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Eric’s Dive Report for the 25th May

Dive #1 Long Reef:  

Today's weather conditions were perfect in every respect: sunny, barely any wind, and calm seas.  We could have dived anywhere, so good were the conditions.  Of course, we went to Long Reef, one of the best spots in the world to scuba dive.  And Long Reef has never been better than it was today.

So good was the visibility, that you could clearly see details of the underwater reef from the back of the boat.  Seeing this made us impatient to get into the water and begin our dive.

One by one, we dropped into the sea and then assembled for a final check before descending.  In every respect, the water seemed luxurious, including its temperature: about 23 degrees on the surface and a comfortable 21 degrees at the deepest point in our dive.  The extent of the visibility allowed us to properly appreciate the 'Appartments' and the rest of the underwater landscape of Long Reef.

We began this dive by taking a roughly south-easterly bearing to take us to the ‘Cathedral’.  Talia was eager to make a pilgrimage to this iconic spot and test out her new camera within the unique lighting effects of the Cathedral's core - with, at its end and just outside, a merry-go-round effect of silver and gold Pomfrets doing a slow motion rotation.  The effect was hypnotic.  Reaching the end of the Cathedral, those who were not hypnotised, were now dazzled by the combination of that swirling mass of fish and bright light. We should have worn sunglasses!  This scene is something difficult to properly describe and yet impossible to forget by those who have experienced it.

What was equally impossible to forget was a Giant Cuttlefish we saw nearby.  It changed its wardrobe several times in the way only a Giant Cuttlefish can do.  Lady Gaga would have been most envious.  Tilly would have been most impressed!  Flickering different colours and different textures over its body, this Giant Cuttlefish demonstrated multiple costume changes happening in the blink of an eye.  The effect was magical.  More magical still, was the way it came forward and extended its tentacles around my arm, in a display of endearing affection.  I was smitten.  Who could not be touched by this extraordinary interaction as well as demonstration of gentle connection.   We have a lot to learn from these creatures of the sea.

We now headed north-west for certain gutters carved deep into the reef.  Not long into our journey, a shark appeared straight in front of us and then many more.  At first they were no more than faint outlines, then ghostly shadows before finally appearing in front of us in extraordinary colour and detail.  Soon we were surrounded by eight to ten Grey Nurse sharks.   I am not a shark lover in the way that I am fascinated by Giant Cuttlefish, but even I could not be unaffected by the beauty of the sharks we saw, individually as well as collectively.  For seeing them in this cluster around us, gave us a special appreciation of the beauty of these creatures.  These sharks were hunted recently to the point of near extinction, which is why Grey Nurse sharks are now officially classified as "Critically Endangered" - meaning "at risk of extinction".  So perilous is their situation, especially due to their low reproductive rate (the lowest of any shark) and lack of real environmental protection - as evidenced by fishing lines attached to some of these sharks (despite the Grey Nurse shark being the first 'protected' shark in the world when it was listed under NSW legislation in 1984).  Which made seeing them today very special for several reasons.  

Letting a gentle current from the north move us in a southerly direction, we barely needed to fin.  When we did so, it was more to steer us in the right direction.  With this type of conveyance, we dropped down and found the entrance to yet another swim through.  This one was particularly delightful, as it was a meandering tunnel within the reef, replete with twists and turns, and occasional shafts of decorative light.  ‘Decorative’ because, those beams of light had the effect of artfully illuminating parts of the interior.  Towards the end of this tunnel, there is a small cavern with a bench carved by nature out of the sandstone rock.  What better place to stop and sit and admire the play of light entering that space, with a dominant shaft of light showing one of two ways to exit this swim through.  

Dive #2 Long Reef:

The conditions at sea were so perfect today that Tony, the skipper, kindly suggested another dive here to allow us to pick up from where we had left off on that last dive.

In diving, the temptation is always to try to go everywhere and see as much as possible within a single dive; often the better thing to do is to go to one spot, and wait for everything to come to you.  We did this now.  We went to where the sharks were and settled there, and simply watched as sharks and other fish closed in around us, presenting us with a spectacular pageant of sharks big and small swimming along side of us, as if we had become honorary sharks as well.  Those sharks would often sidle right up to us and then simply hover there before slowly being replaced by another.  Grey Nurses can do this because they go to the surface to swallow air in the way that we inflate our BCD's.  I can imagine a Grey Nurse shark piercing the surface next to a surfer, swimmer, or fisherman, with its jaws wide open, mimicking the caricature of a shark, simply in order to gulp some air!  Someone else suggested that braces might improve their image (they are also unsurprisingly known as “Ragged Tooth” sharks).  I can say, as would everyone else who saw those sharks today, that they needed no such thing to look both beautiful and elegant in the water.  
Back on the boat, Shelley discussed photographic techniques with Talia, whilst all I wanted to know was whether she had photographed the very rare scene of a Moorish Idol cheek by jowl a Long Fin Banner fish.  These two distinct species of fish are often mistaken for each other, so the real question was whether the same mistaken identity had somehow happened between these two particular fish, or whether they had simply got together notwithstanding being quite different species?  It was an amazing sight.  As a postscript, I should add that previously there were two Long Fin Banner fish here, with, however, the one now replaced by a tropical Moorish Idol.  Very strange.

The glorious scenes of Pomfrets we saw on the first dive were here in abundance on our second.  Every time I see so many colourful fish like these ones, in such numbers, I have to pinch myself to believe such scenes are real.  A colourful Moon Wrasse, Eastern Blue Devil fish, and Kingfish complemented this scene.  A large Bull Ray swam right up to David, to wake him up from the reverie we were now all in.  Because the truth is, the plethora of such scenes had now immersed us all within a dream-like world where the real had become quite surreal.

