Put up your hand if, like me, you’ve long thought that apart from the occasional opportunistic bream nibbling on a hook at the end of some kid’s handline and those ubiquitous jellyfish, there’s probably not much else lurking in the waters of Batemans Bay. Well, definitely nothing colourful.
It’s an understandable assumption to make, for let’s face it, the water in the bay doesn’t exactly have the same clarity as the stunning aquamarine inlets of Narooma and the Sapphire Coast further south.
But don’t let the less than dazzling appearance of the water fool you. UnderseaROV, an underwater robotics company, have been using sophisticated vessel-based sonar and a variety of remotely operated underwater robots (ROVs) to explore Batemans Bay.
Their robot-carried cameras have recorded extraordinary vision of what lies hidden in the waters of Batemans Bay — an unexpected kaleidoscope of vibrant colours, fish and habitats.
“Most people are surprised with the range of colour, especially of the sponges,” reveals Dave Rowland who has spent hundreds of hours filming and mapping Batemans Bay with the high-tech robots. “I wish I’d known how amazing these waters were when I was a child.”
At the end of a day’s filming in the bay, Rowland often shows curious local anglers on the boat ramp some of his footage. Almost always, the first response is: ‘Is that really here in Batemans Bay?’
But Rowland’s remarkable footage hasn’t just impressed the town’s old salties. “The ROVs can reach depths which are too difficult for divers to access,” says Rowland. “We have even discovered and filmed isolated reefs never before explored.
“These reefs, in the Bay and offshore, isolated from sea urchins and other predators and often indescribably beautiful, they are the real gems of the Bay, they are like islands on the bottom of the sea,” reveals Rowland.
Although responsible for most of the filming, Rowland, formerly a data manager at Geoscience Australia in Canberra, assembled an interdisciplinary team of experts to help make his dream of showcasing the little-known marine world of the south coast, a reality.
The team views this project as just the tip of the iceberg for the potential for these new underwater robots, or ‘drones of the sea’.
Rowland’s fellow directors of UnderseaROV, electrical engineer Ian Holmes and chemical engineer Kieran Holmes, are an integral part of the operation. “They [Ian and Kieran] have made it all possible, developing and maintaining the robots and helping with boats and much more,” explains Rowland. “We all share the same passion for the marine world.”
This summer the trio are bringing the wonders of underwater Batemans Bay to a wider audience, through the Islands of the Sea show, a series of mini documentaries that draw upon the 2000 kilometres of sonar data and video recorded from Nelligen to the Tollgate Islands, and beyond.
Three years in the making, the Islands in the Sea show premiered earlier this year in Batemans Bay, but as word of its eye-popping content has spread, so has the number of people wanting to watch it, and as a result the UnderwaterROV team are gearing up for a series of regular shows this school holidays.
“Partly set to original music, the show features underwater gardens of incredible richness and beauty that most people don’t know are right here, under our noses,” says Rowland.
The show will also take people on an underwater tour of the Clyde River and Bay and demonstrate just how the ROVs are used. Rowland has also developed a second show with the UnderseaROV team, aptly named Through the Garden of Eden, drawing on new footage taken at Eden’s Twofold Bay.
“Unlike Batemans Bay where the sea bed drops off slowly, Twofold Bay, known as one of the deepest sea ports in the world, falls to a depth of 50 metres quite quickly so you see quite a few different species there,” he explains.
After enjoying a sneak preview of both shows earlier this week, I can attest that far from being just something to add to your wet weather holiday activity list, these underwater exposés are must-sees for nature lovers, recreational fishers, divers, and anyone curious about what really lies beneath the surface of our south coast.
Batemans Bay Shows:Islands of the Sea will be on show regularly from December 15 to the end of January 2019 at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.
Watch out for: Who or what lives in the tiny house perched on the Batemans Bay Bridge? As a kid, Rowland often joked that “a little hermit lived in there operating the bridge, very occasionally coming out, blinking into the daylight”, but the real answer, revealed in the show, may surprise you.
Eden Shows:Through the Garden of Eden will be on show regularly from December 15 to the end of January at the Eden Fisherman’s Recreational Club.
Did You Know? In using sonar to map the Clyde River, Rowland discovered the final resting place of the decommissioned 1963 Nelligen Punt. Local folklore suggested it was buried in silt near Big Island, between Nelligen and Batemans Bay, however Rowland confirms its water grave is actually upstream of Nelligen.
“According to one version of events, there was a guy who wanted to turn it into a dance platform, and when his proposal got knocked back, he sank it,” explains Rowland, whose footage of the submerged punt highlights old ladders and even the groove for the cable in the drive wheel.
Photos of objects being consumed by trees continue to flood my inbox. Today’s image, submitted by arborist Mark Hartley, shows the stranglehold two mature stringybarks have on a letterbox in the leafy Sydney suburb of Killara.
Hartley reports “the production of extra tissue at the corners of the letterbox is wound wood, the natural grafting of tissue that is occurring on the top side of the letterbox is called inosculation.”
Still on letterboxes, I don’t know about you, but every weekday in December I check my letterbox in hope of an elusive real Christmas card. Those e-cards just don’t cut it.
“Your column has inspired many outings and a bucket list of places to visit,” writes Hilary Kinraid, who on a recent trip to Murramarang Resort, just north of Batemans Bay, walked to Emily Miller Beach which she claims, “must be the simulacra capital of the South Coast”.
Kinraid enthusiastically filed not one but six photos of rocks on the beach resembling all sorts of animals and objects including a turtle, the head of an English Bloodhound, a couple of diggers and this spaceship (complete with control room on top).
This little-known beach is a lovely summer day trip from Canberra (head to South Durras and then take Banyandah Street). If you go, take care as the beach is not patrolled and herpetophobes should be on the look-out, for the surrounding forest is a known-haunt for diamond pythons.
Contact Tim: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.
Where on the South Coast?
Clue: For some rev-heads, cars are a religion.
Degree of difficulty: Medium - Hard.
Congratulations to first-time winner Daniel Newton of Amaroo who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo as a ‘warning’ sign on the corner of Naas Road and Sunshine Road, about 4 kilometres past the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre. Newton just beat Steve Leahy, who couldn’t recall the exact location of the sign so “played around with Google Earth” until he found it. The photo was sent in by Greg Shaw of Jerrabomberra who is “aware of folklore about the Tharwa Yowie,” and believes “if there is a yowie (or two!) out there that the nearby creek line might be a good place to spot it.”
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday December 15, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.