Tasmanian underwater photographer, Shane Breen, joined us for the weekend. Shane spends a lot of time diving the beautiful waters of Tasmania and really appreciated a weekend dedicated to diving Port Arthur.
I have been diving with Shane for a few years now. Shane started diving in Tasmania over thirty years ago, and then took a break. When diving with Shane, you will always find him behind a camera.
Shane had a really great weekend and enjoyed diving with a focus on photography. For him, it was really refreshing to be able to take time over a photo and look up and see your buddy doing the same thing and not swimming off into the distance. Out of the water, Shane found the opportunity to discuss equipment and techniques also beneficial. Thanks Shane for joining us over the weekend!
Sometimes, planning diving weekends in Tasmania is a good lesson for over-coming adversity. I have wanted to run an underwater photography weekend in Tasmania for the last year now. To me it sounded like a great opportunity to go diving and spend the evenings talking with like minded people about photography. However, as the weekend loomed closer, the predicted forecast got worse and worse. My lovely day dream of photographing sea caves, sea dragons and deep sponge gardens on the East Coast of the Tasman Peninsula, were slowly being eroded! Fortunately, the best thing about the Peninsula, is that there is almost always a place to dive in everything but the worst conditions. Consequently, as I was heading down to the dive lodge on Friday night, in the driving rain and howling winds, I was trying to think of our plan B.
Saturday morning and the divers start to arrive. After a few jokes about the weather, a coffee or three and the suggestion of breakfast, we got our equipment ready, cameras set up, and in to our dry suits (or wet suits for the not so faint hearted). We had made a decision on our dive location. Port Arthur. This south facing, deep water port is a treasure trove of colonial Australian history and surprisingly enough, great dive sites! It is also reasonably protected from the terrifying, 4 meter easterly swell that, at the time, was lashing our usual dive sites.
Even though the conditions were less than favorable, we explored two new shallow dive sites on the eastern shore of the port. The dive at Surveyors Cove gave the divers the opportunity to work on strobe placement. The boulders in between the sand patches were covered in Caulerpa species (a type of green algae that has many different physical forms, but all are captivating) giving the impression of a nicely mown lawn. There were few fish, but lots of abalone, feather stars and sponges to try for nice composition shots!
The second dive for the day was at Denmans Creek. Here, the macro photographers were having a field day. Lots of magnificent biscuit stars (Tosia magnifica), in interesting positions, with their delicate tube feet slowly propelling them along the reef surface. Ascidians crowned the highly colored, rock faces, and big brown kelp species topped off the canopy.
After returning to the lodge and doing the usual wash down, pack up and warm up, we closed the evening with a very Tasmanian barbecue, sitting out side in the frigid, early spring air until we all decided it was too cold and had to head in side.
Day two was much kinder to us. The sun even came out, and the wind had dropped to nothing over night. We still were diving in Port Arthur, however we were able to head to one of the deeper sites, near the heads of the port itself, The Gardens. This site was named so, due to the stunning sponge gardens found around 18-30 meters depth. Despite the sizeable swell still rolling just outside the heads, we managed to get a fantastic 15 meters visibility. The five of us descended through schools of butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera) and straight in to 25 meters depth, spread out and started shooting. Due to the drastic reduction of light at these depths, various invertebrates such as sponges, feather stars, soft corals and anemones, as well as coraline algae species now dominate the system. And the color show they put on, is absolutely spectacular! I don’t think anyone wanted to return to the boat… but you have to change tank at some point!
Our last dive for the weekend, was a lovely cruisey dive under the Port Arthur Golf Club. This site is a hidden little gem, weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), friendly draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) and lots of cow fish (Aracana aurita)! This was a beautiful way to finish a fantastic weekend. Stay tuned for the next couple of blogs where I introduce all the photographers who joined us for the weekend.
For a lot of Tasmanian divers, there is one event that is always on the calendar, Tasmanian Combined Dive Clubs Weekend (CCW). It is held every year, in the sleepy, East Coast town of Bicheno on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, for the last 15 years.
