The Leafy seadragon is a master of camouflage. It is also South Australia’s marine emblem. Seasoned diver Steve Jones donned his flippers and hit the water to snap the elusive critter in its natural Rapid Bay environment.
During the early sixties a tale of a little boy named Jackie Paper was released in song form. In ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’, Jackie visits the fictitious seaside land of Honnah Lee to meet up with his friend, Puff. Dragons have continued to capture the imagination of young and old. But what if I told you dragons are real? And closer than you think.
“No matter how many times seasoned divers see a Leafy it never fails to be special and a first timer’s excitement is infectious.”
You may be hard pressed to find Honnah Lee (even with the help of Google Maps) but venture an hour-and-a-half away from Adelaide’s CBD and you’ll reach the picturesque seaside location of Rapid Bay. Here you can rekindle childhood fantasies.
Leafy seadragons, or ‘leafies’, as they’re affectionately known, are endemic to the southern coastal waters of Australia. They can be found from Victoria all the way to the bottom tip of Western Australia but few locals realise their world-renowned habitat is our very own Fleurieu Peninsula. Tourists from all over the globe converge on the site to dive beneath the iconic old Rapid Bay jetty for a glimpse.
A close relative to seahorses, leafy seadragons can grow up to 40 centimetres long and are named because of their leaf-like appendages that provide perfect camouflage against seaweed and kelp. Despite the bright colouring (highlighted in these photos by underwater lighting), leafies are actually more of a yellowish brown to light olive green hue. This can make them quite hard to spot as they gently sway among grasses and hide under structures, natural or otherwise. They are characteristically very shy by nature and when diving with these unique animals the utmost respect must be shown. Sadly, they made the IUCN Near Threatened Red List during the mid-eighties so it comes as no surprise that we locals are not only very proud of our Leafies, we’re also very protective of them and ensure their safety and welfare is adhered to. No matter how many times seasoned divers see a Leafy it never fails to be special and a first timer’s excitement is infectious.
Interested in seeing a leafy for yourself? Having a recognised diving certificate would be a start but is not essential. Most reputable dive operators in Adelaide run what are known as Discover Scuba Dives. Incidentally, this is how many serious divers began diving in the first place.
Under the safe guidance of a fully qualified PADI instructor, DSD participants are taken to a public swimming pool and assessed for a few simple scuba skills. Then, if certain levels of confidence are met by both parties, it’s off to Rapid Bay for a day of dragon hunting, where a maximum depth of 10 metres is reached. Be warned: it’s addictive. Happy diving. And be sure to treat the beautiful little creatures with the respect they deserve.
Steve Jones is a seasoned diver who has explored oceans across the globe but nothing compares to feeling of spotting a Leafy Seadragon.
Have you spotted a leafy seadragong in your underwater travels? Let us know in the comments, below.