Archive for December, 2011

Last Dives of 2011 – Mornington Pier and Flinders Pier

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I went diving again on Friday the 30th, these were the final two dives of the year. Year 2011 ended up being a great diving year, hopefully 2012 will end up even better!

First we visited Mornington Peninsula and did a shore dive at Mornington Pier. It was bit crowded near the pier and we ended up with quite a few spectators. The dive was decent enough, with quite a few different fish species and lots of rays. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t too great, but at least I had my macro lens so the photos from the dive ended up quite ok. There were plenty of fishing lines (and some swimmers) in the area so one had to be careful while diving. Even so, I ended up with one hook stuck in my drysuit’s right shoulder. Luckily I didn’t notice any leaking, so the hook probably didn’t penetrate the suit.

After Mornington we moved on to Flinders Pier as we had some visitors with us who wanted to see weedy seadragons. Unfortunately, conditions there were pretty terrible for diving. While the tide was higher than last time, visibility was really bad (maybe 3 meters) with lots of particles in the water. There was a significant swell as well, which made diving pretty annoying and any attempts at macro photography almost impossible. We did end up seeing several seadragons, though, so the dive wasn’t a total loss.

#127 Flinders Pier 2011-12-30

Friday, December 30th, 2011
Flinders Pier in Melbourne, Australia
31 minutes, max depth 4.9 m, water 20°C
Buddies: Joey Clapper

#126 Mornington Pier 2011-12-30

Friday, December 30th, 2011
Mornington Pier in Melbourne, Australia
56 minutes, max depth 8.5 m, water 20°C
Buddies: Carlos, Joey Clapper

Christmas Day in Ballarat

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

I spent the Christmas Day in Ballarat, an old mining town around 100 kilometers inland from Melbourne. Really nice area with lots of rolling hills and impressive landscapes. I was there visiting my housemate’s family, as I had no major plans for Christmas Day she had asked me to join them for Christmas dinner.

I took the morning train from Melbourne to Ballarat and my housemate picked me up from the station and took me to her parent’s place. The house was big and in a great spot, the food was good and the people were nice as well. There was a minor family crisis going on, though, which made things bit awkward at times. Anyway, it was nice to experience Australian Christmas first-hand.

While there was occasional thunder in the distance and a bit of rain, the weather was good for the most part in Ballarat. However, the real trouble started when I was heading back to Melbourne in the evening. At the train station it was announced that due to nasty storms (including a small tornado!) in Melbourne, train signaling in the Sunshine area (who comes up with these names anyway?) was broken and all the trains between Ballarat and Melbourne had been cancelled.

There was supposed to be a replacement bus connection, but they couldn’t give any real schedule as it was Christmas Day and finding drivers can’t have been easy. I was already prepared to spend the night in Ballarat, but as I was about to leave the station a bus finally arrived. Luckily it was going directly to Melbourne, too, there were two other busses servicing the stations between.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived in Melbourne without major issues. I decided to press my luck and spend some time walking around the city (it was already dark) and maybe take some photos as well. Unfortunately, it started raining again (this time quite heavily!), so I had to abandon the plan. By the time I got to the tram stop, I was totally soaked. By this point I was ready to head home and call it a day.

All in all, quite an eventful Christmas Day and one I won’t forget soon.

Diving with Seals on Christmas Eve

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

On Christmas Eve we went diving to Rye on the eastern side of the Heads some way south from Melbourne. After some initial problems and even a minor accident with our boat, we finally got into water and started heading out. Weather was good for a change, warm and sunny with occasional clouds.

The first dive of the day was a scallop dive near Rye. The goal was to collect some scallops to eat on Christmas. Not really my cup of tea, but I decided to join anyway. We visited several different spots, unfortunately the area where I did my dive was quite poor on scallops and I only managed to gather a few during the 30 minute dive. There were plenty of sea stars though and right at the end I did see one rather large stingray as well. Luckily the other areas we visited were better, and some of the divers came back to the boat with their bags full of scallops.

