Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My dive story (1)

Warning: No photos in this post.

:) :) :)
Early last November, after much procrastination, I finally put myself through a PADI Open Water course and got certified. After that, I was just too busy with this and that and didn't SCUBA dive for two months.

And then on 14 January (Thursday), I went to my first boat dive. It was a double-dive in the Marmion Marine Park. Both dives took me to 12-15 m. The first dive was at a spot called "The Ledges" and the second dive "The Apartments".

The first dive was not an enjoyable one. Half of the time I had to struggle to stay down because I didn't carry enough weight (I think). Because of this the thought of quitting the dive actually crossed my mind ten minutes after trying. But then I would make an enemy out of my buddy! So I just went along till I hit 50 bars of air in the tank and signaled to my buddy to finish the dive.

Other divers saw crayfish under ledges during the dive. But as I was too busy battling my upward movement I just decided to forget about it. I took my camera with me on my first dive. Unsurprisingly it was impossible to get any good shots. There were also lots of suspended particles in the water.

On my second dive, I carried 24 lbs (about 10.5 kg) on my weight belt. This time I found it easier to stay near the bottom. I decided not to take my camera with me on my second dive as I believed it would be more important to focus on fine-tuning my buoyancy and learn to hover than to play with a camera.

Both dives showed me more or less the same marine life - sponges, sea stars, ascidians, soft corals, a stingaree and octopus under ledges, woodwards pomfrets, crimson cleaner wrasses, scalyfins, western talmas, etc. I have seen them all when I went snorkeling. A special encounter was the scorpion fish. It was sitting quietly blending into the reef and I almost missed it.

I am not sure if I enjoyed the boat ride much. I got seasick before, between, and after the dives. I took seasick medication before we headed out to the sea and after the first dive. But still, I had to struggle not to throw up most of time I was on the dive boat. At the end of the dives, after returning to the marina, I felt so much better but started to feel very drowsy after a while. Fortunately I have arranged for a friend to come and pick me up!

I came back from the dives that afternoon feeling very dehydrated. I think I haven't drunk enough water before the dive. In fact I can still remember now the unpleasant sensation of breathing in dry, compressed air while diving. It sucks.

Anyway, the next morning, while still recuperating from the dives, I was already on the road driving to Dunsborough with a few friends for a short holiday. I have booked for a double-dive at the HMAS Swan Wreck on 16 Jan (Saturday). I can still remember being apprehensive about the wreck dive the whole of Friday, that it may turn out to be just like my dives on Thursday.

But on Saturday, I had a couple of good dives; I am not sure if it's because my experience from Thursday has better prepared me for Saturday. Anyway, I took my camera with me when diving the HMAS Swan wreck and finally returned with some shots that are presentable enough to share with you here!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Albany snorkel - Little Beach Lagoon

A few friends and I hired a car and drove down to Albany for a short holiday end of last December. Naturally I wouldn't miss the opportunity to don a mask and snorkel and explore the underwater territories of Albany. I snorkeled at a few spots - Shelter Island (near Mutton Bird Island), Whaling Cove, and Mistaken Island, but they were not really that interesting. Anyway, the last place I went for a snorkel in Albany turned out to be a great spot - a secluded lagoon about 200 m north of the Little Beach.

31 Dec 2009

Little Beach, a beach in the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserves, located about 35 km east of Albany. The water looked a little choppy and it seemed to be mainly sandy bottom in the bay, so I decided not to snorkel there.

The little lagoon that I spotted while we were driving towards the Little Beach car park. The shot was taken looking south towards Little Beach.

Another shot of the calm and secluded lagoon.

It was about 5 pm when we got there. My friends changed their minds and decided not to go in for a swim because it began to get cold. From my last few snorkels, I realized it was hard to duck-dive with my thick wetsuit (5 mm), without using a weight belt. So, despite the chill, I decided to go in without my wetsuit.

The lagoon was shallow, perhaps only 4-5 feet in the deep end. Visibility was fantastic, possibly because of the shallow depth. It is mainly a sandy bottom (with some silt I think), and dotted with rock boulders. For almost an hour, I was the only person in the lagoon. So it was like my personal snorkeling spot!

There are lots of zebra fish (Girella zebra) in the lagoon everywhere I turned. Most of them are about 15 cm in length, not as large as the ones I have seen before. Adults can apparently grow to 50 cm in length. That got me thinking if the lagoon was something like a nursery for the fish.

These zebra fish are really not shy and would just carry on their business around me. Many times when I got too near, they would just swim a short distance away and turn around and started hovering with their snouts facing me, like they were watching me. And after a while, they would just forget about me and carry on their business gain. Lovely!

I saw some stripeys (Microcanthus strigatus) too.

There are a number of juvenile moonlighters (a.k.a. six-banded coralfish)(Tilodon sexfaciatus) in the lagoon. An adult moonlighter apparently loses the large black spot at the rear of the dorsal fin.

