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.



Summer is here

The warm waters have truly descended upon Sydney, and the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) made famous by the  movie Finding Nemo, continues to push warm water into the harbour, bringing with it an abundance of tropical visitors. The EAC has been pushing water down the coast at 3-4 knots at times. The reserve now has Cauliflower corals growing in easily accessible places for snorkellers to enjoy. A barred soapfish arrived and was spotted by my dive buddy Matt, the last one I saw here was 20 years ago. This fish is at it’s southernmost limit of its range. Even a painted sweetlips has showed up in the harbour. A variety of butterflyfish were spotted, resident dusky butterflyfish and eastern talma, but also some tropical ones.

The resident Sydney Cardinalfish males are busy brooding their offspring in their mouths. Periodically they spit out the egg mass to clean it before carefully concealing it again inside their wide gape.

Summer has arrived underwater and the next few months promise to bring many more surprises and new species into the aquatic reserve.

An underwater garden

Today my best dive buddy, Matt, joined me on one of our favourite dives in the aquatic reserve. The hardest part of the dive is getting in and out as you have to climb over a fence, down a cliff face, then over a sizeable cliff rockfall zone to get to the entry and exit point, all in full dive gear and camera equipment.

We call it extreme diving, but the reward is access to a beautiful dive spot we call “The Canyons”. The area is rich in corals, sponges, weedy seadragons, and seals have even been spotted here on several occasions.

New corals are appearing and spreading so rapidly they will be accessible to the majority of divers in a few years. One of them is a new species described as recently as 2013 from a specimen from Lord Howe island. Large mats of this hard tropical coral cover the reefs and with them come the species that associate with them.

Coralline algae colonies abound, these purple hard growths often being mistaken for corals are actually an algae.

Sponges abound too in all shapes and sizes from yellow spherical ones, concave mushroom-like ones that fish like to sit in, long finger-like clusters, even purple and blue ones in a variety of shapes and sizes.

This dive is weather dependent and can be quite dangerous if you haven’t dived it before, but here’s hoping to continued calm conditions!

A new fish in the reserve

The water has cooled to 20 degrees but it was still surprising to find a few tropicals clinging on and a new fish I haven’t ever seen before, the Blotched Bigeye. Not a very nice name and it was a fortuitous find as I was photographing another fish when these eyes kept coming into the side of the viewfinder, and they are big eyes!

A larger than normally found bluehead wrasse was cruising the reef, with the blue and yellow moon wrasse, and I even found a dot-dash butterflyfish, the first I think I have found this year. A few Half and Half Puller remain, plenty of iridescent Neon Damsels, even a Fire Damsel.

Plenty to see in relatively clear water


A hidden spot!

There is a seldom frequented part of the aquatic reserve that I often sneak off to for several reasons. Firstly, less people means you can find interesting critters and today’s gem was a tropical headband damselfish that has taken up residence in some hard coral growing there. On further inspection there was a crab hiding deep in the base of the coral. A few very fast wrasse were also swimming around making it very hard to photograph. I also stumbled upon a very shy Blackspot snapper that I have only really seen in juvenile form before.

I’ve thrown a mystery object to identify too – for those playing at home….

Invertebrates and fish

If you doubted that our waters are getting warmer the corals appearing in the reserve are getting bigger and abounding in the shallows. These hard corals are reef-builders. Give it a few years and you’ll not need to fly to Cairns for a trip to the reef – it’ll be on our doorstep.

The seasonal warming of the ocean lags the land temperature by 2-3 months so while the beach bakes in the sun, the water remains cooler, and as algae flourishes in the sun the visibility drops.

Venture into the depths and you’ll find colourful sponges, and beautiful fish from the large spotted wobbegong sharks to all the tiny juvenile fish now appearing in the bay, like the magpie morwong.

Corals and Dragons

Having seen the vibrant colours of Sydney city as the Vivid festival commenced last night, the underwater natural world presents a colourful alternative all year round. As well as a solitary Weedy Seadragon today there were an abundance of corals and sponges decorating the seabed. The seadragon is a bit lonely at the moment – this individual being the only one that has been seen, in months of diving in the aquatic reserve, and can be identified by the single appendage on the head.