Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Underwater Sydney Project

I just read about the Underwater Sydney Project on Chad's blog (Adventurous Adventures: and thought I should help spread the news too.

Do take a look at their website: It has some great marine life images and short, easy-to-read stories about marine life. In other words, even someone who doesn't know much about marine life can understand what it is all about. The project's founding partners are Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund and Sydney Coastal Councils. The team running the website consists of both underwater and media experts.

According to their website, the project aims to "1) makes people love their own local marine life, 2) helps them get to meet it, and 3) inspires them to help protect it." Agreed. In fact, I believe many nature bloggers are contributing to these too, in our own ways.

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement on their website:
"The biggest threat to the world’s marine environment is lack of awareness. People only protect what they know and love… and our oceans are out of sight, out of mind and out of luck. The marine world urgently needs a good publicist!"


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Snorkeling in the Yallingup Lagoon (for the last time) - (1)

Yallingup Lagoon again? Yes, and I wouldn’t mind many more times although this was probably the last time, ever.

If you still remember my last post about Yallingup, I was there in the middle of January (17 Jan 2010). About two weeks afterwards (31 Jan 2010), I was there again with two other keen snorkelers, Truc and Jude. We went camping on a farm in the Margaret River region for two nights so that we could go snorkeling there. So, thanks to them I had the opportunity to visit Yallingup Lagoon again.

I have previously written about Eagle Bay, which is another good snorkeling spot near Dunsborough, and not too far away from Yallingup. However, for a snorkeling site, Yallingup Lagoon is worth writing about more than Eagle Bay is. This isn’t just because the lagoon is easier to snorkel because it’s shallow (less than 1 meter) and calm. It’s also because people tend to think of Yallingup Beach as a top surfing spot and just another snorkeling site. People who find out about snorkeling sites only from “Dive and Snorkel Sites of Western Australia” will probably miss out the lagoon because it’s not included in the two books.

While it’s not possible to dive in the lagoon, I would describe it as a fantastic snorkeling spot, if not the best in that region. I mean, honestly, it is teeming with more marine life per cubic meter of sea water than anywhere else I ever snorkeled (except perhaps around Rottnest Island)!

The Yallingup Reef consists of granite boulders to the south, which is the left side of the lagoon when you stand facing the ocean in the car park in front of the caravan park. To the north and to the outer edge of the reef is a limestone rock platform.

Looking towards the south of the lagoon

Looking towards the north of the lagoon

The lagoon is the southernmost point in Western Australia where there are still tropical fish species thanks to the Leeuwin current. Near the beach, a number of signs have been erected to inform visitors about the status of the lagoon as a reef protected area and the range of marine life that can be found there. One of the signs says that the lagoon acts as a sick bay for the fishes. Interesting!

There were heaps of fishes in the southern end of the lagoon, although many of them appeared to be juveniles rather than adults, possibly because the bigger ones have moved on to deeper water. It was mostly shallow in this part of the lagoon, about 3-4 feet. Even the ledges are not very deep below the surface. In some parts, you may even run aground.

These are the photos I took in the south end of the lagoon.

Boulders in the south end of the lagoon. Also, see how clear the water was!

Lots of zebra fish (Girella zebra) in the lagoon. Although not very colorful, they were still delightful to watch!

Heaps of striped trumpeters (Pelates octolineatus) too.

Old wives (Enoplosus armatus) at the edge of a wireweed (Amphibolis) seagrass patch

Stripeys (Microcanthus strigatus)

Western buffalo breams (Kyphosus cornelii) - a relative of the common buffalo bream (Kyphosus sydneyanus). The western buffalo breams doesn't have a black margin along the edge of its tail and has no moustache, unlike the common buffalo bream. Also, the common buffalo bream feeds on brown algae while the western buffalo bream feeds on mainly red algae.

A male black-throated threefin (Helcogramma decurrens). It was a small fish about 4-5 cm long. The name "threefin" probably comes form the fact that it has three dorsal fins. It is one of the most abundant fish specis on reefs off the southern coasts of Australia. The red blotch under the fish's chin (blue arrow) indicates that he was now in the middle of mating season.

