Fly Point and Nelson Bay brought back many memories for me. This was where I held some of my first Underwater Naturalist Specialty Courses in the early 70's. A brilliant site and one where every major phylum of sea creature was represented and most were easy to see and recognise. A perfect venue for such educational courses to be held.
The Purple -lined Nembrotha, Nembrotha purpureolineata, common to the Port Stephens region, is a giant in comparison to those at other localities, growing to over 80mm at the Pipeline.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
However, some things change, others remain, and some get better, and no matter how many times I dive Port Stephens the quality of the diving gets better each time and the weather remains and rains and I freeze my butt off.
What could one expect in early September? Of course the water is its chilly self and rain was due. Regardless of the vagaries of getting older and the extra precautions required, getting out of one's wetsuit in the rain hasn't changed.
Port Stephens and Nelson Bay have picked up a bit since I was last there with lots more people, lots more enterprises, lots more buildings, apartments and holiday homes, one-way streets and limited vehicle access malls etc. So it took me a while to negotiate to the harbour. When I got there every piece of kerbing and parking, or even stopping area, had a parking meter with the exception of the breakwater wall.
Port Stephens boat harbour. The sea wall break water protects a range of boats against the vagaries of the ocean swells which wash in through the heads and the westerly winds that whip up the bay. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The shoreline entry at Fly Point at low tide looked calm and serene . Out in the channel the story can be quite different when the tide is running and due to this, diving is restricted to the interval (slack tide) between tide changes. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
I was visiting the area on invitation of David and Leanne Atkinson, avid divers, nudibranchers and photographers who have been recording species from the dive sites there for over 20 years and I was keen to see their new discoveries.
One of the most easily recogniseable sea squirts at Fly Point is the very common New South Wales species Clavellina meridionalis. (photo: Neville Coleman)
David and leanne had discovered an entire reef of the brilliant pink – red Bryozoan Pleurotoichus clathratus and it was inhabited by the fabulous little pink Okenia which eventually was to be named for them. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Atkinson's Okenia Okenia atkinsoni was named after David and Leanne for their marvelous contribution the the knowledge of marine life in Port Stephens and I for one congratulate their efforts. What they have accomplished stands as an example of what dedicated divers can do to avance knowledge of their favourite dive sites. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
The beautiful short – toothed egg cowry Prionovula brevis lives on the Southern soft coral Dendronephthya australis and can be seen at Fly Point and Halifax Park. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Originally discovered and photographed by Carole Harris in the 1998 this enfantastic endemic nudibranch has only recently been described and is now known as the Rose-ringed Nembrotha, Nembrotha rosannulata. It feeds on the colonial ascidian Sigillina cyanea and occurs in the channels between the off shore islands off Port Stephens.( photo: Neville Coleman)
The most common feather star at Fly Point is Ptilometra australis which at times is found perching an the apex of many other sessile sea creatures. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
'I will never forget my first dive at the Pipeline many years ago. I was totally gob-smacked as to the huge numbers of flora and fauna and the amount of interesting critters in the area'. This time I was enen more impressed, there is no doubt about this small area of "virtual muck diving" is as enthralling as it ever was!
Not always easy to find, the exquisite Tiger egg cowries Primovula tigris live on the gorgonian Euxapleura sp. This species also occurs in Japan and records at Port Stephens are believed to be the southern most extension of its distribution. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
I had cased the breakwater at low tide the day before and was amazed at how much marine life could be seen through the clear shallow water. Green, brown and red algae was visible along the rocky fringes with stacks of sea urchins, sea squirts, oysters, chitons, rock crabs, barnacles, whelks, oyster borers, leather jackets, periwinkles, nerites, a sea star and some mussels.
I had photographed as many as possible and then visited all the regular shore dive areas and did the same as there are lots of species which only occur intertidally and I wasn't sure I had them all. Also, it was (at that stage) a bright sunny day and I enjoyed checking out 'who' was present and acconting them.
