Tuesday, November 17, 2009

#23: An end to the seadragon adventure

After a spectacular 4+ weeks in Australia it's time to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I've met and all the beautiful sea life I've observed.

I'm looking forward to applying what I've learned while in Australia back at the New England Aquarium and hope that through the continued work of those in Australia and in aquariums around the world we will soon unravel some of the mysteries that still surround these iconic creatures.

Weedy seadragon (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

Leafy seadragon (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

Now, I think it's best to end by letting the pictures and videos speak for themselves.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

#22: Nudibranch, squid, fish and habitat photos from South Australia

I spent my last two dives in Australia searching for leafy seadragons, but unfortunately couldn't find any. Regardless, it was good to see the diverse types of habitat that leafy sea dragons typically use and how these are comparable and different to what weedy seadragons prefer. For example, leafy seadragons tend to hang near these long pieces of algae above large mats of sea grasses whereas the weedy's I saw tended to prefer to be where the sandy patches meet the sea grasses.

Habitat (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

As I previously mentioned, regardless of whether or not you see seadragons the diving here is always spectacular.

The temperate waters of southern Australia may not get the recognition that the tropical reefs like the Great Barrier Reef does, however, the colors and diversity of fish, invertebrates, and algaes are absolutely magnificent.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#21: Seahorses, pipefish, squid, octopus and more from the South Australian coast

I headed to a new location along the South Australian coast with a local expert to see if I could find some more leafy sea dragons. Unfortunately, the first dive of the day yielded no leafy seadragons, but we were able to spot two other syngnathids--This short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus breviceps) and this pipefish

Seahorse (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

Pipefish (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

I did a night dive at a spot that is renowned for its spectacular nocturnal species and I wasn't disappointed. It was likely one of the most spectacular dives of the trip. I saw striped pyjama squid (Sepioloidea lineolata).

Pyjama squid (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

There were lots of hatchling blue ring octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) that were likely only a few days old.

Juvenile blue ring octopus (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

and this pipefish hiding in the grass.

Pipefish (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

#20: First sightings of leafy seadragons!

I went out for another dive in search of leafy seadragons and lucked out as we spotted four throughout the dive. Two were juveniles (probably 1 - 1.5 year olds) and two were adults.

Leafy seadragon (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

One was even a large male with eggs on its tail.

It's quite remarkable to see how thick the males tail gets when it has eggs (even wider than the male weedy seadragons), and how many eggs it can hold (anywhere from 150-300 eggs).

Leafy seadragons are exceptionally well camouflaged and look so much like a floating piece of algae when they swim that I've heard stories here of how divers have missed them as they swam right in front of their mask. As you can imagine spotting them is much harder than finding weedy sea dragons.

Even without seeing dragons the dive was exceptional with a rich array of colorful and beautiful fish and inverts like this orange biscuit star (Pentagonaster dubeni) and this moonlighter (Tilodon sexfasciatus)

Biscuit star (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

Moonlighter (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)


Saturday, November 7, 2009

#19: Strange sights in Australia...

Since I'll be away for the next few days hunting for leafy seadragons along the coast of South Australia I likely won't have access to email so it may be a day or two until you hear of my journeys.

So, I thought this might be a good opportunity to show you a photo of an interesting, head scratching, thought provoking and down right humorous item I've come across while down under. Hope you enjoy.

High-heel fin (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)


Friday, November 6, 2009

#18: Finding hidden seadragons for science

For being such an iconic and extraordinary looking fish, our knowledge about seadragon life history is surprisingly limited. This is largely a result of their cryptic nature. You can imagine trying to undertake something as simple as trying to do a census to understand how many dragons there are in a given area.

Weedy seadragon in weeds (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

Just spotting a cryptic species like a seadragon is a challange (just look at the photos above) let alone making sure that you get an accurate count of all the animals living in a given area.

Several years ago there was a program called Dragon Search (which we highlighted on one our graphic panels adjacent to our exhibit at the aquarium) that employed the help of local divers and beach goers to report seadragon sightings. While this wasn't a "scientific" assessment it did provide lots of valuable information about what habitats, depths, and locations sea dragons were being found in and what times of the year eggs were being seen and where/when juveniles were being spotted.

After this program ended there was still interest about reporting sea dragon sightings and the program still continues under Reef Watch's Feral or In Peril program. All the information gathered from Dragon Search has now been compiled and can be accessed through the Reef Watch website.
If you're interested in learning more I urge you to check out their website for more information.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

#17: Giving a talk and taking old wife and bullseye videos in South Australia

I got to do my first dive in South Australia today. Unfortunately the visibility was pretty bad do to a fairly strong swell and therefore there was little chance of finding a leafy sea dragon. It was still quite a fun dive though and I got to see several interesting fish and invertebrates like this old wife:

And this bullseye:

In the evening, I gave talk sponsored by Reef Watch entitled, "In Search of Dragons." I talked a little about the New England Aquarium, our seadragon exhibit, and the efforts that many public aquariums are taking to breed sea dragons in captivity (a very big challenge at this point in time, especially since there are still many holes in our knowledge about seadragons). The talk went well and nearly 40 people attended. The attendees were a good mix of local divers interested in seadragons to local marine biologists who were quite knowledgeable about sea dragons.

Tomorrow I'm off to do a dive at a place that is a pretty reliable leafy seadragon site (fingers crossed). Then I'm off to spend the weekend diving in search of leafy sea dragons and some other unique syngnathids that are native to South Australia.


Monday, November 2, 2009

#16: Connecting with Reef Watch in Australia

I arrived in Adelaide, South Australia to a leafy seadragon reception at the airport. I spent my first day here at the Reef Watch Marine Creatures Expo.

Leafy sea dragon display at airport

Reef Watch is a community based monitoring program that utilizes "citizen scientists" to do systematic surveys at local reefs and intertidal areas to assess the health of these rocky reefs and contribute to adaptive management of the local coastal areas (similar to the Great Annual Fish Count that Aquarium divers reported on here).

In addition, they play a vital role in educating and engaging the public about the bounty and beauty of the South Australian marine environment. This expo was a way for them to let the public know about the important programs they're working on and to expose people to South Australian marine creatures and some of the marine scientists that research them.

Leafy seadragon (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

The expo was broken into several stations detailing their programs on invasive/feral species, in peril/'of concern' (or rarely seen species such as leafy seadragons), and showcasing the diversity of local invertebrates, fish, and algae. Overall, it was a very informative day and I learned a lot about the beauty of South Australia's temperate reefs.

I'm looking forward to experiencing more of it first hand in a couple of days when I do another dive.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

#15: Exploring Tasmania

I spent the last couple days exploring the majestic natural beauty of Tasmania as well as learning about some of its unique animal life. I took a walk at Cataract Gorge and spent some time walking around Dove Lake near Cradle Mountain.

I also visited the Platypus House which in addition to displaying everyones favorite egg laying mammal, conducts research on a particularly devastating fungus that has ravaged the platypus population in Tasmania.

 Platypus (Photo: Stefan Kraft via Wikimedia Commons)

And what trip to Tasmania is complete without seeing the infamous Tasmanian devil.

Tasmanian devil (Photo: Jeremy Brodt)

It's now time to say goodbye to the beautiful state of Tasmania and head to Adelaide, South Australia where I will meet with members of the conservation group Reef Watch and conclude my trip with some diving to see the magnificent leafy sea dragons.