I managed to show Truc and Jude this pretty feather star too. You see, in the past, I have told them frequent enough about my encounters with southern eagle rays off South Cottesloe. But whenever we snorkeled there together, the eagle rays just seemed to have disappeared from there! And I did tell Jude and Truc that there were heaps of fishes under the ledges in the lagoon. But well, they were not as plenty as the last time I found them. Typical wildlife! Anyway, at least when I told them there were sea stars in the lagoon whenever you turn a rock over, I managed to show them it’s true.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My dive story (4) - Rottnest Island double-dive (II)

Date: 22/1/2010

Second dive: Little Armstrong Bay, Rottnest Island

For this second dive of the day, I was quite happy to find my buoyancy control had improved. I was still not very self-reliant and vigilant though, having forgotten to check my depth and air pressure regularly. A few times, I forgot about my buddy too (blushed). As I wrote in my last post, I had my share of problems in diving too.

For this dive, the maximum depth was 12 meters and the visibility was about 10 meters. Our bottom time was 43 minutes. When we surfaced, I still had 100 bar of air. Unfortunately, the guide decided to wrap it up early. For some reasons, two divers in the group aborted their dives early. One diver couldn’t equalize her ears and had to abort her dive. Later, another diver somehow began to rise to the surface feet first. (Note: when I check my dive log again, I realized that photo of a diver rising to the surface feet first in my last post was actually taken during this second dive, not the first dive).

When each of the divers went for the surface, the guide had to go and make sure he/she was alright. When this happened, myself and the other remaining diver were told to just stay put to wait for the guide to return. I guess probably having to go back and forth this way made the guide use up his air quicker than he would be. So he decided that we finish our dive even though I and the other remaining diver still had plenty of air.

Although there are not as many caves and swimthroughs in this dive, the marine life in this dive site are not very different from that in the first dive. In terms of fish life, I saw lots of western king wrasses (Coris auricularis), schools of blue-lined hulafish (Trachinops brauni), and some blackheaded pullers (Chromis klunzingeri). Other than that, there were the regular stuff on the reef, e.g. lots of Sargassum weed, Ecklonia kelps, hard corals, sponges, some gorgonians and a few nudibranchs (Chromodoris westraliensis).

Brain coral

Gray finger sponge

A highlight of the dive was finding two weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) on the sandy floor. Everyone in the group was pretty excited about the find. I was too, but not as excited as I was the first time I saw one when snorkeling off South Cottesloe.

It was my buddy Lammert who spotted the first seadragon.

Later, I spotted another one near a boulder. This one looked a bit weired and had a shorter tail.

Another special moment was the sighting of hundreds and hundreds of Woodward’s pomfrets (Schuettea woodwardi) that were hovering in the shadow of our dive boat. I was there waiting for the guide to return after helping a diver surface. And then when I turned around, hundreds of Woodward’s pomfrets came into sight. I have never seen such a huge number of pomfrets in any of my snorkels or dives so far.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hello? Anyone blogging about Malaysian marine life?

My personal experience showed me that keeping a blog about marine life is a useful thing to do. It allows me to practise writing, document my underwater adventures, and share my excitement about marine life with others. And it's a way to put my interest in underwater photography into good use too.

Also, through my blog, I got to know people who are equally enthusiastic about marine life too. That's how I found a few snorkeling buddies anyway. Every now and then, when someone emails to tell me they didn't know there's so much marine life to see in their neighborhood, till they read my blog, I know my blog is doing something right.

After my return to Malaysia, one thing that I have been doing is searching high and low for nature blogs about the local marine life. I checked and didn't see any entry in the Nature Blog Network marine section. I do know, however, in Singapore, there are a group of really dedicated marine life bloggers. I have recently put up a couple of posts on two local underwater/diving forums to search for local marine life bloggers, hopefully there'll be good news soon. I am interested to find any Malaysian bloggers who write about their underwater encounters when they go diving, snorkeling or even just beachcombing. In other words, I am searching for local bloggers who are keen about marine life, whether they can dive, snorkel or swim or not really doesn't matter.

Considering all the fabulous marine life there is in Malaysia, I would be surprised if there are not many underwater naturalists or marine life enthusiasts around. Anyway, keeping a blog about underwater adventures may be an uncommon thing to do I guess. Probably reading an underwater/ marine life blog, which is what you are doing now, is not a common thing to do too.

