From the depths of New Guinea and Fiji, to the world famous Great Barrier Reef, diver and marine expert Mike Scotland has seen remarkable underwater sights. But he reckons nothing compares to Sutherland Shire's watery backyard.
The marine life enthusiast and former teacher wants more people to see what he has observed beneath the surface, so he wrote a book about captivating creatures that lurk in local waterways.
With 102 pages and 299 photos, Marine Biology in the Wild showcases sponges to sea spiders, detailing an animal's key features, habitat, general behaviour, feeding, reproduction, and the dangerous ones to avoid. The book is a celebration of marine life and an adventure into another world, the self-published author said.
"It's good enough for a coffee table book but there's an educational side to it," he said. "It's a narrative jam-packed with up-to-date information that has been verified."
Mr Scotland, of Kirrawee, learnt to dive in 1976 and became an instructor at Cronulla six years later. He taught diving for more than 20 years, and estimates to have instructed about 1000 divers. He also taught marine biology to year 11 and 12 students in several high schools across St George and Sutherland Shire.
"The Sydney marine environment is underrated. It has some world class marine life that is nowhere else in the world," he said. "I've been diving around the area for 47 years and Sydney has the most beautiful Weedy Sea Dragons. People come all over the world to photograph them because they're endemic to Australia.
"We are really blessed with biodiversity. We have the world's biggest sting ray, the smooth ray, which grows to 2.3 metres wide. There are quite a lot of them around Botany Bay. I love the Blue Groper - the 'labradors of the sea' and the world's friendliest fish, and a highlight is the annual migration of Port Jackson sharks in August/September. You can see hundreds of them when you dive."
Whether it's swimming alongside a colony of grey nurse sharks or waiting patiently for a tiny critter to appear from behind coral, the marine biologist, with camera in hand, captures in full colour the activity of sea life.
"My favourite fish from Sydney is the Paraplesiops Bleekeri - the Blue Devil. It's one of the most photogenic fish of all and is as beautiful as any tropical fish," Mr Scotland said. "They are known to perform a mating dance during which he shimmies and shakes all over in a fashion similar to a Peacock or Johnny O'Keefe."
Four years ago, Mr Scotland took over as editor of Dive Log, the longest running Australian owned scuba diving magazine that focus on the education and conservation of marine life.
"Sadly, most people in Sydney have little or no idea what typical fish life is like in Sydney," he said.
"Unfortunately there are a lot of spearers around, and in the past decade, Botany Bay has been hammered by the desalination plant, undersea electrical cables and the massive port expansion. The water quality in the bay has been very poor and marine life suffered significantly. The entire food chain was choked because the turbid water prevented much of the vegetation from growing. We were seeing ten and twenty weedy sea dragons a dive eight years ago.Then, a single sighting became uncommon. They are slowly building up their numbers again.
"I want to showcase the incredible biodiversity of our local waters. Education and awareness is a vital first step before we take more care with our beautiful marine life."
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