This year saw the annual Port Stephens and Solitary Islands surveys run back to back.
On the last weekend of April a crew of 5 Port Stephens regulars, Ash, Meryl, Margo, Nicola and Tom gathered in Nelson Bay to survey as many sites as possible – always an interesting logistical challenge as the bay sites need to be surveyed on a slack high tide and the offshore islands require favourable conditions. With the forecast swell for the trip to Broughton & North Rock at 4m an early decision was made to move the dive to earlier in the week – luckily the dive boat and divers were all free on Anzac Day. Whilst it was a bit windy for the trip to the islands, and somewhat unpleasant on the surface for our skipper Rob, underwater the conditions were good. We were able to survey one of our sites at North Rock (outside of the Sanctuary Zone) and one on the south side of Broughton Island (inside the Sanctuary Zone).
The five major sites in the bay were all surveyed over the weekend along with one of the local islands – Cabbage Tree and as a first for an official RLS trip we managed to get 2 shore based ocean sites surveyed. Boat Harbour is historically difficult to survey – not due to the life underwater, but as prevailing sea conditions often cause a huge swell to roll into the site. Over the weekend and the preceding weeks the team surveyed sites at 5 offshore islands, 5 bay sites and 2 ocean sites. Highlights included several Grey Nurse sharks at North Rock, Cabbage Tree Island and Boat Harbour, Seahorses at the Pipeline, and lots of Nudibranchs at the bay sites.
The following Monday, Bob, Ian & Neil headed out to NW Solitary Island and reported that great conditions were expected for the Coffs survey weekend and the weather did not disappoint. Whilst the wind was up a little on the Friday, by Sunday when we were out on the smallest boats the sea had glassed off. 13 sites were surveyed by a team of 9 RLS divers, Ash, Bob, Ian, Kate, Meryl, Margo, Nicola, Neil and Tom.
These sites were at 5 offshore Islands, Split Solitary, South Solitary, SW Solitary, NW Solitary and North Solitary. The fish life was outstanding with highlights including a Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris), Green and Loggerhead turtles , and huge schools of Silver Sweep (Scorpis lineolata), Eastern Pomfrets (Schuettea scalaripinnis), Three-spot Damsel (Dascyllus trimaculatus) and Moon Wrasse (Thalassoma lunare).
A big thanks goes to Let’s Go (Nelson Bay), Divequest (Mullaway) & Jetty Dive (Coffs Harbour) without whose support these weekends would be impossible to run. Thanks also to Ian, Neil & Tom for skippering their own boats for some of the surveys.