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Diving into Science with the Underwater Research Group of NSW (series commenced 2017)
Understatement: Introducing the URG of NSW

Inspiring people, engaging communities and protecting our marine environment.
John Turnbull, President of the Underwater Research Group of NSW (URG), outlines how underwater research has revealed the incredible nature found in Sydney Harbour.
The early days: 1950s and 60s

Clarrie Lawler, past President of the Underwater Research Group of NSW (URG), looks back at the early days of the group which was begun in the early 1950s by Howard Couch, a keen sailor and first President. At that stage URG were making their own diving equipment since the only available were very expensive gear from the USA and Europe. They made their own respirator pieces so people could breathe from a tank of compressed air. By the early 1960s URG had the gear to dive further. Scuba is an excellent way to look at the world in the ocean as divers can slowly glide down to the sea bed and be surrounded by often unknown creatures.The URG were often guided by advice from Elizabeth Pope at the Australian Museum where she curated undersea animals. Clarrie and colleague URG diver, Walt Deas, published Beneath Australian Seas illustrated with Walt’s outstanding marine photography. Photography has now largely replaced taking samples of marine life. Clarrie has seen some incredible sights including an unusual Sea Urchin which was seemingly covered with white flowers. Elizabeth Pope identified it as a well disguised, deadly venomous species  - fortunately also very rarely seen in the region.
Diving suits: growing up with the URG

Denise Lawler, current Secretary and past President of the Underwater Research Group of NSW (URG), remembers growing up with URG and explains how diving has eventually become a part of her life. Denise was born in 1963 and can still remember the smells associated with her father’s (Clarrie Lawler) diving; the fishy smell, the smell of the neoprene diving gear that was washed out afterwards. While Denise didn’t start diving until she was 40, it has become an important part of her life. Compared with diving in the tropics or in lakes. Sydney diving is more challenging in terms of visibility out at sea and there is swell and chop and colder water, factors that add a level of anxiety to the dive. Denise is more interested in pretty fish and especially likes animals with personality like the giant cuttlefish and the eastern blue groper that hangs around divers. She has become a keen underwater photographer. While a late starter, it seems that, for Denise Lawler, diving suits.  
1960s forward: Advances in gear and exploration

Gearing up for exploration with the URG: Colin Piper first learnt to dive with the URG in 1966. When he first joined the URG, diving gear was quite basic: a wetsuit (not necessarily warm and well fitting) fins, a mask, a snorkel, a knife, a lead belt, an air tank and a regulator. Over time, equipment embraced the open-circuit SCUBA design devised in 1943 by Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan that featured a twin hose set-up. In Australia Ted Eldred developed a single hose regulator, the Porpoise (released in 1952) and single hose gear is used by 99% of divers today. Colin has been involved with the URG in several research projects. These include Commonwealth funded baseline studies of the benthic and fish life in the North Harbour Aquatic Reserve and a project with marine archaeologists involved diving in the south-west arm of Port Hacking looking for 30,000 year old Aboriginal rock shelves.
Clarrie Lawler: a leading light

In Memorium: Clarrie Lawler, past president of URG, passed away in early May, at the age of 89. He self taught himself to scuba dive in the 1960s, despite not being able to swim properly and joined the Underwater Research Group of NSW and served as secretary and then president for several years. He co-authored Beneath Australian Seas in 1970 with Walter Deas and contributed to other books and journals. He is also an honorary member of the Australian Museum for his contribution collecting specimens for them. An amazing illustrator and a captivating story teller, it is a big loss for the club as he was such a prominent member who contributed so much to the club and to citizen science. Condolences go to his daughter, Denise (URG secretary), and to his family. He will be greatly missed, as will his captivating stories about his underwater adventures in the 1950s and 60s.
Deep Space: Life down under

