TOUR OF THE WEEK
The reef walks have been spectacular all week due to favorable wind conditions allowing clear visibility and therefore greater opportunity to spot unusual creatures. One reefwalk on Wednesday was particularly special. With a cloudy sky, a lot of creatures came out into the open like the asses ear abalone (Haliotis asinina) which is usually nocturnal. Three were found on a single tour and guests were amazed at the speed that this snail-like creature could move! One of the guests recognised it as a delicious food which is exactly correct, it is a very valuable fishery but also one that is easy for poachers to exploit. If only they could move a little faster! Both the Blue Linckia seastar (Linckia laevigata) and the New Caledonian seastar (Nardoa novaecaledoniae) were seen very close together. Most people think that seastars are soft and squishy and are genuinely surprised when they first feel one. All sea stars have the remarkable ability to regenerate broken limbs. If a seastar is broken down the middle and some of the central disc is attached it can happily go and form a whole new seastar! Guests came across two Dolabella sea hares (Dolabella auricularia) mating. These animals are like a big snail minus the shell and actually change colour depending on the algae that they have most recently been feeding on. These two today had obviously dined on some green to almost blue algae as their colour reflected. Later in the tour a very special visitor was seen hiding in a small cave. It was a Grey carpet shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) which is also a nocturnal animal but had become active in the low light. It was sitting in this hole as a dog might in a kennel and it just waited until the commotion outside had gone before shifting to another position. These sharks have flat pavement like teeth and eat small mollusks and crustaceans in the sand. It was a great example of the diversity of sharks; this little guy bears no resemblance to our traditional image of sharks. Lastly the group found a fiercely territorial brown damselfish (Pomacentrus opisthostigma) that was biting reef walking shoes as they walked past. These fish graze the algae from a defined area of the reef and when we walk onto their little paddock of turf they will come and chase you out.
DIVE OF THE WEEK
Divers have enjoyed above average visibility for the whole week. On a dive at the Severence shipwreck guests observed nine bull rays (Taeniurops meyeni) swimming through the water in a loose formation. It was unusual behaviour for here because normally these rays are fairly inactive and nearly always solitary. Itís hard to find out the specific details of their biology and behaviour but it was obvious that something different was going on, and guests were happy to enjoy the spectacle.
Wow what a start to the week it was for snorkeling! Monday and Tuesday were standout days with 30m visibility and the whole ocean seemed to be in overdrive. The first thing that was noticeable was the amount of activity of all the creatures. There were schools of thousands of scissortail fusilier (Caesio caerulaurea) and blue-green chromis (Chromis viridis) creating vast walls of colour. Their abundance is generally a good indicator that there is lots of plankton in the water as this is their food source. As plankton is the driving force in the productivity of the reef this would have probably created all the action we have been seeing. Guests that came on the snorkel safari saw another creature that likes to eat plankton, the Manta Rays (Manta birostris). They had one of the best manta experiences imaginable. After only a few moments of being in the water an enormous manta came up over forty-five degree Bommie. The manta parked itself over the top to have all the little fish come out and clean it. Guests watched this cleaning behaviour repeated by six Mantas for over 40 minutes! They took dozens of photos, and at one point a manta ray left the Bommie come to surface right next to the group where it circled around to have a really good look. Guests snapped their cameras furiously. Manta rays have a very large brain probably on par with that of a dogís brain and they are very intelligent, they are known to come up to snorkelers and divers just to observe them, and today it was completely obvious that this creature was simply curious. Then, while the group was sitting at forty-five degree Bommie watching manta rays a huge tawny nurse shark (Nebrius ferrugineus) swam past that would be over 3m in length. These sharks are bottom dwellers that are often very docile however this individual today was happy circling the bommies which again was an opportune time for guests to observe a big shark in action. The group then headed up towards second reef where, they saw 15 green turtles (Chelonia mydas) of all sizes and sexes. Most of them were busy feeding on the algae growing between the staghorn corals (acropora sp.) and were about 5m below the group so engrossed in their feeding that they didnít even pay attention to us. It was an absolutely sensational snorkel!
We had the team from Queensland Weekender come out and film some of the islands wonders.
Due to air on the 12th of June 2010
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
MANTAS, MANTAS, MANTAS!