TOUR OF THE WEEK
Lady Elliot Island is a hotspot for bird life, as all guests soon find out after stepping off the plane these gentle creatures definitely do not shy away from the spotlight; so it is certainly no surprise to say that this week the Bird Watching Tour is certainly one of great interest. As guests ventured off through the resort pathways lined with octopus bushes (Argusia argentea) in which the white capped noddies (Anous minutus) like to call home they were amazed by the fact that this seabird has chosen to nest within a tree using only leaves to create a nest held together by cementing the leaves down using guano. The white capped noddy is very closely related to the common noddy (Anous stolidus) which has chosen to nest on the ground at either end of the airstrip. As guests headed off further around the southern end of the island they were confronted with a small bird blending in with the coral - the black napped tern (Sterna sumatrana). The black napped tern is white in colour with grey wings and possesses a very distinctive broad black band encircling the back of the neck and terminating in a point infront of the eye. The next bird on the agenda was the brown bobby (Sula leucogaster) is a distinctive bird with a brown back, head, neck and upper breast and a white belly with its eyes very close set to the base of the beak, they are typically sighted over the water or sitting on the boats, this bird is able to dive down into the water in order to catch fish.
One other tour was a very special reef walk where guests seemed to have incredible luck discovering the small animals out here on the reef. Three very beautiful nudibranchs were creeping around over the coral heads. For anyone who has never seen a nudibranch (Order Nudibranchia) they are small (less than 2cm) slug-like creatures that normally have very bright colours that serve as a warning to any potential predators that they are not very nice to eat. They actually eat the stinging cells from hydroids which they can store in their tissue without discharging. This means that any animal that comes into contact with them becomes victim to the stinging cells of the other creature!
Some guests with keen eyes also spotted a mantis shrimp (Order Stomatopoda) in a hole among the coral. These creatures are capable of producing a very explosive movement with their short jack-knife shaped claws that is among the fastest known in the animal kingdom. They use their very sharp claws to pierce the amour of their prey and have even been given them the name “thumb busters” as they have been known to cut curious divers fingers when touched. The group saw the mantis shrimp carrying off a shattered Ancient nerite shell (Nerita polita). We speculated that this little guy had probably found lunch!
DIVE OF THE WEEK
Divers have been consistently seeing the manta rays (Manta birostris) this week at the lighthouse Bommy cleaning stations. Manta rays often stop over the small outcrops of coral to have fish remove any parasites that have accumulated on their giant bodies. The manta rays that divers saw would circle around as if observing the divers and at times approached within a couple of metres. This sort of encounter is what divers all over the planet pursue and our divers were well aware of how lucky they have been!
Divers observed another interesting piece of behaviour by a moray eel (Gymnothorax flavimarginatus). It had spotted a very large green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and it seemed as though it was using the turtle as cover to move from one place to another, sideling along right beside it!
With a strong change of north westerly winds hitting the island early in the week the boats ventured to the eastern side of the island to escape the big swell. Yet with north westerly winds and a northerly current brings manta rays (Manta birostris) in big numbers. The current lines that are created produce a high density of plankton for the mantas to feed on. It is always a special encounter when all you have to do is bob up and down on the surface as you wait for manta after manta to glide past you. If you keep still, most will interact with you, first passing you by, then again before circling all around you. It is one of those moments that stay with you forever. As if that wasn’t enough a white-tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) came in to take a closer look. Reef sharks and sharks in general are one of the most amazing organisms to see whilst snorkelling or diving. They are so graceful, the way their fins cut through the water as if there is no effort required whatsoever.
When the wind had calmed down again glass bottom boats resumed on the eastern side of the island at second reef where the action was plentiful. As the glass bottom boat pulled up to go snorkeling guests saw a cowtail ray (Pastinachus sephen) churning up the sea floor. This stingray was probably feeding on little mollusks and crustaceans that live in the sand. No more than twenty metres away there was a 3m long guitarfish (Rhynchobatus Djiddensis) resting on the bottom. These creatures might be described to look similar to a shark and a ray, with the front half flat and the rear end very streamlined and shark like with two large dorsal fins. It clearly wasn’t too bothered with all the commotion and was content to just stay and snooze.
Guests then had a long snorkel over second reef and saw several green turtles (Chelonia mydas) chewing up the algae between the coral. When they do this several reef fish love to hang around their heads to scavenge any little animals that might be disturbed. Among these fish were the six barred wrasses (Thalassoma hardwicke) which are magnificent to look at with purple bands, a yellow body and a pink and green face.
Craigslea College had a group out here during the week that did some fantastic experiments observing the coral and invertebrates in the lagoon. They also did a night snorkel which is one of the most bizarre experiences that you can have in the water as you use a waterproof torch to light up a small area in front of you, and the only other lights are from glow sticks attached to each of the snorkelers. It looks beautiful from the beach as well. The reef at night is a vastly different place, most of the big fish have gone to sleep and taken up a hiding place, and hundreds of tiny fish become attracted to your lights, meaning that you are usually surrounded by them. It is also a great time to find big mollusks like the partridge tun shell (Tonna perdix)