The second dive of the day was far more interesting, we took our boat to Chinaman’s Hat to check out a local seal colony. There used to be an old WW2 military installation at the same spot (the original Chinaman’s Hat) which the seals adopted as their own. Some years ago it was replaced by a new structure built specifically for the seals. The area around the structure is quite shallow, max depth was around 5 meters.

There were plenty of seals in the area, both lounging on the platform and swimming in the water. While cute and playful, adult seals are quite massive and it was advisable not to get too close to the structure as seals like to jump off it. During the dive we saw plenty of seals playing with each other. There was a relatively strong current which kept taking us away from the platform, luckily seals like following divers so we had at a least a few with us for almost the entire dive.

In addition to seals, there were also quite a few crabs in the area. Apart from the strong current, the conditions were quite favorable and there was plenty of natural light. While shooting against the light was not really optimal and the seals rarely wandered too close to us, I still managed to get some ok shots.

After the dives we spent the rest of the afternoon at the MUUC shed. While some people had to leave early due to Christmas commitments, the rest of us stayed at shed opening the scallop shells and getting the meat out. Frankly bit disgusting work and I was happy to leave most of it to more experienced people. I did return home with a small box full of scallop meat though.

Layout Problems Fixed

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The latest WordPress update caused some problems with the site layout (missing menu bar etc.), these issues should now be fixed.

#125 Chinaman’s Hat 2011-12-24

Saturday, December 24th, 2011
Chinaman's Hat in Melbourne, Australia
34 minutes, max depth 5.2 m, water 18°C
Buddies: Alexandra Law, Joey Clapper

#124 Rye Scallops 2011-12-24

Saturday, December 24th, 2011
Rye Scallops in Melbourne, Australia
30 minutes, max depth 12.2 m, water 20°C
Buddies: Michael

Little Penguins at St Kilda Pier

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

I spent the last two evenings at St Kilda Pier watching and photographing little penguins. There is a thriving penguin colony right next to the city between the rocks of the breakwater. Despite a busy shipping lane and other human interference, the colony is quite healthy and growing. Port Phillip Bay has very few predators for penguins and there’s plenty of food (fish, squid, anchovy) for the penguins within easy reach.

Penguins spend the day at sea and return to their nests within the rocks of  the breakwater at dusk. While there’s no entrance fee, there are always a couple of volunteers around at dusk talking about penguins and making sure penguins are not harassed.  Only part of the pier is accessible to public and there is a fairly recent observation platform as well. There were maybe 50-100 people around each night, during holiday season it can get a lot more crowded.

Unlike in Phillip Island (perhaps the most popular penguin colony in Australia) you can take your own photos here. However, as penguin eyes are very sensitive to light flash photography is forbidden. Luckily, penguins can’t see the red end of the spectrum so red flashlights (or red filters on normal lights) can be used for lightning. For the second day I even made my own filter from red cellophane for my flashlight. Some photos can be found in the gallery.

Great Victorian Fish Count – Weedy Seadragons

Monday, December 19th, 2011

The Fish Count went nicely enough, I had a great dive at Flinders Pier on Sunday, saw plenty of Seadragons and got a nice t-shirt for the effort. Unfortunately conditions were not quite ideal for the dive, tide was low and there was a light rain as well. This led to a quite poor visibility in the shallow water along the pier (max depth was only 3.4 meters!).

Apart from the visibility, it was a very nice and long dive. The divers were split in buddy teams and each team explored different area along the pier. As the goal was to count the fish (in rough numbers: few/several/lots), we progressed really slowly. We followed a simple routine, move forward a bit, then stop and wait a minute or two for the fish to come closer to us and count them. A really relaxed affair and a good way to learn to identify the local species. We took our time too, total dive time was 77 minutes. Still had plenty of air left at the end.

We saw quite a few different fish species, but the definite highlight of the dive were the weedy seadragons. There were plenty of them right under the pier and we ended up seeing more than a dozen. Easy enough targets to photograph too, as they move quite slowly and don’t seem too afraid of divers. I had my camera with me and took some photos while my buddy was marking down the fish counts on a slate. I should have brought the macro lens for this dive, as the poor visibility and particles in the water made anything apart from close-up shots difficult. Still, I managed to get some decent shots of the seadragons, they are odd-looking little things!