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
MAGNIFICENT MONTAGUE PART 2
by Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
Montague Island, on the New South Wales south coast, is one of our favourite dive sites in Australia. We have dived Montague Island a number of times over the last twenty years, but our recent visit in December was our best trip yet.
For those that have never dived Montague Island it is located 9km off the town of Narooma, around 350km south of Sydney. The island is a national park, but the main attraction for divers are the two thousand Australian fur seals that reside on the island.
Our first day of diving with the seals had been spectacular, and we didn’t think it could get much better, especially with a gloomy start to the day. On our second day we were diving with Narooma Charters, the longest established dive operator at Narooma. Started by owner Darryl Stuart in 1983, Narooma Charters operator two vessels, the 12m long Dreamtime and the 12.5m Sea Eagle, which we were diving from. Both vessels offer diving, snorkelling, whale watching, fishing and island eco tours.
Loading the dive gear in the rain wasn’t much fun, but as soon as the skipper Norm got underway the rain cleared. Sea Eagle is a very comfortable boat to dive from with a huge dive deck, a saloon to keep gear dry and a toilet. Arriving at Montague Island the clouds parted and we were bathed in sunshine as the crew anchored at the Pebbly Bay Seal Colony. Even though we had dived this same spot the day before we couldn’t wait to get back into the water with the fur seals and were eager to see how the seals would react today.
The visibility was a brilliant 30m as we descended to the sand at 18m. Usually the best seal encounters occur in the shallows, around 3m to 9m, so we were quite surprised to be joined by a dozen juvenile seals. For twenty minutes we had these playful seals all to ourselves. They were not only zooming around us, but lying on the sand with us and often waited for us to creep up beside them. This became quite a game, with one seal allowing us to get within half a metre before shooting off the bottom.
Helen had left her camera on the boat today so she had more freedom to frolic with the seals and was doing somersaults and barrel rolls to entertain them. The seals in turn performed a ballet around her which was spectacular to watch. At one stage we were also joined by several smooth stingrays, until one of the seals chased them away. After an amazing twenty minute encounter the seals finally got bored with us and headed back into the shallows.
We explored more of the rocky reef at Pebbly Bay and encountered several Port Jackson sharks and blue gropers, but were quite surprised to see a green turtle. Montague Island gets a number of interesting visitors and divers often see manta rays, sunfish and even the odd mako shark. We ended the dive in the shallows with the seals, just having a ball watching them zoom around us and each other.
For our second dive we stayed at Pebbly Bay, but this time explored more of the bay, after playing with the seals again. Amongst the kelp we found stingarees and numerous fiddler rays, while on the sand were several lovely butterfly gurnards. But as this was our last dive we couldn’t resist spending the rest of our of bottom time with the wonderful fur seals. We had experienced two brilliant days of diving at Montague Island and can’t wait until our next visit.
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