WITH A BODY COVERED in bony armour, a jaw fused into a long snout for feeding, and modified fins that look more like leaves for the perfect camouflage, the majestic leafy seadragon is a true freak of nature.
It is one of three seadragons to be found along Australia’s Great Southern Reef. The GSR straddles five states from Brisbane in Queensland down to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, along the South Australian coast and up to Kalbarri north of Perth in Western Australia.
The ruby sea dragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea, was discovered in deep water off the Western Australian coast as recently as 2015, while the common or weedy seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, is found from Western Australia to Victoria.
But the most flamboyant of the seadragons with its extravagant camouflage is Phycodurus eques. Leafy seadragons are found from Western Australia to South Australia, with very rare sightings in Victoria.
The best place to tick one of these majestic creatures off your bucket-list is the Fleurieu Peninsula, a one-hour drive from the South Australian capital, Adelaide. Rapid Bay is the hotspot for keen photographers from around the world to explore in the hope of spotting one of these elusive fish.
If you’re lucky, you can find a leafy seadragon cruising along the seagrass beds not far from the jetty’s easy entry-point – stairs that lead down to a dive-platform.
The leafy seadragon is fondly referred to by locals as the leafy, and is found all year round in the kelp and seagrass beds along the GSR. A protected species, it is South Australia’s marine emblem.
With a lifespan of seven to 10 years, the leafy spends much of its time day and night cruising along the seagrass hunting for and eating tiny mysid shrimp, but it always stays within a small “home range”.
In spring leafys aggregate into small schools of up to five individuals and set about finding a mate.