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!

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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.

Photobombed – by a fish!

Once in a while you find a random object on the ocean floor. I found this gnome and judging by its worn facade I contemplated its story as I lined it up for a photo. Just as I pressed the shutter a small eastern maori wrasse popped in to kiss Mr Gnomeo on the cheek – no wonder he’s smiling!

A break in the rain

A month’s rain in a few days….so they say. Well wet it has been and the inner harbour has turned the colour of a milky coffee. Choosing a gap in the downpours I found it quite pleasant at Fairy Bower. The Dusky Whalers are still there in numbers and growing by the day. Many will leave in the next few weeks, leaving their nursery for bigger adventures.

Lots of different cleaning stations were operational, with Boxfish queuing up for a session with clingfish, the Blackfish shoals were happy for Mados and Old Wives to perform cleaning duties, then Drummer were queuing up for a traditional workover from the cleaner wrasse. Very busy today!

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 mixed bag

Slightly murkier than recent weeks in CTBAR but there are still some interesting things around. A piece of seaweed rolling around on the sand turned out to be the Yellow-Crested Weedfish. Once amongst the seaweed their camouflage makes them extremely hard to spot.

A watchful Grubfish has incredible eyes that, like a chameleon, can be deployed independently in different directions – fascinating to watch.

A tiny Bennett’s Toby was sheltering in a shallow spot, along with the more common Stars and Stripes pufferfish. The Dusky Whalers were patrolling the shallow reefs and understandably quite a few fish were very wary, some even sporting wounds from earlier attacks. Mados and Old Wives were cleaning the wounds on these fish, and as well as the Cleaner Wrasse I found a few False Cleaner Wrasse taking advantage of the situation, nipping those fish that mistook them for the former.

There are also a few species of Parrotfish around, the largest being the elusive Grass Parrotfish that hides amongst the kelp and only appears when you have the wrong lens set up on the camera – they know I’m sure!