water and the most colourful sponge gardens found off Sydney.
Some of Sydneys best shore dives are at Kurnell. On the inside of the bay is a long pier in only 5 m of water, which shelters many different species of reef fish and invertebrates. Beautiful sponge gardens are found off both Sutherland and Inscription Point, in depths from 10 to 22 m. Plenty of reef fish and invertebrates can be found on every dive. Also usually seen are sea horses, weedy sea dragons, Port Jackson sharks, stingrays, blue gropers, cuttlefish, moray eels, blue devilfish and occasionally a school of pelagic fish.
Commonly seen in pairs, or groups, Old Wifes Enoplosus armatus are the only species in the Family of ENOPLOSIDAE. A very attractive and characteristic fish, they are easy to identify and photograph and quite common along the coast from southern Queensland south, to south Western Australia.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
A number of excellent boat dives are located off Cape Bailey, where the rocky bottom drops into 26 m of water. This rocky reef is blanketed with sponge gardens. Nudibranchs, sea stars, small cuttlefish, shrimps, boxfish, sea horses, reef and pelagic fish, sharks and rays, are common.
The inner side of Osborne Shoals, which drops to 18 m, is thick with kelp. The outer side, which drops to 25m, is overgrown with multi-coloured sponge gardens, where there are good populations of reef fish, king fish, mackerel, yellowtail, blue devilfish, cuttlefish, morwong, stingrays and Port Jackson sharks.
A very charactistic species, the southern Sea Fan Mopsea australis is one of the few gorgonian sea fans that is easily identified in situ. It can be quite common along the southern low profile reefs at around 20 to 30 metres, south of South Head.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Shiprock – Port Hacking
Big – belly Sea Horses Hippocampus bleekeri are fairly common at Ship Rock, Port Hacking ( a marine reserve). This male is featured clinging onto a sponge with his prehesile tail. The species grows to 25 cm and occurs south to Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
This fantastic shore dive in Port Hacking is best done on the high tide. The wall, overgrown with sponges, ascidians and soft corals, drops steeply from 6-15 m. Macro-photographers will enjoy the enormous variety, sea horses, anglerfish, pineapplefish, pipefish, nudibranchs, moray eels, sea stars, cuttlefish, octopus, tube worms and lionfish. Larger reef fish include sweep, stripy, morwong, leatherjackets, hawkfish, wrasse and old wives.
This rocky pinnacle, covered with a lovely sponge garden, rises from 30 m. Photographers will find many subjects here as well, sea stars, nudibranchs, cuttlefish, sea horses, shrimp, weedy sea dragons, hermit crabs and octopi. A sizeable population of reef fish inhabits the Bombora, and schools of large pelagic fish are regular visitors.
Found in deep water sandy bottom around low profile reefs, Sowerbys Volute Ericusa sowerbyi is a nocturnal species that comes up out of the sand to hunt other univalves and bivalves at night . Once a mollusc is caught, the volute wraps its voluminous foot around the prey and digs back into the sand. The prey is smothered and when it relaxes, the volute consumes it, leaving the empty shell. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
A popular boat dive on a rocky reef, stepping down to 26 m. The walls and gutters are packed with sponges, sea whips, gorgonians, bryozoans and ascidians. A good variety of invertebrates and reef fish are found on the rest of the reef, as well as Port Jackson sharks, cuttlefish, stingrays and schools of kingfish.
Offshore from the Royal National Park are a number of good dive sites on Marley Reef. This rocky reef has many walls and gutters, dropping to 24 m. An interesting assortment of invertebrates, including dense sponge gardens cover the boulders. Reef fish are common, hawkfish, morwong, leatherjackets, wrasse, scorpionfish, lionfish and moray eels.
Sponges are inheritantly difficult to get identified as the majority require reinvestigation by taxonomists to determine if the old names are taxonomically correct.
Luckily this species of Fan Sponge Echinoclathria leporina has been upgraded over the last years and is easily identified by its shape and colour.
( photo; Neville Coleman)
There are far too many shipwrecks found off Sydney to describe here Ð and new ones are discovered every few years, even in popular diving areas. Some shallow wrecks that are easily explored include the Dunbar, Centurion, Fame, Tekapo, Bellbowrie and Hilda. The most exciting shipwrecks are those found in deeper water, but these are only accessible to experienced divers with adequate training and equipment. These deep-water wrecks include the Birchgrove Park in 50 m, the 10 wrecks on the Ships Reef (45 m), the Myola in 48 m, the Annie M. Miller (44 m), the Kelo (42 m), the Woniora (62 m), the Tuggerah (45 m) and the Undola (45 m).
The above-mentioned are just a few of the wrecks and reefs found off Sydney. Boat dives are run every weekend, and a number of ships run mid-week trips if they have the numbers. Conditions can vary greatly, with visibility ranging from 3-30 m. By far the best time of the year for diving is during winter, as the westerly winds flatten out the seas and bring in clear blue water from the open ocean.
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 Sydney's Southern coasts.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)