Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sydney snorkel - Shelly Beach/Fairy Bower Reef (2)

17th October

I visited
Gordon Bay and Clovelly Bay this morning but the water was choppy and snorkeling was out of the question. After a quick dip in the swimming pool at Clovelly Bay, I decided to go back to Shelly Beach again - my second visit to Cabbage Tree Bay.

Since it was not long past midday when I arrived, the underwater light conditions were still quite reasonable. This time I explored further the rocky terrain near the walkway. I swam further in the direction of Manly Beach than I did in my last snorkel here.

Many parts of the rocky terrain are covered in sargassum seaweeds and kelps. Whenever I go snorkeling, I like exploring areas covered in seaweeds. These are places where you are more likely to see fishes than on a bare sandy floor (my experience). The seaweeds are food and shelter to many marine creatures.

Anyway, I have seen many fishes without having to go too deep and managed to photograph some of them. The Fairy Bower reef is surely a good spot to snorkel!

Australian mados (Atypichthys strigatus) - a common schooling species on the coastal reefs in southern New South Wales, but not found in Western Australia.

Female crimson-banded wrasse (Notolabrus gymnogenis)

Male crimson-banded wrasse (Notolabrus gymnogenis)

The crimson-banded wrasse is born as a female and later changes sex into a male. And with the change of sex, the fish becomes drastically different in appearance/coloration. Amazing! The fish will stay a female for the first 4-5 years of its life. So, when you see a male fish, you know it's at least 4 years old (see here). The crimson-banded wrasse is not found in Western Australia.

Male Maori wrasse (Ophthalmolepis lineolatus)

A mature male fish has a dark stripe along the sides and blue scribbles on the head. Females lack the dark stripe along the side. The fish gets its common name from the blue scribbles on the head of an adult male, said to resemble the facial tattoos of the Maori people. This fish is common on the coastal reefs of south-eastern and south-western Australia. Like the crimson-banded wrasse, the Maori wrasse is born a female and undergoes sex change later in life.

Male Rainbow fish (Rainbow cale) (Odax acroptilus) - The fish has teeth that fuse together like a parrot's beak. The fish lives on the southern coasts of Australia, including southwest of Western Australia.

Yellow-finned leatherjacket (Meuschenia trachylepis) - The fish is common on sheltered reefs in coastal bays and estuaries of New South Wales but not found in Western Australia.

Rough leatherjacket (Scobinichthys granulatus) - The fish is often found in protected reef and weedy areas of southern Australia.

Eastern hulafish (Trachinops taeniatus) - A common schooling fish on the coastal and estuarine reefs of New South Wales; not found in the waters of Western Australia.

Juveniles of blackspot goatfish (Parupeneus signatus) - This species is found both on the east and west coast of Australia.

A squid! As I made my way to shore, I saw a group of about 10-12 squids led by a much larger member (photo). They kept avoiding me and so I couldn't get near and get some good shots.

After my two snorkels off Shelly Beach, I was very impressed with the Fairy Bower reef and will recommend it to anyone. I have seen interesting marine life there even in shallow water, including a green moray eel, some leatherjackets, two cuttlefish, a stingray, and a school of squids.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sydney snorkel - Shelly Beach/Fairy Bower Reef (1)

16th October

After I returned from birdwatching in the Royal National Park with Denis and Mark, I went to Manly again in the afternoon. This time, I went snorkeling off Shelly Beach, south of Manly Beach. The beach is part of the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve. An interesting diving /snorkeling spot within the aquatic reserve is the Fairy Bower Reef.

Shelly Beach (arrow), protected from ocean swells by a headland

I entered the water on the left side of the beach and spent most of my time exploring the rocks that lie alongside the walkway. I was only in the water for about an hour. It was a happy snorkel because I saw a few marine animals that I haven't before. Indeed it won't be fun if I had to fly all the way to Sydney just to see things that I can easily see in Perth.

The highlight of the snorkel has to be seeing a green moray (Gymnothorax prasinus). I found it resting under a rock in shallow water (~1.5 meters) near shore. The fish was about 1 meter long. The species is common on Australia's east and west coasts but I haven't seen it before snorkeling around Perth. The green moray noticed me almost immediately but was cooperative enough to let me take many shots of it. I found out later that while the green moray apparently enjoys interaction with divers (snorkelers too?), the fish may bite! Thankfully I didn't get too near it! It certainly looks agile enough to snatch my camera and bite my fingers off!

