Just another day in Byron Bay
Contributed by Wandy Hochgrebe
Starting up and running a Divers Retreat here in Byron Bay has been the best decision ever. Talking to our guests about something I am passionate about is just great. You understand their enthusiasm about experiencing something new and of course most of them have fantastic stories to tell themselves on where to go and what they have seen. One of the best experiences must be when a non-diver staying at PLANULA decides he or she wants to go for an introductory dive or do a course because it all sounds so exciting.
At the beginning of January this year however, I had not been diving for almost a whole month. And although I knew what was happening out there having a partner who makes underwater videos for a living and guests who go diving most of the time, I was disappointed that I was not able to check it all out for myself. Leopard Shark season was supposed to have started, but only a few animals had been seen around Julian Rocks.
So, when the phone rang and someone asked me whether I would like to go out this afternoon on the boat, I was already in the car with my gear in the back. I decided to take the digital still camera as well to try to improve my minimal underwater photography skills.
I was not disappointed. It turned out to be a typical Julian Rocks dive where you do not have to cover a lot of ground to see plenty of life. My buddy and I decided to go through the Nursery and the Needles.
Falling into the water I realised how much the water had warmed up since I last went out. My computer told me: 24C. On my way down I already could see plenty of fish darting around the fixed mooring, clownfish tumbling in their anemones and a turtle leisurely swimming past as I struggled to turn on the camera and tried to decide what I was going to photograph. Fortunately, I did remind myself in time that I would have about 45 - 50 minutes to take photos and frantically pushing the shutter button would only result in blurry photos of fish tails as experience had taught me.
Five minutes into the dive, BANG, a leopard shark turns up. My buddy actually needed to point it out, because I was trying to photograph this Dwarf Lionfish, hanging underneath a rock and it plainly refused to turn its face towards me.
The best thing to do was to stay where we were and let the shark swim towards us. The lack of claspers told us it was a female. She seemed happy enough about the divers around her and she kept visiting us on and off during the dive.
As per usual, there were plenty of Wobbegong Sharks lazing around and I found a Blind Shark tucked away under a ledge, accompanied by some Cardinal Fish.
On a sandy patch a bit further we found tens of Blue Spotted Stingrays all piled on top of each other, some of them buried partially or whole in the sand. Apparently they have been hanging around for the last few weeks and it would have to be something to do with mating. At home when I looked back at our Conditions Report archives on our web site I found that each year at the same time these rays congregate at Julian Rocks. Interesting!
All of the sudden my vision went blurry. Was I bent? No, just some wicked thermoclines. The temperature dropped suddenly a few degrees and I zipped back up my wetsuit. The visibility dropped as well, so my buddy and I decided to just turn around where the warmer waters were.
Eagle Rays zoomed past and disappeared in the distance, their thin tails trailing behind them. After that we saw more turtles, schools of Bream, Black-spot Goatfish, Neon Damsels, Anthias, Moon Wrasse, Sweetlips, Nudibranchs and a grumpy Red Rockcod to name a few of the ones I can remember. Did I already mention the cutest Stars-and-stripes Toadfish? Humbugs and small Blue Tang moved in and out of their table coral, synchronised and seemingly knowing when I pushed the shutter button so I ended up with a few photos with just the table coral, but none of them. A tiny little white-spotted moray eel only came out of its burrow once I had filled the memory card.
The time flew past and I still had plenty of air left, but the skipper was waiting. My buddy and I found a shallow reef to have our safety stop at, which turned out to be as exciting as the dive with Batfish checking us out, a large Blue Grouper chomping on rocks, a couple of Butterfly fish picking on some coral, a Blue-banded Parrotfish and Surgeonfish being chased by an ever so territorial Scalyfin. Damn, I need a bigger memory card and more time underwater.
Back home I found out that somehow the pictures I took were not always as fantastic as I thought they would be but a few were quite all right and I felt rather proud. At least most photos did enable me to identify some of the marine life I tried to capture in bytes.