Anyway, if you are a local marine life blogger or you know one, drop me a line! I am really curious how long the list of local marine life bloggers can get.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My dive story (3) - Rottnest Island double-dive (I)

Date: 22/1/2010

First dive: Roe Reef, Rottnest Island

This was my first dive at Rottnest Island. Lying in the north east of the island, this dive site has a maximum depth of 15 meters and offers many limestone caves and swimthroughs.

Among all divers on the dive charter, I had the least number of dives under my (weight) belt - only 8 (then)! It was difficult for the dive master to find me a suitable buddy and in the end they told me to just go with the guide. I found out afterward there were also a few others who had requested for a guide. So, there were five of us including the guide. We checked out the reef, ledges, caves, etc. I didn't see many marine fishes that I haven't before, except for a western blue devil, and some unknown small fishes.

Two divers descending to the dive site at the beginning of the dive

A huge sea urchin hiding in a hole in the reef. It must be about one foot across. It had thin spines and looked different from ones I often see when I go snorkeling or beachcombing.

A zoanthid colony on the reef

Possibly a many-pored star (Fromia polypora). It was about 8-10 cm across. I don't remember seeing this species when I went snorkeling, probably because it lives in deeper water. It seemed common on the reef.

A small many-pored star sitting next to a colony of bryozoan Adeona grisea (the dark brown plates with many holes in them)

Everything went well except for this "incident":

When we were swimming over the seaweed-covered floor, I saw the girl in front of me trying to reach back to the rear dump valve of her BC (buoyancy compensator). I assumed she wanted to release air from her BC so I just gave her a hand.

Almost immediately afterward, I noticed that her tank was slipping off. Luckily I managed to put the tank back in place before it came completely loose and tightened the tank strap (the best I could). Then the guide and others saw us and came over to help. The guide got her to kneel down on the floor and tightened the tank strap for her again. But the girl was slowly rising. So, without being asked, the rest of us tried our best to weigh her down, holding on to her forearms and calves. The whole situation was just so funny and it’s a shame I couldn't take a photo of it!

Anyway, I realized then I would need to be negatively buoyant in that situation in order to hold the girl down. Otherwise, I would probably rise to the surface together with her. So, I just tried my best to use my breathing to make myself more negatively buoyant. I also realized how important it was to be calm underwater. Ever since the first time I set up my scuba gear, I always had this question "What will happen if my tank slip off underwater?" Now that I have seen it happen, I knew that although the tank is heavy, it won't just come off right away. You or your buddy will likely notice something isn’t right before it’s too late.

The highlight of this dive was checking out a large cave where there were numerous footballer sweeps and rough bullseyes hovering in the dark. I managed to get a few shots of the fishes hovering inside the cave, with bright back light.

The best part of the dive was checking out this cave with many fishes in it.

Footballer sweeps

Rough bullseyes hovering near the roof of the cave

Finally, this was a curious sight. I took a shot of a diver who was rising to the surface, feet first. Must have been a nervous moment for the diver. I have my problems in my diving too, just that this isn't one of them : )

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eagle Bay, Dunsborough

This January I went snorkeling at Eagle Bay twice. The spot I visited was probably the one described in "Dive and Snorkel Sites in Western Australia" or not far from it. The area is shallow (2-3 meters), sheltered and had good visibility both times I was there (15 and 30 January). There are also many rocks on the sandy beach that extend into the sea, just as described in the book.

Looking towards the surface across a huge boulder covered with a thick blanket of brown seaweed.

What I didn't expect to find was heaps of stingers in the water, especially over the sandy area! Fortunately I wore my long-sleeved rashie, so my arms were safe although I still got stung a few times in my neck.

This was a good spot for chasing and watching fishes but not for taking photos. The fishes were quite camera-shy. In the mostly sandy area that extends to about 50 meters from shore, there are some scattered boulders. Near the boulders, I found a few schools of banded toadfish and blue-spotted goatfish, as well as a juvenile moonlighter. There were also a school of Australian herring or tommy rough.

Blue-spotted goatfish

A juvenile moonlighter

I also had a good time chasing after a school of leatherjackets around the scattered boulders. There were about 7 of them and each was 20-30 cm long. They were quick swimmers and so it wasn't easy to take their photos. I ended up with a few photos that are not useful for identification of the fish species. But chasing these bluish, greenish leatherjackets between scattered boulders were quite fun.