I also came across two cuttlefish (Sepia species), each about 20 cm in length. I was quite excited to come within such a short distance of them. I could touch them if I wanted. (Of course it is not a wise thing to do!) I like watching the way a cuttlefish swim, which always reminds me of a mini-spacecraft. The first one I saw, which was resting in a crevice, was only about a meter of so from the surface. It changed positions a few times when I was photographing it. The second one which was resting on a flat rock, was about 2 meters below. But it just won't budge even when I dived down towards it! This cuttlefish is a truly laid-back Aussie.

By the way I have only seen cuttlefish a few times and in at least 3 meters' depth on the Cottesloe Reef. And all those times, they quickly disappeared into the seagrass and didn't give me a chance to take some good shots.

I also saw a stingaree - no idea about the species, though. The fish is about 2 feet long.

Besides the green moray, the Smooth Toadfish (Tetractenos glaber) was another fish that I saw for the first time. This species is not found on the west coast of Australia. Off Shelly Beach, I also saw some banded toadfish (Torquigener pleurogramma), which I often see around Perth.

The encounter with a green moray really got me excited about Cabbage Tree Bay. It is really amazing that I didn't have to go deep to see some interesting marine creatures there. So I went back again later for snorkeling and beachcombing. If I lived in Sydney, I would probably start a blog about the marine life of Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sydney snorkel/beachcombing - Delwood Beach

14 October 2009

As mentioned in my previous post, it began to rain not long after I started snorkeling off Fairlight Beach. So, I decided to move on to the next beach - Delwood Beach, which is just a few minutes' walk towards the Manly Wharf.

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Delwood Beach looking towards the Manly Wharf (a ferry was approaching the wharf). My exploration of the shore of Delwood Beach was my first experience with Sydney rocky shores.

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It looked like low tide when I arrived. The first thing that struck me was the abundant seashore creatures that make the place their home. There are animals and plants inhabiting the surfaces as well as cracks and underside of the rocks. Many parts of the rocky shores are covered in Sydney rock oysters (Saccostrea glomerata).

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Some rock surfaces are covered in "Sydney corals" - limy/calcareous tubes that house the galeolaria worms (Galeolaria caespitosa).

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When I looked carefully, I saw many interesting creatures, even though I didn't and still don't know what they are. For example, these red ribbon-like creatures that live in a crack in the rocks. I suspect they could be a colony of bryozoans - maybe some Steginoporella species or related.

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And I saw lots of waratah anemone (Actinia tenebrosa) which inhabit the cracks and holes in the rocks. I have seen many of them around Perth beaches too.

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Possibly a sponge - I took a snap of them because they look quite pretty and cute.

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Neptune's necklace (Hormosira banksii) - An unusual brown algae that forms chains of yellowish/greenish beads. I found many of them inhabiting cracks and holes in the rocks. The dark beads (left) are the ones killed or damaged by prolonged exposure to heat/dessication. The small pores on the surface of each bead have reproductive cells within them.

This is the first time I saw Neptune's necklace. This brown algae is not found around Perth but only in the southern coast of Western Australia (Albany).

After checking out the shore for an hour or so, I found the skies brighten up and so I hit the water again! I didn't expect to see anything too different from those off Fairlight Beach considering the proximity of the two beaches. Still, I had some surprises!

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An interesting creature that I saw for the first time in my career as a snorkeler/beachcomber - a swimming anemone (Phlyctenactis tuberculosa). The anemone attaches itself to kelps during the day and looks like a bag of baked beans. Come nightfall, the animal becomes agile and extends its tentacles to catch food particles that drift by. The animal can move around by drifting in current and crawling or rolling around on the seafloor!

This is the kind of marine creatures that you will always remember after seeing them the first time, owing to their brilliant colors and odd appearance. The animal lives on the southwestern coast of of Western Australia - no wonder I have never seen them off Perth beaches even though they live in shallow water.

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Fishlife off Delwood Beach didn't seem to be as impressive as that off Fairlight Beach. Still, after a few tries, I managed to get some presentable photos of the pygmy leatherjacket (Brachaluteres jacksonianus). The species apparently lives in Perth waters. But as I mentioned in my previous post, getting photos of leatherjackets is always a task for me when snorkeling at Cottesloe. So I was quite happy I could watch the pygmy leatherjacket, a small fish about 7 cm or so in length, swimming near me. It is one of the cutest fishes I have come across so far!

