by Lloyd Borrett — April 2019
For many of you, scuba diving is a holiday activity. It is something you do on a trip interstate or overseas each year. Often it's about relishing the warm water and beautiful marine life in the most commonly chosen dive destinations. However, not many divers are lucky enough to live in these exotic locations full time. Because of this most divers probably don't dive nearly as much as they would like to. What would happen though if you learned to love and appreciate our own 'backyard' diving?
There is so much wonder waiting on most people's doorsteps if they only looked. Not many people think of Melbourne as a hot spot for diving. Some of you learnt to dive overseas and never think about diving locally. Others learnt to dive in Melbourne, but rarely dive locally. However local diving, especially in Melbourne, is where you can learn to really love your diving, in all conditions and environments.
In Melbourne you can dive under a shallow pier spotting colourful critters, dive on historic shipwrecks, explore the Great Southern Reef, or even gather a feed of crays, abalone or scallops. There are more endemic species below the surface of Port Phillip than there are on the Great Barrier Reef. This is also true for the marine life found on the Great Southern Reef, most of which is unique to Australia's southern waters and can't be found anywhere else in the world. Most divers who do get out to local Melbourne dive sites consider themselves lucky to have the opportunity to continue their diving journey submerging in the numerous locations around our magnificent marine environment.
It's so important that as divers we learn to love and embrace our own local diving. Not only are there amazing dives to be had, but diving locally is also a great way to keep skills fresh year round. Being current with equipment and good diving practice is so important as a diver. It's hard if not impossible to maintain currency when only diving on holiday a couple of times a year.
Then there is the chance to connect with and meet other local divers. It's time you helped to really grow a vibrant local diving community by becoming a participant in it. One of the many benefits of being a diver is the social side of the sport. After all, in the grand scheme of a day out diving, relatively little time is actually spent underwater!
A local and active dive group is a win-win situation. Of course many dive shops have their 'dive clubs', but for a true club experience I'd encourage you to check out independent dive clubs like Victorian Sub-Aqua Group (VSAG), Getunder Dive Club, Bass Strait Aquatic Club (BSAC), Latrobe Valley Scuba Club, and Monash University Underwater Club (MONUC).
If you aren't interested in joining a 'club', then maybe participating in one or more of the active local diving related groups on Facebook is for you. There is list of such groups on the web page Dive Site Selection.
So in honour of local diving, here are some of my favourite Melbourne sites to whet your appetite. Hopefully, this will inspire you to go out and explore your own local diving neighbourhood. Discover what else may be on your own collective underwater doorsteps. So go on, get out there and dive!
Some might consider a boat marina a somewhat unusual choice for a top dive site, but I would have to disagree. Opened in 2001, the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron safe boat harbour and marina has developed into one of the best pier dives you can do anywhere in the world. It's a favourite dive site of photographers into macro shots. Blairgowrie Pier is known for its Nudibranchs! More than a hundred different species have been identified here. But there is just so much more to see, including Dumpling Squid, Southern Calimari Squid, Octopus, Seahorses, various molluscs, Cuttlefish, Globe Fish, Leatherjackets, Stingarees, Banjo Sharks and large Short-tail Stringrays. Around the end of May through to the end of June each year Blairgowrie Pier often becomes the place to view the epic Giant Spider Crab aggregation that happens on the shores of Port Phillip. See also, Giant Spider Crabs Melbourne.
Flinders Pier is the Weedy Seadragon Capital of the World! Located just inside Western Port. Flinders Pier is arguably the easiest place in the world to find these iconic marine creatures. The BBC Natural History Film Unit spent three weeks at Flinders Pier in January 2016 to get footage of Weedy Seadragons for the documentary Blue Planet II. There are dozens of them here and during the right season you might see the males carrying eggs around. Due to the shallow depth it is easy to spend many a happy hour viewing the Weedy Seadragons, or exploring the other wonders found here. See also, Weedy Seadragons Melbourne.
Lonsdale Wall is an underwater canyon formed by the old Yarra River as it snaked out through the plains carving steep walled edges out of soft rock sides. Located just inside the heads of Port Phillip on the Lonsdale side, Lonsdale Wall extends for a kilometre with numerous different dive sites, e.g. Foggy Reef, North Wall Corner, Party Point, The Cave, and The Links. Depths range from 10 to 15 metres where magnificent reefs mark the top of Lonsdale Wall, down to 40 to 80 metres and more at the bottom of the wall. There are overhangs, ledges and undercuts providing sanctuary to an enormous variety of marine life, fed by the nutrient rich waters that flow rapidly past on the flood and ebb tides. Diving any part of Lonsdale Wall on slack water is always amazing.
For the wreck enthusiasts out there, Melbourne is a must-dive location. There is everything from warships and World War One submarines to sailing clipper ships, dredges, and steamers located in the waters of Bass Strait and Port Phillip. The history surrounding these shipwrecks is as fascinating as the wrecks themselves. In the years since she was scuttled on Sunday 4 October 2009, the ex HMAS Canberra FFG 02 has become a haven for marine life that have colonised the former warship and transformed her into a spectacular artificial reef. The 138 metre long guided missile frigate now lies in 28 metres of water and it's fun to journey around the site taking in the exterior views. But for me the real joy is doing penetration dives to explore the flight decks, bridge, engine rooms, galley and accommodation quarters.
It's rare that the Dive Charter Operators head to Rosebud Reef. It's more frequently visited by the independent dive clubs, divers with a boat, or a mate with a boat. There is nothing spectacular about Rosebud Reef, it's just a lovely shallow dive on a very pretty reef situated about a kilometre offshore from Rosebud in Port Phillip. Lots of small life, urchins etc. and an abundance of fish life can be found as masses of fish from the surrounding area all congregate here to feed. No two dives here will ever be the same. It's a site that can generally be dived in any month and at any tide level. I've never been disappointed diving Rosebud Reef and I find it a very relaxing meditative dive.
This is just a small selection of the hundreds of dive sites which I'm lucky enough to have in my Melbourne backyard. For more information about my local dive sites, please see Melbourne Dive Sites. It's surprising how many great local diving spots are actually out there when you start exploring. Learning to love the diving in your local area is one of the most fulfilling things you can do as a diver.
Seeing the effects of the changing seasons and weather patterns on a well-loved dive site is fascinating. The underwater world is constantly changing and evolving. You will be amazed by what you can still discover even at your regularly visited dive spots. Diving locally is also a brilliant way to stay active underwater all year. Besides, who wants to stay land bound too often, when your local waters await you!? So I fully encourage you to take full advantage of all the magic your neighbourhood diving has to offer.