Deep Space: John Turnbull, President of the Underwater Research Group of NSW (URG), looks at more of the marvels of our underwater world. It is a misconception that temperate reefs are any less spectacular than tropical ones, especially if you carry a light. The first 10-15m has big kelp underwater forests, then the next 15-20m has colourful sponge habitat. In Sydney Harbour there is less to see past 40m, apart from wrecks. One steam-driven wreck between North and South Head has its old boiler and a big flywheel. At deep levels fish have very big eyes which let them capture more light. They are often red-coloured which effectively makes them invisible as red light does not penetrate as deep down as other colours. Some fish at those depths make their own light using bioluminescence. The most powerful and disruptive weather is a deep swell. The longer a wave is the deeper it goes underwater. A 2m high wave of short peak length is not noticed 5-6m below the surface whereas 2m swell with a long period between peaks (like 12-15 seconds) creates a lot of surge on the bottom like a washing machine. There is quite a lot of sound underwater. Tropical reefs have a background hum, with clicks, scratches, snaps, pops and bubbles. Temperate waters get deeper and booming sounds such as ships and outboard motors and memorably humpback whales singing. According to John most sharks are not dangerous and he has never felt threatened by one. He also enjoys cuttlefish which, with the related octopus, are among the most intelligent invertebrates on the planet. Cuttlefish have an amazing ability to change colour and texture. The giant cuttlefish, endemic to Australia, are very effective stealth hunters. A giant cuttlefish has two tentacles that shoot out, like harpoons, to catch its prey. It will investigate divers, and might even put on a display of coloured stripes running down its body, stripes that change from white to yellow to red to brown in a flash. Such a rippling flow of neon flashing display is one of the many astonishing features of deep space, except this deep space is all under water.
Still Waters

A Question of Balance Tuesday 5 December 2017 Still waters: David Faulks, from the Underwater Research Group (URG), gives us the lowdown on underwater photography. David is in his third year of being an URG member. His personal view of his photographic work is that what he shows people is from camera to audience with minimal post processing. He might take 300 shots and publish five because they are the ones that truly reflect what he actually saw underwater. In this way he brings truth and fact to the discovery. Click here for story and soundfile.
Seeking Sanctuary

Martin Puchert, from the Underwater Research Group (URG), examines the health of Sydney waters and argues the case for having a marine park in Sydney. The region from Newcastle to Wollongong is an area of the NSW coast that doesn’t have a marine park and only 1% of that is protected from fishing. Sydney alone has 5 million people and while a finite number of them actually fish we will eventually reach a point when where there are not enough fish to go around. Fishing restrictions are based on bag limits per person, which conscientious fishermen follow, but if everyone in Sydney took their bag limits there would be no fish very quickly.
Water craft

Martin Puchert, from the Underwater Research Group (URG), explains how diving with a purpose opens your eyes to what is really happening underwater. Diving with a purpose is diving where you have some sort of goal to achieve – some sort of measurement or observation or a research program adds a new dimension to diving. Martin has been diving for citizen science programs for the last three years -. He joined a program, Reef Life Survey, which surveyed the life on coral and rocky reefs. It required divers to identify fish and invertebrate species at a site, including sizes and estimates of numbers. Such citizen science programs mean participants meet with other divers and scientists who can share knowledge. He is surprised that when you look for information about any marine creature there is usually very little apart from an anatomical description. It is very hard to get hold of information on behaviours, life cycles and how and where they breed. Survey observations are often bizarre. Blue gropers all start out as females and there are one or two males for a harem of females. If a male dies then one of the females becomes the new male! Crimson banded wrasse all stay female until roughly five years of age when they all become male, showing how little we know about many marine creatures. There are pressures on marine life that we don’t think about. People with aquariums know how sensitive fish are to slight changes in PH, nitrogen or temperature and many marine species lose habitat from warmer water, pollution and fishing practices such as trawling. Diving with a purpose can reveal what is really happening in our waters, as Martin Puchert has discovered. Diving with a purpose is a real water craft
Sea Monster

Sea Monster Rianti Bieleri, from the Underwater Research Group enters the murky waters of marine pollution where, unfortunately, plastic pollution reigns supreme. Plastics are especially a problem as they never biodegrade. They do break down into tiny pieces called micro plastics (less than 5mm in size) and can break down into even smaller pieces (which can’t be seen) called nano plastics. These are consumed by marine animals like plankton which in turn get eaten by creatures further up the food chain which is how marine animals like dolphins can be affected.
High Watermark

Janet Abbott, from the Underwater Research Group (URG), recounts some of her diving experiences.

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