The leafy seadragon is just one of the endemic species that can be seen while diving in Edithburgh
Scuba diving Down Under is synonymous with the Great Barrier Reef, but the temperate water of South Australia offers world-class easy-access shore diving that is suitable for divers of all levels. The region’s coastline is home to a number of famous jetty dives, and my favorite of them all is Edithburgh Jetty, located on the Yorke Peninsula, around three hours west of Adelaide. The pier was built in 1983 and has since become home to a huge variety of marine life, including the famous leafy seadragon and other endemic species.
The southern blue-ringed octopus putting on a defensive display under the jetty
Voted one of the best dive sites in Australia, Edithburgh is the perfect place for underwater photographers to shoot iconic macro critters or to practice wide-angle techniques among the schooling fish and pylons of the structure. The site is shallow—the depth ranges between 15 and 30 feet, depending on the tides—and easy to dive: You simply kit up on land before entering the water using the ladders on either side of the jetty. At 557 feet long, and 35 feet wide, there is plenty of space to explore under and around the structure, and it is straightforward to navigate as you simply follow the pylons underwater all the way to the end and then back again.
At the beginning of the dive, you will find concrete blocks and other rubble that are home to various octopuses, frogfish and crustaceans. As you progress further down the pier, the coral coverage increases on the pylons, and you can explore the seagrass areas outside of the pier, where you will find seahorses, seadragons and other fish hiding in the seaweed. When you run out of air, simply make your way back to the stairs, grab a drink or snack, change lenses and repeat!
Short-headed seahorses can be found living among the seaweed and pylons
Because of its isolated location, it is important that you come to Edithburgh with all of your own dive equipment, scuba tanks, and of course anything you need to set up and use your underwater camera. It is possible to get tanks filled at the local service station, but it is advisable that you bring as many as you can in case there are issues with their compressor. If you forget something important, your only option is to drive three hours back to Adelaide, so make a checklist and bring spares and a small repair kit, too.
Depending on the time of year, the water temperature ranges between 57°F and 68°F, and most will be more than comfortable in a 7mm wetsuit. You will be underwater for long periods of time so if you get cold, bring extra neoprene and warm clothes to wrap up between/after dives.
The long snout of the leafy seadragon is used to hunt and vacuum up its prey
A filefish with a giant parasite on its face
In terms of camera gear, Edithburgh has subjects that suit all lens sizes, and it is easy to have a lot of fun under the jetty shooting both macro and wide-angle images. If you have the time—and the tanks—it is worth doing both, but if you are restricted to only one dive, I would suggest shooting macro with a 60mm lens, as it has the perfect range for the most popular subjects such as leafies, frogfish, seahorses and octopuses.
A wet lens such as the Nauticam WWL or a Kraken conversion lens would be extremely useful on this dive, enabling you to quickly switch with between macro and wide-angle shooting in a matter of seconds. Also, consider using a small dome port to get close to subjects for some great close-focus wide-angle images, and carry a torch or focus light to help you find the most elusive marine life.
A brown short-headed seahorse under the jetty in only 10 feet of water
Even if you only dive once at Edithburgh, you will still get to see and photograph many of its most popular subjects. In the rubble areas and among old clam shells, you can find the endemic southern blue-ringed octopus, which seems more willing to flash its blue rings than any of its cousins you will encounter in Asia. If you want to shoot octopuses, and specifically this species, South Australia is the place to be. They are so common that local divers will often ignore them, and my dive buddy found it funny that I was always amazed when we found them so easily, on every single dive site.
Beside the venomous blue ring, the area is also home to many other octopuses, squid and cuttlefish, especially if you plan a night dive when they all venture out of their hiding places to hunt. There are also many different nudibranchs scattered all over the site, so if shooting exotic sea slugs is your thing, you will be very happy.
A southern blue-ringed octopus traveling among the rubble of the collapsed pylons
Venture further along the jetty and you will start to find seahorses and frogfish among the seaweed and coral areas. The short-headed seahorse is particularly abundant but can be difficult to spot as it is small and likes to hide when approached by divers. However, the real master of disguise at Edithburgh is the tasseled anglerfish. Their camouflage is so effective that they are almost impossible to find, but rest assured they are there under the jetty somewhere! Other types of frogfish and scorpionfish can also be seen around the jetty, including another endemic relative of the scorpionfish, the warty prowfish.
A master of disguise: the tassled anglerfish. Look for the eye and the fish will appear!
An endemic warty prowfish, part of the scorpionfish family, can only be seen in South Australia
In my opinion, this dive site is more productive and fun to dive than many of the famous muck diving sites in Indonesia and the Philippines, and that is without taking into account the most iconic subject of all, the leafy seadragon. This rare creature can only be found in South Australia, and is undoubtedly the most photogenic and beautiful fish in the entire seahorse family. Head out into the seagrass away from the pier and you should find seadragons if you search carefully. Like other seahorses, they are shy and do not like having their picture taken, but approach them slowly and be patient, and you should have success.
Getting a nice head-on shot of this leafy seadragon took over an hour using a 105mm macro lens
Once you get tired of searching for macro critters, look up and you will find pylons covered in sponges and surrounded by schools of old wives and other fish
Although I was oblivious to it at the time, my dive day at Edithburgh might have led to a close and rather unexpected encounter with the ocean’s most feared fish! While I was busy looking for seadragons and other critters among the pylons, local fisherman on the jetty spotted what they later described as “a bloody big white pointer” swimming around the jetty attempting to steal their catch. It was only when I climbed up the steps after hours underwater that they realized I had been diving underneath them all afternoon. They then informed me that there had been a similar sighting the day before, leading the authorities to close the jetty!
It turns out this sighting was very unusual, and I don’t think anyone has ever actually seen a great white shark underwater while diving Edithburgh Jetty, but I am grateful nothing happened and that nobody had the chance to warn me about the shark sightings before I got in, as I would have surely missed out on diving the region’s most productive dive site, and the chance to be the first scuba diver to come across a great white shark while diving with a macro lens on my camera!
A macro portrait of an old wife, another species endemic to Australia
Hiding among old clam shells, horned blennies make excellent macro subjects
Planning a Trip to Edithburgh Jetty, South Australia
When: Year round—whenever you want to walk in!
Subjects: Leafy seadragons, seahorses, frogfish, hassled anglerfish, blue-ringed octopuses, cuttlefish, striped pyjama squid
Equipment: Macro or wide angle, both if you can!
Who to Dive With: It is entirely possible to rent your own equipment and dive alone or with your buddy, but for the best experience, contact a local dive shop in Adelaide.
As already mentioned, diving along the South Australia coast is very rewarding but takes more planning and forethought than your average dive trip. Diving Edithburgh Jetty is straightforward, but locating the critters can be more of a challenge. It is definitely advisable to dive with a local guide who can help you find the most elusive subjects and make the most of your time underwater, so consider contacting one of Adelaide’s professional dive centers, who are experts in the area.
Make sure you arrive with everything you need and try to avoid weekends and holidays as they are the busiest. As you will be coming by car, the best place to stay is probably the town’s local campsite, where you can relax with a cold beer or two and cook a “barbie” in true Aussie style. There are no scuba shops in town and only a handful of places to get food and drinks, so stock up in the city before heading to town and your trip will be a lot more fun and productive.
The blue rings of this octopus warn potential prey that it is not to be messed with!
Many species of cuttlefish can be found all over the jetty