March did not get off to a great start as we were right in the path of cyclone Irina. For the first week we experienced heavy rains, wind and rough seas. Luckily most divers were able to postpone their holiday and came to dive after the weather had passed. The remainder of the month was great and we were blessed with sunny days, excellent sea conditions, warm water averaging 27 degrees Celsius and visibility sitting between 18-25metres for most part of the month.
Shark and ray sightings have been plentiful, with a lovely guitarfish seen at Elusive, a huge marbled ribbontail ray at Yellowfin Drop, the resident white tip at Gogo’s and grey reef and black tip sharks on most dives.
Grey Reef Shark - Michelle Smith White Tip Shark - Michelle Smith
A dive at Pineapple produced a school of what must have been about sixty to eighty bull rays! They flew past us, crossing right over the reef in front of everyone before heading out to sea. We then saw three big couta, one hawksbill turtle, two honeycomb eels and a total of three grey reef sharks, one of which came really close and circled around us, much to Bradley’s delight and Claire’s dismay!
One of the most memorable dives of the month was at Solitude. The sea was flat, there was not a breath of wind, the sun was shining and the water was the most wonderful blue. Diane Macdonald was busy doing her advanced course, so we decided to do a deep dive at Solitude, which sits at a maximum depth of 24 metres. Clive was helping everyone kit up and as he turned to put one of the cylinders on the pontoon, he shouted “Tiger Shark!” We all turned quickly to have a look and there it was - a big tiger shark right next to the boat. It did not hang around for long before we watched it disappear into the blue. The dive was just as spectacular, as we did our backward roll and started to descend, we could see the reef at the bottom, a potato bass sitting above the main rock, surrounded by fish. We saw schools of blue banded snappers, bluefin and blacktip kingfish, sangora, a big honeycomb eel, 3 sharpnose rays and schools of fusiliers and scads. The reef was alive and we sat and watched as the bait fish darted from side to side, forming a wall of silver as they tried to escape the couta and kingfish that were chasing them. Once back on the boat Clive had another surprise for us. A juvenile cape gannet was floating along, resting on the surface of the ocean. We normally see these birds in winter time as they follow the humpback whales during their annual migration, so it was a bit unusual to see one so early. It was tired and clearly hungry, so Clive threw it a couple of sardines that he had on the boat. The gannet was so tired that it missed one of the fish and could not even dive down far enough to catch it. Duncan did his good deed for the day and jumped in to give the fish to the hungry bird. Hopefully having some food would have given it a better chance at survival.
Juvenile Cape Gannet
There were also lots of great macro sightings this month including tiny whip coral gobies and shrimps, baby juvenile razor wrasse and rock mover wrasse, tiny geometric moray eels, tapestry shrimps, nudibranchs everywhere, porcelain crabs and partner (clown) shrimps in anemones. Nearly every anemone had groups of tiny baby clown fish and some also had baby dominoes in them.
The most exciting macro find happened quite by chance. We were diving at Aerial Reef and had completed the southern section of the reef, so we were busy swimming across the sand to the northern section. I skimmed my hands across the sand to see if there were any small shells hiding under the sand when I spotted something tiny sitting right in front of me. At first I thought that perhaps it was just a piece of sponge or weed but it had a strange shape so I took a closer look. It was a Pegasus Sea Moth (eurypegasus draconis)! In all the years that we have been diving on these reefs Clive had only found one pair of these fish at Elusive and I had only seen one individual at Elusive before this tiny specimen, so this was a truly rare and special sighting!
These strange little fish have flattened bodies with wing like pectoral fins and a body encased in thick bony plates, they also have an elongated snout in front of their jaws. Their pelvic fins are modified allowing them to walk across the sea bed and if disturbed they can move at greater speeds by beating their caudal fin. These little fish even shed their skin to keep themselves clear of parasites and algae growth!
Sea Moth & my index finger which is 1.5cm wide Close up of Sea Moth from the side
The end of March signals the end of turtle nesting season which means that we are just a few warm summer months away from winter when we begin looking out for the first humpback whales. We are still lucky to see turtles right throughout the year though as loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles live on these reefs, it is just the leatherback turtle that lives in very deep water, so we won’t be seeing any of them till next year.
Can’t wait to see what big and small creatures next month brings.
Congratulations to the following divers:
for completing his PADI Discover Scuba Diving course
for completing her PADI Advanced Course
Yours in diving
Darryl, Clive, Michelle
The Rocktail Dive Team