Unique life under the waves

Posted: 07/16/2011 in all marine news

Angela Pownall – 

Standing on an ugly steel and concrete structure several metres above the ocean, it’s hard to imagine that beneath the surface is an underwater scene that is almost unrivaled worldwide.

This is Exmouth’s Navy Pier in WA and it has been rated the sixth best scuba dive in the world for its sheer abundance and diversity of marine life.

Built in 1964 to receive parts to build the US naval communication station which is still operational nearby, the Navy Pier has become a home for so much marine life because of its seclusion.

Fishing was banned from the pier years ago, boat traffic is restricted and the area is closed off to the general public because it is defense land.

Marine life has been left to flourish and more than 80 species of fish thrive under the pier.

Even from on the pier, massive schools of fish can be seen thronging in the water, giving a glimpse of the extraordinary marine environment.

With a giant entry step, divers plunge 3m from the pier into the ocean. Looking down as soon as I’m in the water, a turtle swims slowly under my feet and I know this is going be good.

As we descend, the scale of life we see is staggering. It is difficult to know where to look and which way to go.

Huge schools of fish seem to stare at us as they shelter from the current behind the pier’s pylons, which are completely covered with coral and creatures such as starfish and nudibranchs.

Flutefish whizz past while brightly colored bannerfish, angelfish and lionfish, as well as many more species, busy themselves around the coral.

Huge grouper fish hide behind the pylons or lie on the ocean bed with their mouths agape. Moray eels poke their open-mouthed heads out of crevices.

During a night dive, a nocturnal grey nurse shark curiously swims right up to me to investigate who is visiting its favourite spot.

White-tipped reef sharks rest in groups on the seabed and wobbegong sharks disguise themselves among the algae and coral.

A few metres away from the pier itself, there is another underwater colony centred on a cluster of bombies. More sea creatures – sea urchins, octopuses and toadfish – lie on the coral or watch us from their hiding places.

With a maximum depth of 11m, the Navy Pier is an easy dive though it is dependent on tides and currents. Visibility is rarely great because of tidal movements although we were lucky enough to get 12 metres of viz which was the best it had been for a year.

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