For me, it always starts the same way, finish work, pack the car faster than light speed, then drive 2.5-3 hours in the dark, along the windy, coastal highway, attempting to avoid the suicidal native wildlife. The car, the company and all the dive gear have managed to make it every year, for the last 5 years, thankfully.
Arriving in Bicheno, and our first stop is the local fish shop down at the boat ramp. Yarns are told, new and old divers alike are greeted and a few rough dive plans mooted for the next morning. We stroll along the road, back to our accommodation, being serenaded by the nesting penguins.
We awake to a beautiful, crisp Bicheno winters morning. The sun is shining, wind is barely a whisper and the sea is calm. A couple of the hard-core interstaters were at the ramp at 6am for a dawn dive, return with tales of 15 meters + visibility! Its going to be a good one.
Being a long weekend, boats, big and small are everywhere! However, it is a big coast, and most fishermen head offshore, and away from the marine reserve, where we prefer to dive. Dolphins playfully join us as we leave the boat ramp, heading towards the marine reserve. We kill the boat motors and the dolphins do laps around the boat, showing off their lithe and skillful manoeuvres.
The 45 minutes in the blue never quite seems to give us enough time to explore the great diversity of dive sites the East coast of Tasmania, and in particular, Bicheno, have to offer. Once we are past 20 meters depth, the kelp beds begin to thin out, making space for the beautiful and complex variety of sponges, sea whips and other incredible invertebrate species. And the colors. I’m eternally in wonder with the colors the deeper sites of Tasmania have to offer. The massive, room sized boulders give the appearance of huge sea monsters, covered in sea whips, long, white and gently swaying with any remnant surge.
Hundreds of pink butterfly perch, move in synchronicity and are more interested than afraid of the two ridiculous, neoprene and steel shapes moving through them. They flit and turn together, collecting little morsels from the water column. In the Governor Island Marine Reserve, the large rock lobsters know they’re safe, and the vibrant, large red and yellow animals stroll across the boulder littered sea floor with very few cares in the world.
Heading back to the surface, we come to the region that is dominated by golden parazooanthids. Weird, tubelike creatures, that end in delicate tentacles. these beautiful colonial animals cover swathes of rock bommies, leading to the aptly named dive site, Golden Bommies. The butterfly perch follow and watch us, still eating in their peculiar little way.
Slightly shallower again, the kelp begins to return, as do swathes of bryozoans (colonial animals that look like plants), yellow sponges, and my all time favorites, sea spiders and nudibranchs. A macro photographers heaven. It’s a good thing our bottom time is considerable longer at this depth, I easily spend 10 minutes harassing one particularly photogenic nudibranch or a group of sea spiders huddling together.
Our time is almost up, but there is one last favorite bit of diving in Bicheno. That 5 minutes between deploying the surface marker buoy (smb) and breaking the surface is not to be ignored. It is the chance to have a candid view in to this underwater playground. The wrasse play hide-and-seek in the surge and kelp, leather jackets, who look like they’ve had a little too much to drink, try to defend their territory from other, faster fish, and the pike school hurriedly through the melee to rush off as one. A rock lobster, surveys his little hidey hole, and shuffles a little further in to the open.
We break the surface, and chill on the surface like the nearby seal, sunning its self. The boat comes and picks us up, and we quite literally sail in to the most stunning, pastel hued sunset. The sky is still highly colored an hour later as we sit on our balcony drinking a quiet beer.
We wash down, pack up, eat cheese, tell a yarn and listen to the evening presentations. The latest research on the invasive urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii), scientific and cave diving talks as well as a stunning video from the Our World Underwater Scholar from 2018. The weekend is finished with Dr Harry (Thai cave rescue, not the vet…) giving an incredible, down to earth talk about his experiences.
The winding road, rain slicked windows, and some tunes carry us gently home. Mother nature smiled on us, this time round, sun, no wind, no rain, and 15-25 meter visibility. Bring on winter diving!!!