John Turnbull, NPA Member
Snorkelling opens the window on a whole new world, without the costs, training requirements and equipment burden of SCUBA. Of course, you can’t reach the depths that you can on SCUBA, but there are several advantages to snorkelling. Some species, particularly colourful algae and tropical fish juveniles prefer the shallows. It’s warmer on the surface, and wetsuits don’t compress so a thin shortie or even a rash vest is often good enough. Families can snorkel together more easily, even when the kids are young, and on a sunny day it’s hard to beat the fun and adventure of discovering a new snorkelling spot.
The minimum equipment is of course a mask, snorkel and fins. In cooler water, add a 3-5 mm wetsuit and hood, and a weight belt to compensate for the additional flotation. Without the weight belt you will find it hard to propel yourself, as your legs pop out of the water, and you won’t be able to duck dive. Add a simple water resistant camera – there are several models now that don’t even need a housing at snorkel depths – and you can record the adventure.
Wear bright clothing – for example choose bright fins – so you’re visible. Covering up is good for warmth and it protects you from stingers and sun exposure. Choose a sheltered location – wind chop can make it unpleasant and strong currents should be avoided. It’s best to be out of the wind and swell completely, so choose a calm, sunny day and pick a spot that faces away from the prevailing swell direction.
In Sydney my two favourite spots are Shelly Beach at Manly when the swell and wind are from the south, and Clovelly when the conditions are from the north. Both have lovely algal gardens within a metre or two of the surface, and plenty of fish to see. Both are aquatic reserves, but only Shelly is a no-take reserve, so you’ll see more large schools and more big fish there. The left side of Shelly (as you’re facing Manly) is good for kelp beds, pike, mado and many species of wrasse. The right side is a boulder field, so it’s great for big schools of luderick, bream and mullet.
Clovelly has a wonderful ocean pool for learners, but the beautiful algal beds and boulders are outside the pool. Only venture out in calm conditions, and make sure you’re confident and capable enough to cross the pool boundary safely. Once outside, you’ll see a kaleidoscope of brown, red and green algae, many juvenile fish species, various molluscs and if you’re lucky you’ll get a visit from the resident blue gropers.
There are too many snorkelling spots in NSW to list them all, but a few other popular ones are Bushrangers Bay at Shellharbour, Fly Point at Nelson Bay, and many locations within our Marine Parks from Byron Bay to Batemans. No-take zones will have more fish to see, but any sheltered, shallow spot is worth a look. Reef will typically have more to see than sand, although seagrass beds can shelter many juvenile species. You can even discover your own local spot with the help of Google maps and internet searches; look for the sheltered side of headlands and small rocky bays in particular.
You can see dozens of native species in an hour of snorkelling; a fun pastime is to photograph each new species you see then try to identify it at home. If you look past the fish you can find wonderful diversity in invertebrates, such as sea snails, sea slugs and sea stars, and many algal species too. So next weekend, strap on a mask and fins and take a bushwalk in the sea!