N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
HMAS BRISBANE CELEBRATES IT’S EIGHTH BIRTHDAY
By Nigel Marsh
July 31st 2005 was a historic day for Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, it was the day that a major tourist attraction appeared in the area; the day that HMAS Brisbane was scuttled off Mooloolaba. Eight years later and the former guided missile destroyer is one of the best dive sites in Australia – and it seems to get better every year.
I have been fortunate to dive HMAS Brisbane regularly since the ship was scuttled and have even documented the transformation of this old warship into a spectacular artificial reef in a book (HMAS Brisbane – Queensland’s Coral Warship). However, this year I had only visit the site once, due to the run of rotten weather off the east coast of Australia. With news that the visibility had finally cleared in July, I joined a trip with Sunreef Diving Services to revisit HMAS Brisbane just days before its eighth birthday.
We couldn’t have asked for a better winter day; sunny, calm seas and no wind – very similar to the day I first dived the ship only three days after she was scuttled. With such calm seas it didn’t take long for Sunreef’s comfortable dive boat, 2 Ezy, to power out to the wreck site. Once moored the visibility didn’t look as good as I expected, very green on top, but once we descended a few metres the visibility opened up to 20m, just perfect.
I was diving with Richard, or Mr Gopro as I called him, as Richard had a Gopro camera on his helmet (with two lights) and another one on the end of an extendable walking stick. Mr Gopro was off to Bikini Atoll the following week to dive the amazing shipwrecks at this site, so was just ironing out any final bugs in his video systems.
For our first dive we headed towards the bow, cruising along the side of the ship and passing trevally, batfish and numerous reef fish on our way. Dropping down to the sand at 27m I noticed that the corals decorating this side of the ship seem to be even bigger since my last visit. It is incredible how large and lush some of the corals and sponges have grown on HMAS Brisbane in only eight years.
We hung around near the anchor chain, waiting to see if any giant Queensland gropers would appear, but none today, just the usual red emperors, sweetlips, morwong and trevally. Swimming along the side of the ship we had a quick look in a couple of the access holes cut into the hull and entered one that led us to the engine room. Touring the engine room is always a memorable experience, checking out the equipment, gauges and piping. You don’t really need a torch to explore the engine room as so much light comes through the access holes, but it helps to highlight and study some of the features.
Continuing our tour of the ship we entered a number of other rooms before exiting on the mag deck. While doing a circuit around the funnels we encountered schools of fusiliers, rabbitfish, snapper, kingfish and trevally. Many of the common invertebrate species seem to be hiding today, the cooler winter water sending the nudibranchs and octopus into hibernation. But we still found plenty of anemones, sea stars, feather stars and crustaceans. With our bottom time quickly disappearing we ascended the funnels to do our safety stop, and spent several minutes watching the batfish, crabs and blennies that live here.
After hot soup and soaking up some sunshine it was time to explore the stern area on our second dive. Once under the stern we encountered the usual schools of fish – sweetlips, snapper, red emperor and morwong. The ever present school of mulloway were milling on the sand just beyond the stern, but wouldn’t hang around to be photographed.
As we explored the stern area I could see evidence of damage from the stormy weather we had been having, with parts of the decking lifting and a huge hunk of metal lying beside the rear gun (where this came from I didn’t have time to work out). Apart from a couple more broken ladders HMAS Brisbane is still in good shape.
We investigated a number of rooms, the missile silo (which was full of cardinalfish being stalked by a large lionfish) and also the galley and operations room, where all the guided missile computers are still in place and now home to gropers and rock cods.
Back on board 2 Ezy, after two wonderful dives, it is hard to image that only eight years ago the sandy bottom below us was a virtual underwater desert supporting little life. But just add a 133m long warship and it has transformed the area into an incredible oasis of life.
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