Leafy Sea Dragon Hunt - Black Manta Photography
Popularly known as "leafies" it is the Marine Emblem of the State of South Australia and a focus for local marine conservation.
The Leafy Sea Dragon is found mainly in the Southern Australian waters, and they are mostly found over sand patches in waters up to 50 m (160 ft) deep, around kelp-covered rocks and clumps of sea grass. They are commonly sighted by scuba divers near Adelaide in South Australia, especially at Rapid Bay, Edithburgh, and Victor Harbor. The name is derived from the appearance, with long leaf-like protrusions coming from all over the body. These protrusions are not used for propulsion; they serve only as camouflage.
The Leafy Sea Dragon or Glauert's seadragon, Phycodurus eques, is a marine fish in the family Syngnathidae, which includes sea-dragons, pipefish, and seahorses, and is the only member of the genus Phycodurus. Once born, the young seadragon is completely independent, eating small zooplankton until large enough to hunt mysids. The species feeds by sucking up small crustaceans, such as amphipods and mysid shrimp, plankton, and larval fish through its long, pipe-like snout.
Below is an example of a juvenile Leafie
(Photo by Daryll Rivett - #mdr_scuba)
As with seahorses, the male leafy seadragon cares for the eggs. The female produces up to 250 bright pink eggs, then deposits them onto the male's tail with her ovipositor, a long tube. The eggs then attach themselves to a brood patch, which supplies them with oxygen.
After 9 weeks, the eggs begin to hatch, depending on water conditions. The eggs turn a ripe purple or orange over this period, after which the male pumps his tail until the young emerge, a process which takes place over 24–48 hours. The male aids in the eggs hatching by shaking his tail, and rubbing it against seaweed and rocks.
Below is my Award Winning Image
(Male Leafie with fresh brood of eggs)
So, now begins the Hunt and the road trip of Sth Australia with Richard & Hailey of Black Manta Photography, 17 - 19 February 2020, c/- Rivetting Moments and @mdr_scuba in search of the Leafy Sea Dragon.
We begin by packing the trailer and car with copious amounts of scuba gear, photo/video equipment, water and snacks (of course) and eagerly jump into the car excited, apprehensive and hoping today will be our day. As we head South of Adelaide of course stopping for the obligatory coffee, we continue on and arrive to a dive site that will remain un-named for now. This is to ensure the natural habitat and the Leafies are not harassed, poached, harmed and forced away from their endemic kelp and weed.
As we start to unpack and setup our dive and photography gear I take the time to give Rich & Hailey a dive briefing about the site, information about the Leafy Sea Dragon and a strict 'Code of Conduct' (COC) of behaviour that must be adhered to.
Please indulge me here as I 'Set the Scene'
* Flights from London
* Trip to Australia (mates wedding)
* Encompass Great Barrier Reef, Sydney & Adelaide
* Australian Summer with horrendous recent bushfires and weather
* Local weather forecast worrisome
* Sightings of Leafies in past 12 months (very low)
So, the English and Australian God's must have been upon us as we had a Dodge Tide (.7 midnight to .9 midnight), little to no wind, blue skies - hardly any cloud with approx. 26dg.
Its time, the wait, the travel, the suspense and trepidation of wanting to witness the elusive Leafy is NOW..... So with a surface swim, last minute buddy check and descent imminent we start our adventure.
Here's where the dive gets interesting - as I descend in time with Hailey, in no less than 1 mt. of depth I spot a large healthy Leafy directly below us ( 3 seconds). I immediately signal to them with my (duck call) to draw their attention to me. At this stage Rich was still in the process of dumping his air, and thought there was a problem on the surface with one of us, not realising what he was about to witness.
Rich finally got below the water and realised with my many animated movements of pointing and wriggling my arms in joy, that I had located their first Leafy of the dive, again only in 3 seconds. We absorbed this moment, stunned in disbelief and watched in amazement at this majestic and elegant marine creature, not wanting to move on and leave.
I signalled to continue on and venture to find more Leafies, and as we meandered in and around and through the kelp and weed it wasn't long before I found another for them to watch in awe. As you can see in the video below this was that moment where both Rich & Hailey were trying to share and adhere to the COC, in photographing and videoing the Leafy.
My GoPro footage taken, to show Rich & Hailey with the Leafies.
I allowed them time and space to do their thing, and continued on the 'Hunt' in hope of finding more Leafies - and within a matter of several metres along the reef I located another large healthy Leafy amongst the kelp. I signalled to Hailey, 'come to me' as I have found your own Leafy, and to leave Rich with the other (Yes 1 each).
Again, I continued the dive remaining within buddy and visual distance and the search proved to be very fruitful........ending up finding 5 Leafies to Rich & Hailey's astonishment. The dive was perfect, the conditions perfect and the Leafies perfect and we definitely didn't want to leave, however the cold 22dg water and lack of air said otherwise.
Happy Divers all round
Gobsmacked and speechless were Rich & Hailey as they had realistic expectations of maybe even seeing 1 Leafy. As a 'No Brainer' ideas we decided to remain on site, do our Surface Interval, hydrate, eat and do a second dive back with the Leafies.
Enough said and done, time to head back in for another whirlwind moment to go soak in what we came here for, an amazing opportunity to dive with a world-class marine creature. As we mirror image the 1st dive we descend along the same path and commence the Hunt - sadly not finding any Leafies in sight.
We continue to hunt in and out of the weed for around 10-12 minutes and then finally I spot our first Leafy of the dive. I excitedly signal to Rich & Hailey who were upon me like kids to a candy store and point to my finding. Elated and relived were we, to again find the Leafy to again watch, admire and respect it.
I again, continued on like before finding no less than 6 Leafies on the 2nd dive, along with a gorgeous translucent Jellyfish and a huge Ray. I tried to pay finer attention to the nooks and crannies of the reef in search of some juvenile leafies, but sadly to no avail.
As the dive started to conclude, we turned and headed back to our descent point and continued searching for the Leafies we saw earlier. This again proved to be very successful finding then all again, however in slightly different settings of the kelp and weed.
It was a mind blowing breathless day of Leafy Sea Dragon sightings, and Rich & Hailey were truely blessed to witness sooooo many on their first experience in Adelaide, Sth Aust.
Stay tuned to this Blog for further images and video taken by both Richard Stevens and Hailey Elizabeth of Black Manta Photography and 'Subscribe' to receive regular updates.