A Flurry of Flathead!

Whilst I’m not sure “Flurry” is the correct collective noun for Flathead, they were certainly abundant this weekend, from small sand-burying Marble Flathead to the Blue-spotted and monster female Dusky Flathead. The latter can grow up to 1m long. The only species I didn’t see that frequents the aquatic reserve was the quaintly named Tassle Snouted flathead, masters of disguise. The Latin names for them are equally extravagant – Platycephalus caeruleopunctatus being one of my favourites. It is pretty much much the Latin derivation of their common name “Flathead greenspots” – well almost!

These fish hide in the sand waiting for prey to pass nearby then swallow them whole in a single gulp. When their sandy appearance looks the same the tail spots on the caudal fin are a sure way to differentiate the species, but the more you see them the easier it is to differentiate.

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And so the summer fades….

The end of April usually brings strong southerlies signalling the end of summer. Luckily this year they came a bit late, but the water has chilled to 19 degrees already and many of the tropical visitors have died already.

As the water slowly cools, algae dies off and the water clarity should improve giving the best visibility of the year.

The biomass in the bay still astounds me, and this weekend saw dolphins patrolling the surrounding beaches, probably looking for a feed.

Glorious Goatfish

There are some ten different species of goatfish that can be found in Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, some are tropical visitors but there are also quite a number of resident species too. As horrific winds blew from the west and south all weekend, prompting weather warnings all along the coast, the bay was flat and visibility 10+ metres, so diving was beckoning.

The goatfish are quite amusing fish to watch as they patrol around usually in shoals, sifting the sand with their two barbels below the mouth. These flexible protrusions work prolifically looking for food particles. Often individual adults will be seen with an eastern maori wrasse, the latter opportunistically waiting for a morsel to be dislodged or flushed out, as the goatfish does his work.

Diving in May

This time of year is my favourite for diving. The algae that makes the water green throughout summer starts to die off as the sunlight diminishes approaching winter. The water remains warm, around 20 degrees for a while and this brings Westerly winds that help calm perfect diving conditions.

This weekend was one of those perfect moments to dive and a couple of dives were rewarded with some great finds.

The Gold-lined Goatfish and Forceps fish are rare tropical visitors, but the stars of the weekend were a small group of Starry Toadfish blowing the sand, looking for food.

A very sick Weedy Seadragon floated over the sand, its skin looking infected, and the poor thing visibly flinched when the strobe of my flash went off. I never take more than 5 shots of this species anymore due to their sensitivity to stress, so after a couple of identification shots of the snout spots my buddy Matt and I quickly left it in peace.

Other great finds included a juvenile Common Lionfish, a Cigar Wrasse, Bicolour Fangblenny and a magnificent Eastern Blue Devilfish.

A dive amongst tourists

My buddy Matt, despite an injured calf, joined me today for a fun dive where we spotted lots of locals and a few visitors from afar. The locals included a couple of Weedy Seadragons including the cute juvenile pictured above and an Eastern Blue Devilfish.
We also encountered an amazing diversity of “newbies” including the Headband Damselfish, a Spotted Fringefin Goby, a Redhead Stylophora Goby (not previously reported in NSW), a Yellow Saddle Goatfish, apparently rare south of Foster, and a few crabs including the Honeycomb Coral pictured above. The establishment of corals in Cabbage Tree Bay has brought with it the organisms that have a symbiotic relationship. The Trapezia family of crabs, the Headband Damselfish and Redhead Stylophora Goby all co-exist with the Pocillipora family of corals, and the new species of Pocillopora aliciae that inhabits the bay in a number of locations¬† has attracted these new species.

 

Five minutes of madness

The pictures above summarise the weekend of diving in Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve. With some really hot days recently it was a surprise to find that in the last week water temperatures have dropped at least a couple of degrees due to the persistent nor’easterly this week that has brought waters as cold as 18 degrees to the shores. The first dive was almost over when things went crazy, in a great way. Three adult Blue-barred parrotfish, rare tropical visitors, appeared and lead the way back to the beach, one sporting a big scar on it’s body from an attack. As I followed them I glimpsed a shark in the shallows, the first Dusky Whaler I have seen for a while. Surge over the reef was making it exciting….mullet were feeding at the surface, then Kingfish swam through chasing the smaller fish. Shortly after a group of Samsonfish appeared, then more Dusky Whalers. I had a 100mm macro set-up so was lucky to get a shot of the Dusky Whaler.It seemed to be feeding time judging by the agitated nature of all the fish, but suddenly after maybe 5 minutes it calmed down, though just as it did a Moses Perch appeared, another rare visitor from the north, and a small shoal of Spangled Emperor.

The reserve has also been popping up some incredible nudibranchs, a few  photos included to show the range that can be found here.

Two great dive buddies too with Matt and Joel

 

Easter Surprise

This is the best time of year to be diving. As the strength of the sun wanes the algal bloom, that keeps waters green during summer, recedes, improving visibility, and the warm waters still nurture a wealth of tropical visitors that have cruised the Eastern Australian Current as larvae. By April many of these have grown to a spottable size and everywhere you look they can be spotted. The selection above were from a single dive in a very busy spot in the aquatic reserve.