“Citizen scientists” at work – if you can call it that!
For a fascinating dive combined with conservation work, look no further than the Seadragon Hunt! If you’ve never been diving with “weedies” (and even if you have), add this dive to your to-do list now. Until today, I’d only seen their bright bodies, tubular snouts and leafy appendages in pictures. Now, having taken part in the Seadragon Hunt (and by hunt I mean search!), I can safely say that they are one of the most fascinating creatures to see underwater.
Despite the steep descent down the stairs to the dive site at Kurnell (aptly named “The Steps”), followed by a rather ungraceful entrance (watch out for slippery rocks!) into the wintery waters of Botany Bay, the dive itself was nothing short of satisfying. With the site boasting one of the highest concentrations of weedy seadragons in the world, it took only minutes to spot our first weedy. Divemaster Jamie was quick to pull out the ruler for the 35cm beauty and snap some close-up shots. Looking part seahorse and part seaweed, these delicate dragons are found only on the Australian coast. Being a respectful “look but don’t touch” diver is imperative – seadragons have sensitive swim bladders and a sudden change in water pressure (for example by flushing them out of hiding) could be fatal. This regular trip to spot them amongst the kelp is helping to gather vital biological information about the species. The best part is, you don’t need to be a scientist to help! Spotting any weedies, with individuals identifiable by their “fingerprint” (unique dorsal spots), will actually contribute to a “citizen science” program run by Professor David Booth from the University of Technology. The biggest motivator to keep your eyes peeled for the easily-camouflaged critters? Any new individuals found are named after the photographer!
We even spotted a male seadragon carrying eggs today. But it’s not just weedies for which you should be on the lookout. During the hour or so we spent underwater over two dives, we also spotted octopuses, rays, cuttlefish and a plethora of Port Jackson sharks. There were loads of other fish sighted too, but this diver needs a bit more practice at identification! It was a real disappointment when I checked my gauge and saw that it was time to turn around – I guess someone has to be the first to hit 100 bar! Once we’d surfaced, it was apparent that the wind had picked up, leading to a more-than-somewhat awkward exit. Combined with carrying the gear back to the top of those stairs, that’s my exercise done for the week! If you’re keen to join the dragon hunt, there’s another one scheduled soon that you can book into. Don’t let the current cool climate (or the stairs!) discourage you. While the water was a nippy 15 degrees Celsius today, it was easily managed with socks and gloves. Most divers did ok with a 5mm suit, but I’m a bit soft so opted for 7mm. Ok, I was also trying out the amazing Thermulation Heated Vest (more on that another time) but everyone else managed just fine – albeit a little less comfortably – without it!