Shelter Island 牛尾洲 — the fallback plan

Iport shelter‘ve been very fortunate with most of my Hong Kong dives this year: visibility and conditions have generally been good. Local diving is always a bit of a gamble though and last Sunday my luck ran out. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, the sea was a little choppy so Scuba Monster’s captain sailed out only as far as Shelter Island (Ngau Mei Chau, 牛尾洲). Its northwest coast, as the name suggests, is a safe choice when a stronger wind is blowing. Several other dive boats were also using the site as a fallback plan.

The main dive site here is a shallow sand and coral area, popular as a training ground and demarcated with yellow ‘no anchoring’ buoys. Visibility was pretty hazy, which is annoying but doesn’t necessarily rule out close-range photography. However, a persistent swell does, and the water wooshing back and forth meant I could pretty much forget about taking many photos in the shallows. On the first dive, I managed to snap a few fish portraits but gave up trying to focus on anything tiny.

From left: anemonefish (clownfish); rock grouper

From left: young painted sweetlips; threadsail filefish

For the second dive we changed tack. My buddy had previously come across some artificial reef structures at a depth of 13 metres made of tires lashed together, so we decided to try and locate them again. We descended at a deeper spot and found the water to be oddly clear at 12 metres but anything below that became zero-vis opaque — you could actually put your arm down into it and see it disappear!

After searching around unsuccessfully in the green fog for 10 minutes, we followed our compass bearing back towards the reef slope, and by luck we came across two of the tire structures. We were rewarded with the sight of six or seven big, healthy adult sweetlips lurking there, as well as countless smaller fish, an encouraging indication of the effectiveness of the artificial reefs.

From left: me at artificial reef structures (photo credit: Thomas Kwong); tiny anemone in silt on an old tin can.

A dive is always what you make of it. In this case, plan A was to take photos, but given the conditions, simply exploring turned out to be a rewarding plan B. Perhaps in future I’ll have the chance to come back with a wide-angle lens in clearer vis and I’ll be able to photograph the artificial reef.

Dive 1: max depth 6m for 55 min

Dive 2: max depth 14m for 55 min

Check out this post for my first dive of this year, which was also at Shelter Island with my then new camera setup.

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