This is another fish that wouldn't care about an approaching snorkeler. It just continued to hover about three feet ahead of me and just let me snap away with my camera! The fish is 15-20 cm in length.

Based on the shape of the fish and the pale stripe that runs down the midline of its snout, it's probably a breaksea cod (Epinephelides armatus). A breaksea cod also has a distinctive black botch surround its anus, hence its other name "Black-arse cod". Unfortunately, I didn't get any good shots of its anus.

I almost missed this little fella who's sitting quietly at the bottom. Based my really deficient fish ID knowledge, I thought it was some kind of flathead, but Shadowkiller (of Dive-Oz) suggested that it's probably a goby.

Shrimps! Lots of shrimps under the rocks and in the crevices between the rock!

I still couldn't find the species name of these fellas. Anyway, unlike the shrimps that I have seen before (at low tide off South Cottesloe and snorkeling in the Swan River), these little fellas just don't care about snorkelers! They just wouldn't go away when I brought my camera near them to get some close-up shots! For a while I thought that's acting more like domestic insects than shrimps.

I also found a few sea hare egg masses here and there in the lagoon, but couldn't find any sea hares.

This one looks like a sponge to me. I just took the photo because it reminded me of cotton candy.

Overall, I think the attraction of this little unnamed lagoon next to the more well-known Little Beach is that it's shallow, small but the residents here just don't care about snorkelers!

Happy Australia Day!

Update 27 Jan 2010:
I just found out from JimSwims (member of Dive-Oz forum) that the shrimps in the photos above are Palaemon serenus. He called them "cleaner shrimps"; other websites call them "red-handed shrimps" (HERE and HERE).

Museum Victoria website says this:
The red-handed shrimp is glassy clear, with red stripes across the wrists of its long second chelipeds..."

"This shrimp is frequently seen as a pair of red dots and another of black dots moving across the floor of rock pools (Chai: Interesting!) These are the bands on the chelipeds and the eyes..."

"The species is a scavenger cleaning up dead fish and shellfish... "

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snorkel for Sanctuaries

I found this event that may interest snorkelers and marine life lovers who live near Cottesloe.

"Snorkel for Sanctuaries

Take part in the Summer Sanctuary Series to help Save Our Sea Life!

The first event of the Summer Sanctuary Series, Snorkel for Sanctuaries will be held on Cottesloe Beach. Participants will don their snorkel gear hit the reef and then surface to learn about the benefits of marine sanctuaries and how to help save our Kimberley sea life!

WHAT? Snorkel, Talk & BBQ

WHEN? Sunday, Jan 24th @ 9:30am for Registration, Snorkel brief at 10am, snorkeling til 11am & a talk by Dr. Jill StJohn @11:15am

WHERE? Cottesloe Beach, Beach Access Path S15, (south of the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club, 77 Marine Parade)..."

More information here:

The Wilderness Society — Snorkel for Sanctuaries

Friday, January 8, 2010

South Cottesloe - Woodward's reef eel

4 Jan 2010

Today I explored the reef on the left and right sides of the South Cottesloe groyne with snorkeling buddy Xander. Xander and I were in the water for two hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. The surface conditions were pretty good but underwater visibility was not perfect through out.

Anyway it was a great snorkel because I saw a new fish today - a Woodward's reef eel (Gymnothorax woodwardi).

I found it hiding in a crevice, partly concealed, in the shallow reef south of the groyne. It went deeper into the crevice when I moved my camera near it but didn't swim away. (The arrow is pointing at the eel's head.)

The eel is 40-50 cm in length. "Sea fishes of Southern Australia" (Hutchins & Swainston, 1986) says the eel can grow to 76 cm and may bite if molested (!)

Another interesting find is this little fish head that pokes out from a hole in the reef - the head of a False Tasmanian Blenny (Parablennius intermedius)(?)

The blenny just kept sitting in the hole, allowing Xander and I to take as many photos as we wished.

Xander spotted this large globe fish (Diodon nicthemerus) when we were just leisurely swimming over a shallow seagrass area. It is 20-30 cm long. I think Xander managed to capture a video of it too.

It is an amazing fish that has an inflatable body, movable spines and only two teeth! When feeding, it uses its beak-like jaws to crush hard-shelled molluscs and crustaceans.

I also checked the underside of ledges many times today. Apparently feather stars are quite common under the ledges off South Cottesloe. I took some photos of the feathery arms of these amazing crevice dwellers.

These creatures unfurl their arms to collect edible materials in the water when feeding. When resting, they usually just curl their arms up.

When checking under the ledges, I also saw a banded spined brittle star (Clarkcoma pulchra) at the depth of about 3 meters. I have found one before when I was exploring the shallow reef at low tide (see HERE).

This is the first time I saw a southern bailer shell (Melo miltonis) off South Cottesloe I think. The shell is about one foot long. It was sitting at a depth of about 4 meters in a seagrass bed. What's interesting is that the bailer shell is probably engulfing a turban shell (arrow)! Lunch time!