Around the scattered boulders, I also found a few brown-spotted wrasses that were lying sideways, with most of their body hidden under a rock, showing only their head.

Brown-spotted wrasse

On one of the huge boulder, I found a colony of zoanthids too.

Zoanthid colony (Zoanthus praelongus)

The seaweed-covered rocks just off the beach are also worth exploring although the area is quite shallow. I looked at the short video clips I made and could recognize these fishes: western buffalo bream, common buffalo bream, banded sweep, sea sweep, western pomfret, zebra fish, red-lipped morwong, and rough bullseye. In spots where it was only a few feet deep, there were also stripeys and rough bullseyes in small caves.

Stripeys and rough bullseyes

Perhaps the most interesting find was this juvenile western scalyfin. It was hanging out in a hollow formed by a ring of rocks very near the shore. The fish was about 5 cm long. It looked quite pretty, with numerous blue dots on its head and an orange/brownish body.

Juvenile western scalyfin

Friday, March 19, 2010

Snorkeling in Yallingup Lagoon, Western Australia

My last post was about my dive on the HMAS Swan Wreck during my holiday in Dunsborough with a few friends. The next day (17 January 2010), I went snorkeling in the Yallingup Lagoon. That was my second snorkel in the calm waters of the Yallingup Lagoon. I snorkeled there the first time in 2007 and was immediately impressed with the ease of the snorkel and the variety of marine life in the lagoon. The lagoon is the best snorkeling spot (that I know) for anyone who just begins snorkeling.

The Yallingup Lagoon is truly an amazing spot to snorkel because you snorkel next to some big wave breaks. And regardless of the wind, the lagoon is more or less calm. In other words, even with the big waves in sight, you know you are pretty safe in the lagoon.

The lagoon is quite shallow, about one meter or less in most part of it. Underwater, I found some seagrass patches as well as places with sandy and reefy patches. The sandy area appeared to be good for swimming. So, the Yallingup Beach really caters for the surfers, snorkelers, and swimmers.

Another view of the lagoon. The two persons in the photo were standing at the edge of a shallow reefy area, with a sandy area (light blue) ahead of them. The dark blue/green areas are the seagrass.

In this snorkel, I explored the left end of the lagoon, which is near a carpark. The lagoon was teeming with marine life. As soon as you hit the water, you would start seeing schools of fishes swimming around you. But what really impressed me was that every time I turned over a rock I would see some marine creatures.

This rock had an elephant snail (red arrow; the black creature) (Scutus antipodes) and a feather star (green arrow) (Cenolia trichoptera) sitting on it.

On this rock, there were a number of abalones (yellow arrows), two elephant snails (green arrows) and a sea cucumber (red arrow).

A purple sea urchin sitting next to a feather star. I also saw a few slate-pencil urchins in rock crevices.

Another shot of the pretty feather star.

A brittle star - a wriggly, fast-moving little animal

Some tiny sea squirts under a ledge. Each of these little stalked spheres had two large holes. This resembles other stalked and attached sea squirts which have an inlet and an outlet for water in their body. Each of the small spheres was about 1 cm or less in diameter. Behind these little sea squirts were the feathery arms of a feather star (or maybe more than one star).

Over the reef and the seagrass areas, there were heaps of zebra fish (Girella zebra) swimming around. In this group, there was one or two breams too.

There were also many striped trumpeters (Pelates octolineatus) in the lagoon, although not as common as the zebra fish.

And I saw a few small schools of old wives (Enoplosus armatus). It was quite an incredible experience as I would have to free-dive a few meters to see a school of old wives in South Cottesloe. But here in the Yallingup Lagoon, they were just one or two feet below the surface.

Other fishes I saw over the seagrass and the seaweed-covered reef included western scalyfin, six-banded coralfish (moonlighter), western king wrasse, goatfishes, and trevally. I even saw a southern eagle ray resting on a sandy patch not far from shore. There were also quite a number of fishes that I still haven't worked out their names.

When you snorkel in the Yallingup Lagoon, you must check out what's waiting for you under the ledges of the shallow reef - lots of fishes. In this spot, I saw lots of old wives (at least 30 of them) and some stripeys (Microcanthus strigatus). Who would have thought you would find all these fishes in just three feet of water!

Finally, seeing this zebra fish with a metal hook through it's mouth sure gave me a little shock!