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DIVING UNCROWDED JERVIS BAY

By Nigel Marsh

 

When I learnt to dive in the early 1980s Jervis Bay was the hottest dive destination close to Sydney. Each weekend hundreds of divers descended on JB (as it is affectionately known) to explore its many wonderful shore and boat diving sites. At the time you always had to book well ahead to secure a place on a dive boat, so I was shocked to return to JB, after a ten year hiatus, and find that my buddy and I were the only divers booked on the Sunday boat dive. Where had all the divers gone?

 

We were diving JB in June and the winter weather was almost perfect, just a light southerly wind and no swell. “Where do you want to dive?” asked Morgan Andrews, the new owner of Dive Jervis Bay. With southerly winds Bowen Island was the best option, and while there are a range of dive sites at Bowen Island I requested a site I hadn’t dived in almost 30 years, The Nursery.

 

The ride out to The Nursery on the 8m Genesis, the smaller of the two dive boats operated by Dive Jervis Bay, was a little bumpy, but once tucked up behind Bowen Island we had flat seas and blue water. While diving Jervis Bay is great year round, the winter months usually bring in clear water, and once in the water I was pleasantly surprised to find the visibility 25m. The water was also not too chilly at 17°C.

 

The Nursery is one of my favourite JB dive sites. It not only has a variety of different terrains, but is always home to a good mix of marine life, with a maximum depth of 16m. We first headed over the sand, hoping to find one of the resident angel sharks. After searching the sand for several minutes without luck we headed out to Warren’s Reef. This small rocky reef is covered in seaweed and reef fish, but is also home to a large population of spotted wobbegongs. While exploring the reef we were briefly joined by a fur seal that did a quick spin around us before departing.

 

Heading back into shallow water we next visited the rocky reef. Formed by a jumble of rocks, we had no shortage of caves and ledges to explore. These rocks are also covered in lovely sponges, soft corals, gorgonians and sea tulips. Around the reef we encountered numerous banded wobbegongs, blue gropers, bullseyes, a fiddler ray, old wives and a lovely eastern blue devilfish. I was happy to find a crested hornshark, the rarer cousin of the more common Port Jackson shark, but was quite surprised to find a small grey nurse shark cruising amongst the boulders.

 

For our second dive we could have moved, but decided to explore more of The Nursery. This time we investigated more of the caves and ledges, finding a pineapplefish, several Port Jackson sharks and a coffin ray. But the highlight was two large male giant cuttlefish having a standoff, displaying colours to each other for the right to mate.

 

The next day the weather was even better, no wind and warm sunshine, perfect for shore dives at Murrays Beach. This wonderful dive site always produces something special, and with 15m visibility it was magic. Going no deeper than 12m we explored the rocky reef, seagrass beds and sand flats. Over two dives we encountered dozens of stingarees and eastern fiddler rays, plus flatheads, goatfish, morwongs, blue gropers and a crested hornshark. For most of the time we were also followed by gangs of juvenile leatherjackets that took great delight in staring into our masks and camera domes every time we stopped.

 

With one more day of diving available we booked another double boat dive with Dive Jervis Bay, and once again we were the only divers. With the calm weather continuing we could have explored anywhere, but requested a visit to another favourite site, The Docks. This rocky reef is always a great dive and with 30m plus visibility it was stunning. While the beautiful sponge gardens and numerous caves are a feature of the site, we were most impressed by the resident reef fish and the numerous Port Jackson sharks. Winter is the shark’s breeding season and the best time to see lots of PJs at JB. Over the course of the dive we encounter over a dozen sharks, and at one stage had six of them milling around us. These cute sharks are always a joy to observe and photograph and seemed to be just as curious of us. This dive also produced blue gropers, eastern blue devilfish, banded wobbegongs and two huge smooth stingrays.

 

For our second dive we headed to a site I hadn’t dived before, Outer Boat Harbour. This site had been recommended as a good place for angel sharks, and while we couldn’t find any of these elusive sharks we still had a wonderful dive. This site has an interesting rocky reef in depths to 18m, covered in the best collection of pastel coloured sea tulips I have ever seen. During the dive we encountered schools of silver trevally, a southern eagle ray, eastern blue devilfish, stingarees and another grey nurse shark.

 

After three days of wonderful diving at Jervis Bay, on surprisingly uncrowded dive sites, we unfortunately had to pack the car and move on. If you want to experience some of the best temperate water diving in the world then book a dive holiday to Jervis Bay. However, I can’t guarantee the dive sites will be as uncrowded as on our visit.

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