Besides the encounters I wrote about above, I also saw several octopi and several large schools of fishes. So, overall, it has been an enjoyable underwater adventure today!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cape Peron - John Point (II)

5 Dec 2009

I went snorkeling at Cape Peron with Paul today. It was a day with a great start because we saw dolphins coming into the bay (Long Reach Beach) while we were putting our wetsuits on. I remember there were three or four of them. Paul was fast to hit the water to swim with the dolphins (at a distance). He told me later that he heard the dolphins' calls underwater! What an experience! Unfortunately, the photos didn't turn out well, so I have none to share here.

In the bay, water visibility was pretty good although there weren't too many fishes to be seen. I was quite pleased that I spotted a southern eagle ray and Paul saw it too.

The most abundant fishes in the bay had to be the banded toadfish. There must have been hundreds or even thousands of them!

A toadfish "bait ball" - at least a meter across!

Two shots of Paul hovering over a huge school of banded toadfish

Later, we swam to the few limestone outcrops off the beach between Cape Peron and the Penguin Island. But there weren't much to be seen too - despite our long swims. It must have been two km's plus! I thought I had enough exercise for the whole summer at the end of the swim.

We then moved on to John Point. Personally I think it's a fantastic snorkeling spot. The shallow reef near the beach is pretty good for finding small, interesting creatures. We saw small fishes that were resting in holes in the rocks and the tubes of (dead?) tube worms, only poking their small heads out.

Probably a False Tasmanian Blenny (Parablennius intermedius)

Not sure what species these two are

And I saw a pair of Southern Blues-spotted Flatheads (Platycephalus speculator) for the first time.

They were just resting on the sand, almost indifferent to my approach. They did change positions a couple of times in response to my attempts to get closer for better shots. They are about two feet long each.

An exciting find in the shallow water (~1 meter) was this orange and black dragonet (Dactylopus kuiteri). I have seen them at John Point before but it's such a beautiful creature that nobody minds seeing it more than once I guess.

The red arrows point at the fish's elaborate and upright dorsal fin.

The dragonet swam away as soon as I approached it and soon disappeared into the seaweed. It's about 30 cm long. But its erected fins made it look larger than that.

The day began with the sighting of dolphins (Great!) but ended with Paul's car window being smashed and our stuff stolen from his car. I have no idea how it happened. The car park was not really deserted and quiet that day. Anyway, each of us ended up learning a very expensive lesson that we shouldn't take too much with us when we go snorkeling and that we must never leave anything in the backseat of the car.

South Cottesloe - Seadragon and squids

20 Dec 2009

The highlight of today's snorkel has to be the sighting of a common seadragon (or weedy seadragon) (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). It drifted past in front of me when I was following a fish. (It's a matter of luck! ) Naturally I stopped going after the fish (which I now couldn't quite remember what fish) and followed the seadragon instead.

The seadragon is 20-25 cm in length and was drifting over seagrass at the depth of about 3-4 meters. It was quite well-camouflaged over the segrass and I lost track of it couple of times. This is the second time I saw a seadragon off South Cottesloe. I saw my first seadragon near the end of the South Cottesloe groyne at the depth of 3-4 meters and over seagrass too. That was a day of even worse visibility underwater and I lost track of the seadragon very quickly and naturally no photos were taken.

Another interesting encounter is seeing a group of 15-20 little squids that are just several centimeters long when I was heading to shore.

It was quite shallow, perhaps 1- 1.5 meters in depth where I saw them. It was really difficult to get any good shots of them because of their sizes and poor water visibility near shore. I have no idea what species they are. Anyway they look pretty cute.

Monday, January 4, 2010

South Cottesloe - Squid & Port Jackson sharks

28 Nov 2009

Southern Calamari

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I saw squids off Cottesloe. I saw one today that is about 20 cm in length. Its wing flaps/side fins run the full length of its body, suggesting that it's a Southern Calamari (Sepioteuthis australis). Most squids have side fins that are located in the rear half of the body.

I have taken more than a hundred photos of this Southern Calamari, which I found near the end of the groyne of South Cottesloe. It was hanging out in a depth of about 2-3 meters when I saw it. I followed it around the seagrass-covered reef for some time. At one point, when I got too near, it actually got a little aggressive and charged at me.

Port Jackson sharks

This is the second time I saw Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) off South Cottesloe. The last time was on 30 December 2008 (see HERE). Both times it was around the sandy area south of the South Cottesloe groyne, about 100 meters from shore, and at a depth of 4-5 meters.

I saw three today but they were sitting quite far apart to get all three in the same photo.

These blunt-headed, lazy-looking sharks are about 30-40 cm in length. Adult Port Jackson sharks (PJs) can be more 75 cm long.

PJs are more active at night, being nocturnal feeders. They feed on sea urchins, crustaceans, moluscs and fishes. Their genus "Heterodontus" means "different teeth". Unlike most sharks which have pointy, cutting teeth, PJs have front teeth that are small and pointed and back teeth that are broad and flat. These teeth allow PJs to crush and grind the shells of sea urchins and moluscs.