Seadragons, Part 6: Leafy Seadragons

By Leslee Matsushige, aquarium co-creator

Our first excursion after arriving in Adelaide was to Victor Harbor – about 80 km (~50 miles) south on the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula – to dive at Rapid Bay Jetty. This site comprises an older, longer wooden jetty (now closed to the public) and a shorter jetty that was recently built following campaigning by the local diving and angling community (See

Rapid Bay Jetty

Rapid Bay Jetty

Why? Well for divers this is one the best places in the world to see the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques)!

When we descended under the new jetty, we saw large areas of a seagrass (marine flowering plant) called Amphibolis antarctica  as well as other seagrasses (Zostera spp.) and various brown and red algae. It was there, at a depth of about 15 feet, that I saw my first leafy seadragon!

Leafy Seadragon at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Over two dives, I saw nearly a dozen of them. What an incredible site to see leafy seadragons in their natural South Australian habitat. These fish are experts at camouflage, so they are difficult to find if you don’t know they’re there.

Two leafy seadragons

Art of Deception: Two leafy seadragons (Phycodurus eques) blending into the seagrass at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Camouflage Kings: Can you spot the leafy seadragon?

Camouflage Kings: Can you spot the leafy seadragon?

The seadragons were so interesting to observe (check out the videos below). They drifted along edges of the seagrass and algae, poking their snouts inside as if looking for food. It was nice watch them up close; they didn’t seem to mind our presence.

Me with two leafy seadragons. I'm pretty excited.

Me with two leafy seadragons. I’m pretty excited.

The lush pilons of the old jetty were also home to many other species, some that I’d never seen before. It was almost overwhelming but also exhilarating to see so much diversity.

A leatherjacket at Rapid Bay Jetty.

A leatherjacket at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Beautiful nudibranch

Beautiful nudibranch (Ceratosoma brevicaudatum) on sponge at Rapid Bay Jetty piling.

Old Wife (Enoplosus armatus) at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Old Wife (Enoplosus armatus) at Rapid Bay Jetty.

Truncate coralfish (Chelmonops truncatus) near piling at Rapid Bay.

Truncate coralfish (Chelmonops truncatus) near piling at Rapid Bay Jetty. 

Tunicate (Clavina sp.) on piling

Tunicate (Clavina sp.) on piling

These were the final dives of our research trip. They were beyond compare and a great way to end this amazing journey.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor Greg Rouse and I parted ways in Adelaide, but we’ll regroup back in San Diego to continue our efforts to breed seadragons at Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

As for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the Great Barrier Reef. I’m taking some personal time to dive in the world’s largest coral reef system. I can’t wait.

See you back in the States!

A beautiful rainbow leaving Rapid Bay to end our awesome day.

A beautiful rainbow leaving Rapid Bay to end our awesome day.






Update: December 2012

Part 8: Google+ Hangout

Part 7: The Great Barrier Reef

Part 6: Leafy seadragons

Part 5: Diving at Flinder’s and Visiting Melbourne Aquarium

Part 4: The Importance of this Trip

Part 3: Sydney Aquarium & Diving in Melbourne

Part 2: Diving in Sydney

Part 1: Traveling ‘Down Under’ to Study Seadragons

  • wilpenapound
    May 23, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Hello Leslee,
    It seems like you had an amazing adventure. I always like such type of adventures. All snaps and videos are also very nice.

  • John Paholski
    January 6, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you for showing such wonderful vision. Have fished from that jetty not knowing what an outstanding world is down below. Thank you for presenting South Australia in such a positive way.