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Diving With Dragons – Intrepid Occasions

A scuba diver in the hunt for a hard-to-spot sea creature on Australia’s southern coast struggles to make sense of all the pieces he’s seeing under the water.

Water, virtually black at this angle, leaks into my boots. Above, rugged-up fishermen line the jetty, their rods hanging limply from their shivering fingers. Their strains drift westward, within the path of my vacation spot: the outdated jetty. The present would carry us in direction of the rusted pylons. The journey again can be a special story.

Over my shoulder, the sloping, pale-green hills collapse right into a steep cliff-face of black rock, as if somebody has burnt off the fraying edges of the hillside. I shiver and may’t appear to cease. The Southern Ocean had supplied among the coldest water I’d been in, even beneath a number of layers of neoprene.

A masked determine emerges from the darkish water. He pulls out his regulator, revealing white enamel and blue lips.

I smile again by means of gritted enamel. It’s good of the diver to move on the tip. I needs to be extra appreciative. However murmurings of trepidation, jealousy, and a slight concern that I may miss out start to creep in.

“Six of ‘em. Go proper on the T-junction. A number of on the way in which out, some juveniles in-between and a giant fella proper on the finish. Can’t miss them.”

We’re on the hunt for sea dragons. Particularly, the “leafy” sea dragon: an elusive creature endemic to those waters. It had been on the high of my record since hitting the southern shoreline of Australia. And Fast Bay Jetty was the place to identify them.

As soon as within the water, I give the sign to my associate, Erin, and we make our descent.  

We slowly fall upon a mattress of seagrass. I tighten some straps, checking my air and depth earlier than giving Erin an OK sign. She’s distracted by a small octopus coiling itself round a glass bottle. Usually, I’d be completely happy to sit down and watch, however my priorities are elsewhere.

We talk through hand indicators — most are well-established indicators within the dive neighborhood, others are extra personalised actions fashioned over years of diving collectively.

This manner, I sign.

The outdated jetty sits straight adjoining to the brand new jetty. The outdated jetty can solely be accessed by swimming because of its decrepit state. In sections, naked pylons rise from the ocean like reeds within the mud.

We strategy the primary pylons of the outdated jetty. The visibility is just a few meters, the construction showing like shadows at first. However as we get nearer the wealthy lifeforms that cling to the pylons make themselves identified. Every pylon is a collage of orange, purple, and blue corals, smooth and onerous, some swaying with the present, others steadfast on the big beams.

We swim at a diagonal angle to counter the present pulling us westward and out to the open ocean, doing our greatest to keep away from hitting the row of pylons on the left facet. Combating the present would require extra air, which might eat at our time underwater.

The jetty splits, one leg extending west and the opposite east. The tip of the T-junction is named the “Aquarium.” It’s simple to see why. Fish life weaves in-between the pylons, which themselves have grown denser, showing like forest trunks in a heavy fog. Leatherjackets flee the quickest, their serrated dorsal fins propelling them ahead; black-and-white-striped outdated wives are extra affected person, transferring slowly across the pylons as we strategy. Nearer to the floor, faculties of herring transfer in unison, forming a silver-tornado that appears to swallow us complete. I swim right down to stare again at a western blue satan fish, its massive blue lips caught in a everlasting frown. The remainder of the dive may simply be spent right here, floating out and staring in any respect the little wonders of this biodiverse hotspot.

However then, we flip proper, to the jap wing, the place the opposite diver had been fortunate.

Right here, the pylons skinny out, every additional aside than the final, and the aquatic life disappears virtually fully. Thickets of kelp now cling to the pylons, changing the mess of multicolored-coral. This kelp sways with the present, painfully much like the looks and actions of a leafy. The leafy sea dragon is the one creature to camouflage itself by transferring. As I stare longingly at each swaying department, it’s simple to see how a sea dragon conjures this phantasm. 

I attempt to stay calm, doing my greatest to benefit from the dive for what it’s. However with every fin-stroke, desperation creeps in.

Look. For. Seadragons, I sign to Erin, and her eyes roll behind her masks.

Then, the pylons cease showing. We stare into an empty, blue void. The top of the jetty.

We spend the subsequent couple of minutes in-between the pylons, making a remaining effort to identify the elusive creature. A leafy has no pure predators. Like so many others, their important menace is us, people. Air pollution and poaching have decimated their numbers, as they’re typically utilized in different medicines and regarded a profitable species within the aquarium commerce. I’ve heard older divers reminiscing in regards to the days once they witnessed as much as 30 at a time. Now, we search desperately for one or two.

Ultimately, I discover Erin signaling that she has consumed greater than half her air. I’ve achieved the identical. It’s time to show round.

On the journey again, I spot a cuttlefish beneath a pile of fallen pylons — a creature we hadn’t but encountered diving. We sit and watch this alien creature, observing it altering a number of colours throughout the house of seconds, doing its greatest to mix as the sunshine shifts round us. The frustration of not recognizing the ocean dragon appears to dissipate with every passing second of observing the cuttlefish.

The present picks up, and I’ve to regular myself, accidently kicking up sand with my fin. Immediately, the cuttlefish turns pale, matching the colour of the sand-cloud round it, earlier than disappearing beneath the pylons.

There’s a second of confusion. The visibility has turned poor with the altering tide, and I really feel disorientated. Pylons lengthen straight forward and to my left. I’d left my compass on the floor, figuring a jetty needs to be easy to navigate. However easy navigation on land could be a totally different story underwater. I can’t assist however really feel misplaced. One path would take us again to the tip of the brand new jetty, the place we’d floor. The opposite would take us out alongside the unexplored western wing.

Which method? I sign to Erin.

She shrugs her shoulders. Surveys her environment. And factors straight forward.

I believe for a second, conclude that we nonetheless want to show left, and level left. Erin shrugs her shoulders once more and factors in direction of the floor. It’s shallow sufficient that we may all the time get a bearing on the floor after which dive again down. However my pleasure will get the higher of me, not desirous to admit to getting misplaced.

We push on. I follow my instinct, turning to our left. It’s solely when the pylons begin scaling down once more that I understand my mistake.

We’re about midway down the wing after I sign to show round. Upon doing so, I see Erin’s eyes go large and he or she factors again over my shoulder.

And there she is, midway up a pylon, drifting slowly.

A solitary leafy sea dragon.

She disappears for a second, and I resist the urge to chase after her. We each wait, inching slowly ahead. We all know that spooking a sea dragon can lead to it disappearing from a spot for months. A panicked sea dragon may transfer up or down the water column, with sudden modifications in water stress damaging their swim bladders. It’s all about persistence, letting her come to us. We gradual our respiration, attempting to reduce our stream of bubbles.

She comes out from behind the pylon. The leafy is adorned with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages that movement off the physique like an ornate cloak. We slowly transfer nearer, and he or she continues to swim ahead, the distinctive striped sample on her face and golden-globe eyes now seen. We’re shut sufficient now to see the clear fins vibrating alongside the facet of her head, permitting her to steer and switch within the water. She glides in direction of us with ease, possessing a way of infectious tranquility.

In that second, there is no such thing as a sense of accomplishment or triumph, simply admiration of the event afforded by a easy mistake. I don’t really feel the necessity to search out 5 extra both. There are solely the transient, nonetheless seconds that move: watching, observing.

We depart the dragon as quickly as she turns away from us, not desirous to chase and crowd her. Apart from, our air is almost depleted, not even sufficient to get all the way in which again underwater. We slowly make our strategy to the floor. It’s an extended, robust swim again to the diving platform. We struggle the present the entire method. However I’m not all that fussed.

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