Grey Nurse Diving
Contributed by David Arthur - Aquatic Images
For about the last 3 years I have been diving a site 5 nautical miles off the east coast of NSW at Laurieton. At the beginning my friend and I travelled out here (with an accompanying boat) in a 4m rubber duck. Why go out so far? Itís because this site called the Cod Grounds has one of the most reliable aggregations of Grey Nurse Sharks (Carcharias taurus). I have done 30+ dives at this site over the years and there has rarely been a dive with out a shark. On some dives the whole estimated East Coast population seemed to be visiting. Between August and February is the best time to see these beautiful sharks in substantial numbers.
The Cod Grounds has two pinnacles rising out of 30-32m to 24-26m at the larger summit. Surrounding the pinnacles there are a number of gutters running off in all directions. These gutters very in size and depth and have sandy bottoms littered with teeth. Some of the gutters are wide enough that if you dive down close to the wall there is enough room for a diver with camera and several sharks. About 40m off the pinnaclesí there is a surrounding ridge of high reef with more gutters and sharks. The topography makes it easy for navigation but we find diving in small groups the most beneficial for divers and the Dive Master.
The sharkís attraction to this site is still a mystery but it is not uncommon to see large pregnant females. If divers move slowly or just stay still the sharkís curiosity gets the better of them and they will move in for a closer look. On several dives I have been eye to eye with sharks and taking photographs does not seem to worry them at all. If anything they will stop and check you out.
As a practicing photographer, every dive I can I take a camera, but conditions out here make it sometimes a bad decision. Currents can be strong but they also bring clearer water. I have dived out here with no current and fantastic visibility and I have dived in pea soup. The problem this site has is that it is so far off shore that you donít know what to expect until you get out there.
Apart from the Grey Nurse this site has very few residents, a couple of Lion Fish, Port Jackson sharks, Wobbies, Slipper Crays but mainly passing pelagic fish, though I have also seen a Blue Devil fish. Over the past month I have done 3 spectacular dives. The first dive was a single and we just sat on the pinnacle and watched. I felt like a tourist and took a roll of film in 16 minutes and I hardly moved. The count was done looking in one gutter we counted up to 35 sharks.
The next two dives were just as good with 25 sharks counted swimming around the higher pinnacle but quite a few more in the surrounding gutters. On all dives we saw a couple of big pregnant females but the majority were smaller females with only 2 or 3 small males.
On the 10/9/2000 Pete and I (in the duck) and another 4 divers in the mother ship (not much bigger than the duck but fibreglass) ventured out there to photograph and video the nurse. Pete had only received his new video and housing the previous week and as there were a good number of sharks the weekend before hopes were up for some good picís. When we were moored over the site Pete and I hurried to gear up and get in the water before everyone else. When we reached the bottom we were greeted with 5-10m vis and only 2-3 sharks swimming very close to the bottom or under overhangs, something we hadnít noticed before. After about 5 minutes something very big swam over us and caught our attention. We trained both camera and video on the silhouette as it turned towards us. To our surprise it was a Great White female about 4m long and the girth of a Collins class sub. Pete kept the video going and I took three photoís before we gathered the other divers (who missed the show) and surfaced (to the fibreglass mother ship).
Peter Heuttner (my rubber duck friend) has for the past 2 years been running Scuba Haven at North Haven and (with a better boat) takes divers to the Cod Grounds when ever requested and conditions are good. Peter makes sure all new divers to the area are aware of the GNS code of conduct before leaving the dock and keeps a watchful eye over the divers on site. Peters experience at this site dates back several years to when he was instructing for the Port Macquarie Dive Centre (now closed).
Other sites at Laurieton are the Titan Crane, lying in 39m this was the biggest floating crane in the southern hemisphere till on itís way to Singapore it turned turtle. Now itís the largest submerged crane in the southern hemisphere. The Titan is lying upside down and after only 10 years on the bottom it has some beautiful growth. Diving under the wreck is very dark but there is nearly always something to see, Giant Cuttlefish and a school of large Jewfish are regularly seen. Pete has had the site moored, which makes it a breeze to find (when there is little or no current).
Telegraph Rock is a large bommie in a maximum of 18m. This site has two very old wrecks littering the shallow edges. The rest of the site is covered in corals and fish life that will keep an observant diver busy for the whole dive. Port Jackson and Wobbies are frequently seen on this site.
Pete has other sites all the way up the coast to Port Macquarie where he also occasionally launches the boat. So, depending on conditions you can nearly always get a good dive.