Diving in cyclonic swell

My diving buddy, Matt, was keen to get in the water today, and despite rising swell arriving from a cyclone out east in Tonga, we foolishly braved the elements, together with a surprising number of other divers. Poor visibility, plenty of surge made for an interesting dive but there were, as there often are, a few gems to be found. Plenty of Moorish Idols can be found patrolling the reef, moon wrasse, including adult yellow moon wrasse, and “packs” of hunting bonito were patrolling the edge of the huge shoals of baitfish.

The highlight was a blotched glasseye – I’ve only ever seen one before, maybe it was even the same one!

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A mini floating ecosystem

Whilst not the best shot it was really quite exciting to find a bluebottle floating in the bay with freshly caught prey hanging in its tentacles, and two resident species of fish sheltering under the float, a bluebottle fish and a juvenile dolphin fish (aka Mahi Mahi). Choppy conditions made it a bit precarious getting close but well worth the stings incurred!

 

Bluebottle fish

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This week in particular, but throughout summer noreasterly winds prevail on the east coast of Australia. With it they bring the scourge of swimmers, the bluebottle, aka portuguese man-o-war. These stinging jellyfish dangle metre long (sometimes more) threads from beneath their float, covered in stinging nematocysts that deliver a painful blow to any unsuspecting swimmer, or fish that it preys upon.

Whilst most people loathe them they do attract attention from elsewhere. Three different species of nudibranch feed on the bluebottles, clinging to the surface of the ocean following them with the wind. Their bodies turn blue as they ingest the nematocysts, which in turn provide protection for the nudibranch. These beautiful creatures look like aliens from another planet with their elaborate bodies.

Glaucus atlanticus

 

Summer is here

The warm waters have truly descended upon Sydney, and the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) made famous by theĀ  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!

The boys are back in town!

Yes they are – with Port Jackson Shark breeding season imminent all the keen males are arriving early, patrolling the reefs anxiously as they await their potential partners arrival. I even witnessed a confused engagement between a crested horn shark and a port Jackson. Whether it was a territorial skirmish or mistaken attraction I could not be sure.

Further out I was lucky to find a large weedy seadragon, so I took a couple of shots so as not to stress it then moved on.

Lots of critters around and great visibility meant a very enjoyable day was spent underwater on a day that saw Sydney record it’s hottest July day ever – nudging 26 degrees.