I was certified as a scuba diver in 1988, Blair many years before, and we have traveled the world diving in far flung locations from Darwins Arch, Galapagos to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, the Red Sea of Egypt and cage diving at Guadalupe Island. Fortunately we both love scuba diving and have had the opportunity to observe hundreds of beautiful creatures living under the sea. Over all these years one critter we had never seen was a Seadragon. The Seadragon is closely related to the seahorse, one of my all time favorite animals, so I have long dreamt of diving with a Seadragon.
The Leafy Seadragon derives its name from its appearance, adorned with gossamer leaf-like protrusions all over their body. These protrusions are not used for propulsion, they serve only as camouflage. The Leafy Seadragon propels itself by means of a pectoral fin on the ridge of its neck and a dorsal fin on its back closer to the tail. These small fins are almost completely transparent undulating minutely to move the creature sedately through the water, completing the illusion of floating seaweed. As with seahorses, seadragon males are responsible for childbearing. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer from the female to the male. The male incubates the eggs and carries them to term, releasing miniature seadragons into the water after four to six weeks. Popularly known as “leafies” it is the marine emblem of the state of South Australia and the focus of local marine conservation. They are considered an endangered species and have been totally protected in South Australia since 1987.
The only place in the world the Leafy Seadragon is found is southern Australian waters, and since we had never been to Australia before, it was still on our wish list of underwater creatures to see. Oh sure, we saw one in the Dubai Mall but that doesn’t count, you must find one in the wild. Leafy Seadragons are commonly sighted by scuba divers near Adelaide in South Australia, especially at Rapid Bay, Edithburgh and Victor Harbor. A few years ago friends of ours were in all of these locations and they recommended we dive here. They also suggested Diving Adelaide to rent the equipment from.
Our quest began the week before, going to Diving Adelaide making arrangements to rent all the necessary dive gear: hooded vest, booties, fins, 7.5 ml wetsuit, BCD, regulator, weights and tank. Significantly more gear and weight than we are used to diving with in the warm Caribbean waters. While at the dive shop we discussed the best place to find the Seadragon this time of year and were directed to Victor Harbor. The staff looked at the weather forecast and we decided the following Wednesday was the best day to go.
The afternoon before our planned scuba dive we drove once again to the dive shop, 35 min away, to pick up the gear we had pre-arranged to rent. During this visit the shop owner recommended a place called Second Valley, just north of Rapid Bay. A customer had seen 7 Seadragons just 2 days previously…our excitement was building!!!! Arriving back home it was time to put together the underwater camera housing, test for leaks and assemble our personal items. We had already put batteries in our dive computers and made sure they were working.
Finally, dive day arrived after what felt like a tremendous amount of planning 😊 We were on the road bright and early for the almost 2 hour drive south to the Second Valley Jetty. There is a nice paved parking lot there with toilet facilities and beach access next to the jetty. There were a number of fisherman on the jetty, which would come into play later.
As I was busy squeezing myself into the thick wetsuit (if you have done this you know what I mean) Blair carried the heavy tanks to the jetty. Back at the car we geared up then made our way to the top of the jetty stairs. Putting the BCD on the tank, we completed a few last minute checks – air turned on? defog the mask? weight belt? Finally it was time to actually get in the water. We were anticipating a shock of cold as we got in but it was not as bad as we expected, thanks to the thick wetsuits and hoods.
So, back to that fisherman…we surface swam under the jetty towards the middle of the bay fully aware there were fishing lines in the water. I saw a float and swam to avoid it but the next thing I knew there was a different line tangled over my arm and I was hooked. 😲 Calling Blair, he came over, unwrapped the fishing line, and pulled the hook out of my bottom…thank goodness for a thick wetsuit!!!!!! I have never been fish hooked before!
After we got that bit of excitement out of the way we continued across the bay to the rocky outcropping, descended, and began our dive. It was quite wavy on the surface and as we descended visibility was not great, plus there was a slight current pushing us south. We managed to find the mini wall and started slowly on our way, searching intently for a Seadragon 👀 As any diver will appreciate, when you are looking for something and you don’t know what it looks like, it is not easy. Once you see one they will always stand out in your field of vision because you recognize it.
We drifted slowly along the wall seeing a few fish but not much else 😥 Finally after 30 minutes I sadly signaled to Blair that we should turn around and head back. Almost immediately Blair was signaling for me to come over. As my heart pounded with anticipation I swam towards him. HE HAD FOUND ONE!!!!!!!!! The excitement in me exploded, but it’s really hard to jump up and down underwater so there were lots of thumbs-up signals. 👍👍👍
I must say it was one of the most wonderful sightings I have had underwater, knowing that there is never any guarantee you will see anything on a dive. We spent 10 minutes observing this marvelous creature, taking over 150 photographs 📷 and a few video clips. My wish has come true and we have seen a Leafy Seadragon in the wild 💖💖 Without further adieu here are my favorite photographs:
After 10 minutes with the Seadragon, we reluctantly had to leave and get back to the jetty, searching the entire way for another one but with no luck. Blair saw a few squids and I found a crab in the seaweed, plus lots of small fish swimming around.
Back at the bay I was nervous about getting “hooked” again so we took the long route skirting the edges of the bay and coming under the jetty closer to the shore. By the time we reached the jetty steps, I was exhausted, fighting the current and the waves which had picked up during our dive. With one last effort, we got ourselves up the ladder and back to the parking lot, although I did have to stop and take my tank off halfway leaving Blair to bring it back to the car for me. Coldwater diving was much easier when I was younger!!!!!
During the long drive back to the dive shop we excitedly discussed how happy we were to have found a Seadragon and it was worth all the effort. As soon as the dive shop staff saw us they asked “did you see one” and when we answered affirmatively there were big smiles all around. It must be nice to hear when a customer is successful in seeing what they set out to find, especially when the shop suggested the dive location.
If you are a diver and want to see a Leafy Seadragon, this is the place to come. Diving Adelaide can direct you to where they are regularly being seen and set you up with all the gear. Our dive was 60 minutes long with a maximum depth of 30 ft, a very shallow dive. The water temperature in March was 64 F and quite comfortable in a 7.5 ml wetsuit.
This was our first scuba dive in over two years since leaving Cayman, and our first cold water dive in many years. It went so much better than I had anticipated, now we are excited about diving again here in South Australia. We want to go for the double…there is another Seadragon found only here in Australia, the Weedy. This fellow is commonly found on the east coast near Sydney. We asked Diving Adelaide for advice and they have recommended a couple of dive shops as well as a few dive sites where we should be able to find the Weedy Seadragon we are searching for.
UPDATE: Video clip of the seadragon now viewable here.