Flinders Island and King Island are the most popular scuba diving, snorkeling and underwater photography destinations both have dive shops and are accessible by boat or airplane.
The other islands in Bass Strait are occasionally visited by live-aboard boats from Victoria and Tasmania. Tasmanias many shipwrecks attract many divers. Some wrecks have been salvaged; however, the location of many remains a mystery, and plenty of artefacts can still be found on many regularly dived wreck sites.
Dozens of islands and numerous reefs are scattered throughout Bass Strait, which lies between Victoria and Tasmania. These wild waters claimed over 250 ships and many thousands of lives before lighthouses were finally installed.
Tasmanias many shipwrecks have long attracted divers. Some wrecks have been salvaged; however, the location of many remains a mystery, and plenty of artefacts can still be found on many regularly dived wreck sites. Today Flinders Island and King Island are the most popular dive destinations both have dive shops and are accessible by boat or airplane. The other islands in Bass Strait are occasionally visited by live-aboard boats from Victoria and Tasmania.
At 40 metres the amount of marine life on the reefs has to be seen to be believed. Coral reefs have long been hearalded as the richest underwater realms. This is because they are easy to see. Down here is exclusive, only a privlidged few get to experience the unbelievable treasure of life that exists in the temperate southern waters. Divers are the only ones who know it exists and it is up to us to ensure the rest of the world realises and protects it.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Flinders Island, the largest island in the Furneaux Group, is located off the north-eastern tip of Tasmania. This rugged island is 54 km long and 29 km wide, and has a number of small towns on its shores, Whitemark being the largest. The small local population survives by farming, fishing and tourism. Divers visit Whitemark to catch rock lobsters, and to explore the shallow rocky reefs and the shipwrecks, many of which are accessible from the shore.
Only seen in southern Australia, the shape and pattern of Old Wives Enoplosus armatus depicts the unique nature of Australias southern marine life. They often swim around in small groups, and at certain times school up in huge masses in midwater. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
City of Edinburgh
This ship was lost in 1840, and little remains except for the occasional bit of wreckage. Nearby the wreck is an interesting granite reef in 13 m, with caves and gutters inhabited by rock lobsters, leatherjackets, boarfish, morwong, perch and other reef fish.
Banded Morwong Cheilodactylus spectabilis are common in the waters of Bass Strait where they can be seen around reefs , or in caves. (photo: Neville Coleman)
The Merilyn sank in 1958, after striking a reef off Goose Island. The twisted wreckage is scattered over the rocky bottom, occupied by perch, nudibranchs, wrasse, boxfish, ling cod and lots of rock lobsters.
One of the largest reef crabs in the world, the Giant Crab Pseudocarcinus gigas reaches a weight of over 15 kgs and may be 40 cm across the carapace. However, the huge claws do not seem to be used in defence as they make no attempt to bite when threatened. They live from 30 metres down to over 100 metres and are generally nocturnal, living in caves and crevices during the day.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
The remains of the Cambridgeshire can only be dived in calm seas. The ship was lost in 1875, off Preservation Island. The hull, which is laid open in 10 m, makes a wonderful wreck dive.
In the deeper darker waters of the Straits, the Southern Basket Star Conocladus australis may be seen out feeding during the day. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
One of Australias oldest shipwrecks, the Sydney Cove was lost off Preservation Island in 1797. The wreck lies in only 4 m of water on a sandy, weedy bottom. Over the years maritime archaeologists have recovered many interesting items from the wreck, including cannons, Chinese porcelain, bottles, bowls and coins. Much of the wreck lies buried under the sand, which hopefully will preserve the timber hull for many years to come. The wreck is rarely dived, and a permit is required to visit the site.
One of Australias most revered species, the Leafy Sea Dragon Phycodus eques is by no means rare and they are present at thousands of locations across southern Australia.
The challenge is to see them. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
King Island, approximately the same size as Flinders Island, is located off the north-west tip of Tasmania. The island has a population approaching 3000, and is most famous for its diary products, especially cheeses. Other local industries include rock lobsters, kelp farming and tourism. Many small settlements are spread across the islands flat terrain the largest are Grassy and Currie. Rock Lobsters (some huge) are plentiful around the island. Although conditions can be rough at times, you will enjoy exploring King Islands rocky reefs and shipwrecks.
Rarely seen at all are the amardas of female Paper Nautilus Argonauta nodosa that drift in to the islands on currents, to return to the place of their birth with their egg cases full of eggs. Once they settle down to the reefs they die and their eggs hatch out as tiny argonauts, to repeat the cycle of life.
Unfortunately my ones came in at midnight and after three day dives in the Straits I had to crawl into a frost covered wet ..wetsuit and go out alone and get the images as they would have all been dead by morning. The suit did not warm up, BUT I got the images, so much for the romance of underwater photography.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
The remains of the Loch Leven, wrecked in 1871, are found on the northern end of the island, and are accessible from the shore. Wreckage is scattered along the bottom in 6 m of water. The rocky reef is home to rock lobsters, invertebrates and many small reef fish.
The loss of the Cataraqui and its 399 passengers in 1845 remains Australias worst maritime disaster. Little is left of the historic shipwreck today, except an anchor, cannons, bottles and other wreckage, found in shallow water.
The remains of the Brahmin, which sank in 1842, are now scatted in 5-10 m of water. Along the weedy bottom divers often find coins, stoneware, bowls, porcelain, figurines and bottles.
One of the many species of sea stars I found around the islands of Bass Strait was this Long-gill Sea Star Nectria macrobranchia. Only growing to 120mm it is the smallest of the Nectria genus. It lives on reefs and feeds on sponges.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
The wreck of the Blencathra, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1875, is located off Currie Harbour, in 8 m of water. Clay pipes and bottles, plus rock lobsters and reef fish are found in the vicinity of the wreck.
Off Grassy Harbour are a number of good dive sites. An interesting shore dive on a rocky reef can be accessed from the harbour. Kelp and sponges are scattered over rocky walls at 12 m. On the reef are rock lobsters, abalone, boarfish, nudibranchs, sea stars, boxfish, leatherjackets and wrasse. You may even see some little penguins which nest on the island.
This is an excellent boat dive along a wall which drops from 15-30 m. The wall is covered with sponges, sea tulips, ascidians, sea ferns, bryozoans and yellow zoanthids, and has many ledges where rock lobster, shrimp and other invertebrates shelter. A good variety of reef fish including scorpionfish, weedfish, leatherjackets and butterfly perch can be found as well.
At 30 metres Off Deal Island in Bass Strait with hardly any air left I not only took 4 flash bulb images of what I thought was a new species of nudibranch but in the cold of the depths and the extent of my dive I was 'narked' enough to try and collect it in a plastic bag, into which the nudibranch would seemingly no go.
This dilema was brought about by my wearing ( and depending on the sales pitch) my very new "FENSY" buoyancy compensator with a ' spare air" attachment that was supposed to bring a diver up from 100metres.
However, at 10 metres ( coming up under my smallest exaust bubbles) I was completely out of air and by 8 metres, spiralling into blackout. I took my only option, I expelled every bit of residual air, depressed my lungs, put my brain on " go fins" and went for the surface.
I emerged from the water beside an empty boat, screaming air into my lungs and lived to tell the tale. "FENSY' had turned into frenzy. I had thankfully survived and learnt some very good lessons. The nudibranch turned out to be, just another colour variation. ( 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 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 the Bass Strait Islands.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)