Tag Archives: south australian marine life

Moonta Bay: above and below the water

21 Sep

Dear Reader:

It is a lovely afternoon and I am sitting on the balcony of a friend’s beach house gazing across the calm waters of Moonta Bay. The light is soft and despite an unseasonably hot spring day there is a gentle sea breeze ruffling the bushes and coastal grasses on the edge of the steep cliffs that drop down to the beach. I have been watching a pair of rabbits cautiously emerging from their burrows in the soft sand; endearing little creatures but unwelcome guests in this area where they eat the native plants and damage the delicate balance of the cliff top ecology.

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

Wild rabbits amongst succulent and grasses on the cliff top

As night approaches and the sun drops below the horizon the rabbits become more active. A flock of gulls flies in V formation across the skyline and I retreat into the study to avoid some early season mosquitoes and reflect on my day. The sunset is quite spectacular and provides some inspiration to set pen to paper.

Moonta Bay at sunset

The journey from Adelaide across the flat coastal plains and scrub hedged wheat fields  was an easy couple of hours. I stopped at a local pub and grabbed a bite to eat then pushed on to Moonta. With only one night at my disposal I spent the early part of the afternoon wandering amongst the old mine ruins. A little gecko clung miraculously to the smooth surface of an old mine bucket and a pair of swallows had made a neat little nest behind a wooden beam that protruded from a square stone tower. But strangely it was the colours in the rocks that caught my attention as they hinted at the wealth of copper that was extracted from this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

throughout the old quarry the rocks are stll tinged with the coper ore

Throughout the old quarry many of the rocks are tinged with the copper ore

From the mine it was a short drive down to the seashore and jetty with its art deco styled motel and restaurant nestled into the low cliffs. A stroll along the stained hardwood planks out to the end where it curves to run parallel to the shore brought back childhood memories of weekends fishing and playing cricket on the huge expanse of beach that is exposed when the tide recedes. But on this occasion the child’s rod and line were replaced by camera and notebook. Near the shoreline I stopped by a rocky outcrop to watch a pied cormorant hunting amongst the weed and rock-pools; its body seeming to take on the fluid persona of the water as it twisted and turned in search of small fish and crabs.

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

Pied cormorant hunting amongst the shallow rock pools

 A little further along the jetty, where the shallow water starts to turn darker hinting at the meadow of seagrass beneath, a flotilla of seabirds were patrolling; an indication  that there might be baitfish in the area. With this in mind I trotted back to the car and donned my snorkelling gear to take a closer look. I was not disappointed as several schools of small fish were congregating in the deeper water beyond the rocky outcrop. 

A school of baitfish congregate below the jetty

A school of juvenile mullet feeding below the jetty

The sunset is well over and the  forecast indicates fine weather with calm seas for the next few days.  I’ll probably do a little more snorkelling near the rocky outcrop before walking along the coastal trail to watch the seabirds and search for reptiles and insects.

 

Until next time

Cheers

Baz

Life Under the Port Noarlunga Jetty

21 Jan

Dear reader

This week has been hot with temperatures hovering around the mid 30s- perfect weather for a dip in the ocean. Although our urban beaches are perfect for swimming it is the more rugged coastline further south that always attracts my attention. As a keen snorkeler and underwater photographer the cliffs, headlands and rocky reefs, interspersed with fine, sandy beaches, create a tempting environment for anyone interested in marine life.

Port Noarlnga jetty showing growth of mussels and beach

Port Noarlnga jetty showing growth of mussels and beach

Consequently, last Saturday morning found me donning my summer wet suit and sliding into the water under the Port Noarlunga jetty; a favourite dive location only a 45 minute drive south of Adelaide’s CBD. Like many of South Australia’s jetties; this one is the legacy of bygone days when wooden ketches collected grain from coastal farming communities. The old wooden structure juts out from a sheltered beach and is sandwiched between low limestone cliffs and an estuary. Two hundred metres out to sea it intersects a reef that runs parallel to the shore. Although the reef is a marine sanctuary there is limited fishing allowed along the first three quarters of the jetty. Most divers go to the end of the jetty and drop straight onto the reef. However, on this occasion I had decided to swim under the jetty and look at the way the environment and marine life changes with depth and proximity to the reef.

starfish on jetty pile amongst coraline algae and green algae red

Starfish on jetty pile amongst coraline algae and green algae

 The first few metres were quite a surprise. I had expected bare sand and little life. Instead I found quite a community of organisms in the shallow warm water. Small schools of mullet and yellowfin-whiting and some bream were patrolling the sandy bottom searching for small crustaceans and worms. A few large razorfish, a fan shaped mollusc that buries its pointed end in the sand, protruded amongst the small outcrops of rock and sparse seagrass patches while several sand crabs scuttled for cover in the weed as I swam over them.

Razorfish amongst seagrass

Razorfish amongst seagrass

In the shallow zone, the jetty piles are constantly exposed to air and sun as the tides and winds vary. Only a few grey snail shells and worm tubes clung to them finding moisture and protection in the cracks in the wood. As the water became deeper a coating of small black mussels shaded the grey wood of the piles and a mixed growth of algae, sea squirts, sponges and other encrusting organisms started to appear. In the open water schools of baitfish would occasionally appear in tightly choreographed formations; a group strategy evolved for minimising successful attacks by predators. Closer to the surface, I caught sight of the occasional garfish and even a small group of squid chasing after a fisherman’s lure.

Squid in open water following lure

Squid in open water near the jetty attracted by angling lures

As I approached the end of the jetty, the character of the environment changed dramatically. The growth of invertebrates covering the wooden supports had thickened and a veritable garden of different organisms of every texture and colour imaginable competed for space and food. Small patterned fish and shrimps darted amongst these marine jungles and an occasional starfish also moved slowly though them in search of prey. The baitfish had been replaced by a mixed school of sea sweep and old wives.

School of sea sweep with a few striped old wives

School of sea sweep with a few striped old wives in the background

When I reached the end of the jetty I used the aluminium dive ladder to climb out and sat for a while on the wooden walkway and watched a few divers exploring the reef. A quick glance at my dive watch indicated that I had been in the water for well over an hour. The time had passed quickly and I had been more than pleasantly surprised by the marine life under the jetty….worth another visit.

Cheers

Baz

Baz

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