Parking along the breakwater was no problem and we suited up and walked along the path at the side of the fish shop adjacent to the entry point. It took me a couple of trips with the cameras etc and things looked pretty much the same until I got to the walk-in. What a fantastic surprise. Some enterprising philanthropic diver or divers had built a set of excellent steps down to the water entry; it was absolutely brilliant! I was not able to discover who was responsible but whoever it was they have my hearty thank you for a job well done.
The Pipeline dive site. The steps, just behind the fallen tree are a real boon for anybody diving or snorkelling the area. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Instead of slipping down the embankment with three camera systems I kitted up on the steps and could walk in over the rocks even with the small surge present. What a pleasure it was. It makes a hell of a difference when one has easier entry and I, for one, really appreciated the courtesy.
Even in the shallows it was good there were excellent subjects begging to be photographed in two metres of water but I was after a few specifics and resisted, leaving them for the return swim.
Once over the rocks the sandy bottom was littered with rocks and clumps of algae, hydroids, ascidians, bryozoans and sponges. Although I was familiar with many there were a few which looked a lot better than pictures in my files, so at nine metres I got stuck into the imagery.
Scrambling along the sand was the familiar Hairy Red Hermit crab Dardanus lagapodes. It took many years of work and scientific collaboration to discover the true identity of this common species. the early years of establishing visual identification were fraught with frustrations at every level. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Here and there a fortesque appeared on the sandy bottom amongst all the growths. My endeavours moved a pygmy leatherjacket from hiding and I noticed the small clingfish cleaner gobies on some of the sponge and kelps. Twenty years ago I had discovered a particularly rare wire gorgonian with blue polyps in Moreton Bay, Queensland. At the time it was only known from a few pieces. We now know that this gorgonia is the host for the small rare ovulid egg cowry Primovula platysia which has also been found at Port Stephens by David Haratsi.
Looking like some weird kind of black nudibranchs, these electric ray leeches are attached to the spiracle entry area of a buried Electric ray Hypnos monopteryguim. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Sticking out of the sand was a three-branch colony, cream with bright blue polyps. Long-lobed yellow compound ascidians were everywhere but most were just lazing on the sand. These colonies of Botryllus sp. are stalked and generally attached to a rock or rubble in the sand. The problem is that when they originally attach to their chosen substrate as a planktonic larvae they are very small. They cannot see what they attach to and when they grow up into an adult colony they may be up to 200mm in length and a solid mass.
Consequently when the current is at rest and surge relatively low, they are unable to stand erect so, to humans, they look as though they are lying as if dead. However, there is much more to these colonies than meets the eye. If they just lie on the sand they would not be able to feed or breathe very well, but they are only like that when the waters are still (the time we prefer to dive). When things are rougher, or with the tide running their body mass is pumped up with water and they are pushed up into the current. It took me quite a while to find a half grown erect one to get the image I wanted.
Everywhere I looked was something demanding investigation or a photograph and consequently I was not making much progress. My dive buddies were continually emerging out of the 10 metre vis beckoning, or enticing me with handfuls of nudibranchs.
At long last, I made it out to the first rocky scouring. Beautiful Purple-lined Nembrotha were all over, eating sea squirts, mating, crawling along. There were bryozoans everywhere, a smorgasbord of critters. Looking at my gauges again I knew that, once again, I had allowed the many distractions along the way to bewitch me. Rising up on the tips of my fins and surveying the area for one last look I turned and made my way back into the shallows.
The exit up the steps was a piece of cake even with three camera systems and, once again, I mentally thanked the constructors.
Although I did not find everything I went in for, I did manage 72 shots and learned a lot. No regrets about not making it out to the deeper area in time to check out all the species. Guess I will just have to go back, shouldn't take more than 20 dives, I guess, to sort it out? One thing is for sure, the pipeline is even better today than I ever remember.
Examples of all the following sea creatures and marine life can be found at the Port Stephens dive sites.
Algae, Sea Grass, Mangroves, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, 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, Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals.
My many thanks to David and Leanne Atkinson and family for their hospitality and friendship and for sharing all their enthusiasm and excellent images. To David Haratsi. I am sorry you got sick and were not able to join us. Perhaps another time?
Copyright Neville Coleman