Dive #3: Macquarie Light House - Seals

So much of the beauty of diving comes from its atmospherics:  so varying visibility or light can conjure up all sorts of different aesthetic experiences - especially when superimposed onto certain dive sites.  Overlay that with varying aquatic life and you have many of the essential ingredients for different diving experiences.  This dive, in particular, exemplified that.

Instead of being out to sea, Tony now motored our boat to the base of a stunning wall of a sandstone cliff.  At the base of this wall was a rock ledge and some seals, soaking up the early afternoon sun.  Soon all divers were in the water and moving closer to the seals who were clearly enjoying the vista of whales frolicking in the Tasman sea (something we saw a number of times during the day).  The question was (and always is) would these seals jump in.  The divers could not offer any inducements, but could offer encouragement by attempting to talk in seal.  I can only imagine what those seals must think of a scene of divers trying very hard to make seal sounds.  Occasionally, the seal would look up and respond to the occasional seal word that a diver had somehow got right - the rest being, presumably mere gibberish, to the poor seal having to listen to this cocophony of well intentioned but hopelessly executed attempts to communicate.  Or maybe we were the seal’s afternoon entertainment? We stopped when our attempts became somewhat ridiculous, when someone inadvertently slipped from seal sounds to the sounds of a wolf. This scene had now become Monty Python-like.  The seal was unmoved and simply yawned (or was it a smirk?) at our clumsiness and inability to speak fluent seal!  We did try!

We commenced our dive here above an underwater terrace of lilac-like grass.  Or to be more precise, that terrace was covered in a cypress tree-like growth only about 3-4cm tall - all in a pink/purple/lilac colour spread out across its entire length and breadth. We then navigated in an easterly direction and followed the terrain which dropped off deeper and deeper.  One Spot Pullers traced lines in the 'sky' above us: so clear was the water that it felt like we were flying rather than scuba diving.   

Our investigation of this site took us through a maze of boulders, seeing activity everywhere we turned.  Couples of Old Wives looking resplendent;  couples of Black Reef Leatherjackets doing likewise.  A Blue Groper surveying the scene with the eyes of someone laying claim to this territory,  and a Comb Wrasse content to simply show off its striking colours and patterns.  

Other highlights from this dive included rivers of Yellowtail bellow us and being swamped repeatedly by schools of One Spot Pullers.  The three dimensional, non-static experience of such scenes is amazing as is the determination of One Spot Pullers not to be deflected from their precise route - even when divers or other fish get in the way.  At one point, it looked like a Long Fin Pike did not want to miss out on whatever the One Spot Pullers were racing to, so it simply joined the group in swimming off to wherever.  It was tempting for us to follow them as well - if only they slowed down a bit.  A very large school of passing Mado must have read our minds, and sympathised, and so stopped to flutter all around us.  As we moved around a bit, the Mado accompanied us like one large organic hallo.    

The scene of being surrounded by Mado would have been a great way to end this dive.  But an even greater way to end it, came towards us and fast!  A seal swam by with its unmistakable rocket shaped body, which transformed itself when it stuck its ams out in a sort of cool wave-like gesture.  It stopped above us, poked its head out of the water, and then stuck its head back down to take a good look at us.  Then with one more wave, it was gone.  We were left with a feeling of elation you might have after waking up from a very enjoyable dream.  You can never become tired of seeing seals underwater!
Climbing back on the boat, Nick indulged divers with a welcome warm shower!  As good as the shower was, it was not, however, going to displace the memory of that last seal we saw.  The huge smile on Nick’s face told me that he was not going to forget that seal encounter either!

Dive #4: Manly Bommie:

The sun's afternoon light spread a golden glow across this dive site.  With the reef clearly defined and painted by the sun’s rays, it was not long before we were in the water, swimming amongst those golden arrows, and surveying the landscape of this reef.  

We followed striations or cracks in the reef, which turned into deeper and deeper gutters as they approached its eastern edge.  Those gutters follow an almost perfect east-west orientation.  At their eastern edge, a variety of fish like to congregate with one gutter being a bit like the aquatic version of Martin Place.  Lazy Red Morwongs had their spot, a Red Rockcod his, and Black Rockcod all had their own.  At the very tip, under a rock ledge, Bulls Eyes have permanently reserved their place.  A Giant Cuttlefish disputed such territorial ownership and by its actions argued that no creature could reserve any space underwater.  Accordingly, under that same rock ledge, it hovered at the forefront, displaying a sort of magisterial or regal bearing.  It looked superb.  Not only that, it quickly showed how friendly it was.  In a sort of déjà vu scene from earlier in the day, this Giant Cuttlefish extended its tentacles out in a gesture of familiarity, and gently held onto to one’s hand and arm.  Déjà vu or not, it was a precious encounter demonstrating what wonderful beings Giant Cuttlefish are.  
Other highlights from this dive were seeing colourful Sea Tulips, arranged skilfully by nature knowing just where and how to arrange them and in what colours - from vivid blue, to cerise, to oranges, and purples.  We also saw sponge gardens with sponges in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes.  Also spotted were a Turtle, distracting Octopus,  and nudibranches all over the place.  Later on, back on the boat, Struan not only discussed the historical Jameson Raid and Cecil Rhodes, but also, quite understandably, waxed lyrical about the nudibranches he came across here.  Everybody who dives regularly has their favourite things to see and at the same time, is spoilt for choice in regards to other things underwater vying equally for their attention and love.  Scuba diving in Sydney is truly an adventure of the heart as much as of the senses. The more you dive, the more you become attuned to seeing the myriad of things around you, and the more you become passionate about the extraordinary world to be found underwater. It is a wonderful experience that we are fortunate to be able to share!