In the Dragon’s Lair

A recent visit from our good friend Carl, prompted us to edit and re-post this article from August 2015.

November 2014 I fulfilled my dream of becoming a scuba diving instructor in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu (Borneo). To do this, I enrolled on a 12 day Instructor Development Course which preceded two days of examinations. There were seven us on the course, all from diverse backgrounds. One member of the group, who you could not miss due to his towering height (especially when contrasted with my 5ft2″), was Carl from Adelaide, Australia.
We got on well from the beginning and it was great to be able to meet up again while Devin and I were in Oz. Naturally, most of our reunions involve diving… on our last visit to South Australia, Carl somehow – against my better judgement – persuaded me to go on a dive with him.
The cons were numerous: cold water (12℃), the possibility of a passing White Pointer (also known as a great white. I was torn on this point, half of me wished to see one swim by, if anything for the adrenaline rush…) and then the task of trying to get my gear dry and sorted ready to be packed back into Eileen (the yellow, 1979 Toyota HiAce van we toured Australia in).
The pros ended up out weighing the cons: the chance of meeting a leafy sea dragon, and of course the fact that I love diving and we hadn’t had a chance to for a while.

I don’t expect many of you to know of or about sea dragons. We have encountered both types, the weedy sea dragon off the coast of Sydney and the leafy down South. Prior to this, we had only seen them once and then in the captivity of Atlanta aquarium. You can find out lots of interesting information about them in this National Geographic article.

leafy sea dragon

Up early, we wolfed down bacon, eggs and coffee before heading off on the hour drive to Rapid Bay. The weather did not look promising as clouds rolled over the sky and rain battered the windshield. However as we neared our destination, a rainbow appeared and the sun peaked out, rays glancing off the calm water. Gearing up was a bit chilly and I couldn’t help but repeat my mantra of “what are we doing? We’re crazy, we’re crazy!”. Nonetheless, nothing dulls the excitement before a dive. Walking along the 200m jetty lifted our spirits even more as we saw the water was a beautiful turquoise blue and crystal clear. The bad vis we had been fearing would no longer be a worry.
As we reached the steps another diver was exiting. I tried to get him to trade his dry suit for my 7mm wetsuit, to no avail.
As we waded down the steps into the FREEZING water, a string of profanities escaped my mouth, to which Carl (in a semi dry suit I may point out) replied with laughter. The guys turned on their shark shields – 3m long hoses that strap to the ankle and get towed behind the diver that emit an electronic field that surrounds the wearer and deters sharks – and we descended.
The chill was soon forgotten as we prepared our cameras and set off in search of the Dragon’s lair. There was a moment of worry when ten minutes into the dive we had yet to find a leafy. But then there it was. With his experienced eyes, Carl spotted it easily whereas it took me a moment to see it, even when he was pointing it out.

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They are fascinating creatures. Similar in some ways to sea horses, but with elongated bodies and extravagant camouflage. The weedies are found more to the East coast of Australia – we saw some when diving in the Sydney area – whereas the leafies live in the South.
The one Carl pointed out to us now was small, but not a juvenile. Yellow in colour with ornate thin blue and white stripes along its body. Shy, he tended to try and face away from us, but Carl and myself angled ourselves in such a way as to get shots of his face.
I was captivated (and very excited at my first leafy encounter). When we decided the little fella had modeled for us enough, we swam on only to stumble (or rather fin) across two more leafy sea dragons!

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I can honestly say to anyone visiting the southern coast of Oz, don’t let the chilly water deter you. It is more than worth it to witness some of the world’s most intricately made animals!

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