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Rock cale (Crinodus lophodon) (a.k.a. cockatoo fish) resting on a rock.
This fish is abundant off Fairlight and Delwood. They seem to like sitting on rocks. I tried photgraphing a few that were sitting on bare rocks but unfortunately they didn't turn out well. They would have made some great shots!

The fish is not a Western Australian and is confined to the southeastern coast of Australia.

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Not a fish, but a ctenophore, or comb jelly.
There are plenty of them in the water. When the animal is in the right position in relation to the sunlight, you will see fluorescent, rainbow colors passing down the rows of beating hairs (whitish bands) on its body.

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White-striped anemone (Anthothoe albocincta) - another non-Western Australian. I found them under a rock while running after a few passing fishes.

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After half an hour or so underwater, I gave in to the cold and decided to call it a day. On my way back to shore, I found this octopus (Octopus tetricus) resting in a crack between rocks in shallow water (~1 m).

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This last picture shows a large colony of Neptune's necklace that live near the shore.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sydney snorkel - Fairlight Beach

14th October, morning

After 4-5 hours of overnight flight from Perth, I arrived in Sydney in the morning. This vacation in Sydney was a gift I promised myself for all the hard work I did over the last 1.5 years. When planning for my holidays I read about the many harbor and ocean beaches around Sydney. Naturally snorkeling and beachcombing would be two important tasks that I should undertake in Sydney. And I had a week to do that.

14th October, afternoon
Fairlight Beach

The first beach I visited was the Fairlight Beach. It was not very difficult to get there: I just have to take two trains and a ferry and a 15-minute walk. The guides that I have studied in preparation for the trip to Sydney say that the beach is good for snorkeling because even in shallow water, there are many fishes. (The only problem that day was that the weather was sort of cloudy and waiting to rain!)

Soon after I hit the water, I noticed there are lots and lots of sea urchins and sea tulips around. The sea urchins and sea tulips are both much larger than the ones I often see in shallow water off Perth beaches. That was exciting for me, a sign that I would be seeing marine creatures in Sydney which I wouldn't usually see off Perth beaches.

FYI, all photos below were taken in shallow water (2 meters or less).
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Sea tulips
These sea tulips (Pyura species) are 2-3 times larger that similar ones I have seen at Cottesloe. The stalks of these sea tulips are a foot long or so.

Yes, even in shallow water, I saw many schools of fishes. However, getting good shots of them was tricky as the underwater visibility wasn't good. In addition, many of them just swam too fast! The water wasn't too choppy anyway.

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Ludericks (Girella tricuspidata)
The fish has 11-12 thin bars on the side of its body.
It is a very common coastal species in New South Wales waters, but apparently absent from the west coast.

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Rough leatherjacket (Scobinichthys granulatus)
Rough leatherjackets are also found in WA. When I snorkeled at Cottesloe (Perth), I usually had zero luck photographing leatherjackets. They are just too shy, too fast, or hide up most of the time. So I always thought I would have to SCUBA dive in deep water to get some good shots of leatherjackets. Fairlight Beach is apparently a good place to see leatherjackets. I could see a few different species of leatherjackets swimming around/past me.

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Yellowfin bream (Acanthopagrus australis)
Again, a common species in New South Wales waters but apparently absent on the west coast.

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Stripeys (Microcanthus strigatus)
This species can be found in Perth waters. They are nice to watch when they swim around in a school of 10 or more - they just look like some underwater butterflies when they move around!

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Crimson-banded wrasse (Notolabrus gymnogenis)(female)
I initially thought that this is a brown-spotted wrasse. Later, I was convinced that it should be a female crimson-banded wrasse. This is another common species on kelp-covered reefs in the Sydney region, but not found in Perth waters.

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Red morwong (Cheilodactylus fuscus)
The red morwong is the most common morwong on New South Wales reefs. The fish is confined to the east coast of Australia. On the west coast, the most commonly sighted morwong is the red-lipped morwong (Cheilodactylus rubrolabiatus). The red-lipped morwong is indeed the first fish I learnt to recognize and the first fish I got bored photographing. They are just everywhere I go.

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Easter blue groper (Achoerodus viridis)
Another fish that is not a Western Australian.
I have read about the inquisitive and friendly nature of the blue groper before. Unfortunately, the few blue gropers that I met off Fairlight Beach just decided to not pay any attention to me!

I was in the water for barely half an hour before it started raining! I didn't mind the rain but without adequate sunlight, underwater visibility just got worse. So I made my way to the shore. The last photo I took was this sea hare (Aplysia dactylomela) that looked like it just fell off a rock and landed head-first to the ground!

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