Diving during the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult — travel is on indefinite hold and lockdown rules make it impossible for most to dive at all. But diving in Sydney during lockdown has been possible in groups no greater than two people practicing social distancing.
At a time when many people are working from home — or suddenly have a lot more time on their hands — a Facebook community group has helped Sydney divers find a whole new appreciation for their local dive sites: Viz – Sydney Diving Visibility Reports.
While people were losing their jobs, panic-buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and life in generally was completely disrupted, the group offered a place where divers could find information about dive shop closures and opening hours. But perhaps more importantly, according to Viz group moderator Marco Bordieri,
“It became a virtual room where we could discuss the ever-changing regulations and listen to each other’s opinions and advice. Local, state and national decisions on travel restrictions have not always been easy to understand and, in these unprecedented times, sometimes slow in coming or with conflicting messaging about whether scuba diving is considered ‘exercise.’
“We are very grateful to the dive shops that remained open, at least for air fills. While I had an old voucher I could have used for air fills, I preferred to give them some cashflow and use the voucher in the future.”
Lockdown diving in Sydney
The autumn timing for diving in Sydney during lockdown could not have been better. This time of year, the water starts to become clearer — but not yet too cold — and the marine life starts to transform with the season. Divers can expect numerous sightings of turtles, as well as weedy seadragons, gray nurse sharks and giant cuttlefish. One diver even spotted an ornate ghost pipe fish in Sydney Harbor.
Some Sydney Viz members, or ‘Vizzers’ as they call themselves, claim there seems to be more marine life in lockdown:
“I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot more marine life around, perhaps because of reduced boating?”
When asked how the group had helped divers, responses varied. Some use the group to find dive buddies, as dive shops are no longer able to provide guided dives. Others are simply inspired to go diving, when they otherwise might not have), by reports of good viz.
According to one diver, “When conditions are good, it gives you the motivation to get out of the house. Diving has been a great outlet for both exercise and stress relief during this period.”
Another Vizzer also mentioned the therapeutic benefits, “I’ve noticed more than ever how diving has helped keep me sane during this time. I discovered more things at my local sites because I valued the time out and had longer dives. I also took the time to hone my solo diving skills, as I am solo certified but never really did much solo diving until now.”
When asked about their favorite lockdown diving moments, the responses varied:
“I’d say starting and maintaining fixed weekly dive nights with buddies, all sharing the same passion and motivation to heal from the stress caused by the circumstances.”
“Finding an ornate ghost pipefish at my local dive site was great. Imagine not having to go overseas to see one? One of the benefits of diving the site so often is finding so much more there!”
“Being able to go for a dive in the middle of the day in the middle of the week as a break at work.”
“The last week has been amazing with incredible conditions. I’ve been able to see the new Whites seahorses, which were released at Chowder Bay as part of the program to help take them off the endangered list. Usually I see about five to 10 seahorses, but since the release I counted about 25.”
Highlights for another Vizzer included “spotting an eastern gobbleguts (cardinalfish) brooding eggs in its mouth, a blue-lined octopus that wanted to dance in my focus light and a pink anglerfish (frogfish) in the Sydney Harbor.
As the waters become cooler, divers have also encountered gray nurse sharks in North Bondi and Long Reef, and giant cuttlefish are beginning to aggregate in Cabbage Tree Bay for the annual mating season.