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.

Coral, and yet another new species for the reserve!

A building swell from the south found me in a different part of the aquatic reserve from usual and with poor visibility and an uncomfortable surge underwater I stumbled across some beautiful hard coral I haven’t found before. A large head of coral, full of tropical fish, mainly two species of Dascylus, even crabs.

Surely evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is heading our way as waters warm up, several heads of this coral appeared to be very healthy, and the lower fish in the photo is the first time I have seen this species of Headband Humbug (Dascylus reticulatus) in Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve.