TOUR OF THE WEEK
Though there is a lot to be said for Lady Elliot Island’s underwater world, guests quickly found that there is much to explore and learn on dry land, particularly on the popular Historical Tour. Guests took a relaxing walk around the island, stopping to chat about the mysterious ‘Chinese Graveyard’ under the age-old Pisonia trees (Pisonia grandis), the early stages of the resort and enjoying a cool afternoon breeze while discussing the mining era which took place on Lady Elliot. The Pisonia trees are of great interest to the island as they are the only remaining original vegetation left on the island form the guano mining era. As guests continued to wander on past the dive shop and onto the airstrip most were amazed to know that Don Adams, the original lease holder of the island was able to secure his tourist lease if he simply built an airstrip. The old lighthouse keeper houses drew a lot of attention from all guests; the three houses built in 1925, are now heritage listed and are a great reminder of the style of living that the lighthouse keeper’s families were accustom to.
DIVE OF THE WEEK
As the sun was shining and the waters were calm the dives this week were amazing from all reports, while most were held on the Western side of the island there were a few that did venture to the Eastern side to the Blowhole. The highlight however would most certainly have to be the night dive with perfect conditions and a high tide the opportunity to dive into the dark ocean could not be missed. Eight divers ventured out to coral gardens to see what they could find under the cover of darkness. There weren’t many big things to see except for a large Black-Blotched stingray (Taeniura meyeni) near the conclusion of the dive. On the other hand the small wildlife was absolutely incredible. Tiny little Cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis), Hermit crabs (Dardanus lagopodes), Pineapple sea cucumber spawning (Thelenota ananas) were all seen at close range, and for those with cameras enabled them to get some amazing photographs of the wildlife.
The snorkel boats were very popular this week with glass bottom boat & snorkel safari trips heading out daily. Thursday however was a fantastic day for some of our glass bottom boaters with four Mantas Rays (Manta birostris) sighted gliding through the water around Sunset Drift feeding on their favourite food source - the Comb Jellies (Bolinopsis sp.). The tour did not stop there however with all guests jumping in for a snorkel off Second Reef where there was a visibility of around thirty metres. Turtles, turtles and more turtles were seen swimming around coming up for air about every ten to fifteen minutes with two Humpheaded Maori Wrasse (Chelinus undulates) darting through the coral crevices.
The snorkel safari trips were also running daily with guests heading out for a nice long drift snorkel on the Western side of the island. The highlight however would have to be the snorkel safari held on Sunday with guests getting in at Coral Gardens and heading towards the shark pool. Guests were lucky enough to see some of the smaller animals & plants which perhaps would not normally strike their attention such as the Turtle Weed (Chlorodesmis fastigiata) & Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) which are usually found wedged in the coral. The Christmas Tree Worm is a fascinating creature that hides in a calcium carbonate tunnel and will come out and filter feed on suspended particles in the water column. As the snorkel continued on further and further towards the Shark Pool the Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) started to appear swimming on by paying no attention to anyone around them and next came the Shark Pool with two large Tawny Nurse Sharks (Nebrius ferrugineus) sitting on the bottom awaiting the tide to rise high enough to enter the lagoon.
A rare site was witnessed inside second reef during the week. An extremely large school of herring (Herklotsichthys sp) known as a bait ball was predated upon by a plethora of other fish species. As you can see in the photo the bait ball was extremely large. Some of the species that were herding the herring around were Spangled Emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus) ,Malabar Grouper (Epinephelus malabaricus), Longtoms (Tylosurus crocodiles), and Big Eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus). They all took turns gorging on the hapless fish. This continued for many hours and the size of the ball started to reduce as the carnivorous fish were becoming more effective in attack. The source of a bait ball is usually an upwelling of nutrients attracting the smaller fish to that particular area, from there the herring congregate and the larger carnivorous species converge thus bringing in the larger pelagic species for a complete feeding frenzy. As the herring started to decrease, so did the visibility. The scales that were removed in the carnage started to distort the waters’ clarity. This was only a slight downside to the spectacular event that everybody witnessed. It certainly is one of those once in a lifetime experiences diving inside a bait ball and seeing nothing but frantic fish as they swim for their lives. It was like poetry in motion as they all moved in unison packing tighter and tighter together waiting for the inevitable, with the larger fish species just waiting, taunting them as to when their time was up.