Wild Creatures of Lady Musgrave

Our time at the Lady Musgrave Reef has been fantastic. We stayed there for 8 days exploring all around. It has been so enjoyable to take our time. We have been able to see things we would not have if we had just reef hopped as is our usual fashion. We have learnt from a few cruisers and shared our own knowledge with others too. It is nice to exchange information and have adventures with like-minded people!

Sunset with our cruising buddies in silhouette
Aerial of Lady Musgrave

Our exploration took us to all corners of the lagoon, as well as outside, along the reef wall. We even did a drift dive out through the entrance. We were swept out with the current, holding on to the dinghy rope so we could come back in later. With the tide running at 3 knots, there was no way we could have swam back. We followed the reef wall for a little way. The coral was quite healthy and more varied than inside the lagoon and we saw a few interesting fish. These two Velvet Surgeonfish were doing a mating dance, swimming around each other in a circle.

Round and round they go!

But the absolute highlight of our time at Lady Musgrave was swimming with the wild creatures – the Reef Manta Rays and the Green Sea Turtles. So we can’t resist focusing this week’s post on these beasties and sharing a few more pictures of them!

Reef Manta Rays

We had seen manta rays before, but from a distance, and most times from the boat. So swimming with these creatures was a breathtaking experience. We could not get enough of them, we kept going back for more each day! The second largest rays in the world, the Reef Manta Rays live in tropical and subtropical waters. “Manta” means blanket or cloak in Spanish, referring to the animal’s large flat, diamond-shaped body. They have triangular pectoral fins, a small dorsal fin and a long whip like tail. Manta rays also have two cephalic fins protruding from the front of their heads. In our photos, those fins are flared out to channel water into the mouth while feeding, but they can also be rolled up in a spiral when the ray is just travelling.

They are large, averaging about 5 meters across their wingspan. When they swim towards you, you feel rather dwarfed and have to remind yourself that they are filter feeders, not carnivores! They swim with their mouths wide open, drawing in zooplankton and krill which they sift through rows of tiny rakes that line their mouths called gill plates. Manta rays make regular visits to cleaning stations – spots on a coral reef where sea animals go to be cleaned by smaller fish. So when you know where that spot is, you are in luck, as they stay still for several minutes while cleaner fish remove parasites and dead skin. The cruising couple we met, Wendy and Alex from Gipsy, knew of a spot outside the reef wall, so we were keen to go with them. When we went there, initially we saw nothing… We were in deeper water, about 10 meters, at high water slack, to avoid being in swift current, and we were just treading water for a while, looking, looking! And then all of a sudden the show was on: 4 or 5 manta rays appeared from the deep. They were doing a circuit, following one another.

The rays we saw had a black dorsal (upper) surface. The ventral surface varied between animals, most white with black spots and blotches, but one was mainly black all over. The markings can be used to identify individual rays, like a unique finger print. The nearly all black ray was the most inquisitive of the group, hanging around quite close to us. Shall I touch it? No, better not!

This is ‘darky’ , hardly any white on the belly

We were on a huge high after those encounters!

Green Sea Turtles

This turtle was photographed on the outside wall of the reef

Although much more frequently seen, the Green Sea Turtles are still really endearing. Their carapace may include shades of green, dark brown, olive, yellow and black. Some get covered with algae too as you can see in some of the photos. They are called “green” sea turtles for their layer of green fat that lies under their shell – the result of their vegetable diet.

When we snorkel, we see them sometimes resting in one spot, while the cleaner fish are at work on their shell. They can rest under water for hours at a time before coming up to breathe. However when feeding or travelling, they pop up to the surface every 3 to 4 minutes for a few seconds of air, before diving back down. If disturbed, they can accelerate very swiftly reaching speeds up to 35 km/h. But some are quite tame and let you come close.

Every dive is different. The area we survey, the wind and tide conditions, the light, the water clarity, all this makes for endlessly changing views. So even though we have stayed at this reef the longest we have ever done, we are thrilled by what we have experienced and the company we have kept. We have now moved on, visiting Hoskyn, Boult and Fitzroy Reefs. Stay tuned for more underwater wonders!

Hoskyn Reef and one of its cays

22 thoughts on “Wild Creatures of Lady Musgrave

  1. Wow! The Manta’s are so big and beautiful! So much life down there. You are so brave to be in the swift current, I’d be fearful of being swept away. The turtles are beautiful too, magnificent creatures all! 🥰

    • Hi John- no bravery involved, the dinghy with an engine was at hand for the return trip! Mantas are awesome and turtles are quite fun! We feel very lucky to see them and swim with them.

    • Hi Roger! Still at the reef… we are into our third week and will be for another week to ten days, spending time at different spots- not all good weather but we are having fun!

  2. So Jealous! We have aborted one attempt already to get to Lady Musgrave and are now heading south to abort a second attempt to wait for a better opportunity. The Manta’s look amazing. And of course I am a turtle girl. Stay safe. Cheers Trish

    • Hi Trish, we have been at the reef for nearly three weeks non stop. The conditions are not always ideal but in a lagoon like Musgrave and Fitzroy it is just fine. Have been checking out a few others too on calm days. We are likely to be at the reef for another week to 10 days, then off to the Keppels to reprovision! You say you are going south for another attempt… Where are you?

      • Hi Chris, it is not that we don’t think we can’t hold on slightly awkward days (we have done so before), we just don’t see much point being out there if we can’t enjoy getting off boat and exploring. We will wait for another opportunity. (The first attempt was a turn back with 31 knots apparent on the nose – long story). This morning we were at Rooney Point (where we amazingly had about thirty minutes of internet reception!). This evening we are south of Big Woody Island. We are likely to move into River Heads tomorrow.

  3. Terrific pictures, Chris. Now you have the opportunity to explore and take many pictures. 🙂

  4. Lovely to hear you are having a good time, and most enjoyable to see the images and read the story. Thanks!

    • Really glad you like these Murray and lovely of you to comment. We feel nearly guilty in this paradise while you have to struggle in Melbourne. We hope things settle and you can join us later.

  5. I remember Wadie following a manta, he had no hope of keeping up. These were obviously much calmer. Fantastic shots and of course I loved the turtles. Keep safe and enjoy

  6. Simply wow!
    Interesting that you mention the green turtle fat. When I was working in Arnhem Land, and aboriginal elder offered me some green turtle fat as well as dugong to eat. A delicacy to the Yolngu …..

      • To my sophisticated western palate, slimy and disgusting, but I managed to maintain a smile as I thanked my hosts. A Yolngu barbeque was much better …. picture bits of kangaroo, leg etc still with fur on, roasted in hot coals buried in the sand on the beach. Following, there was tea and damper …… yum!
        I’ll email you a couple of pics of my Yolngu bbq, and spearfishing on Elcho Island.

  7. Wow. The photos and descriptions of the rays were amazing, Chris, but I must I admit that I was even more entranced by the sea turtles. I am so used to seeing wildlife from a distance, observing it as an outsider. It must be so cool to be sharing the habitat like that with the subjects that you are photographing. After all of the trials and tribulations of the recent months, this must have felt like a reward, a nice reminder of why you have chosen that lifestyle.

    • You are so right, Mike, a very sweet reward and a time of wonder instead of frustration. We needed this as you well know!
      It is an interesting mix of emotions: elation, delight at seeing so much, a sense of being so lucky, but also nervousness because some of the creatures can be daunting in size, in behaviour or in the perceived risk they pose. Today for instance we were outside a lagoon, diving along the reef wall, going up trenches full of fish… it was mesmerising. Then on a ledge I see a shark tail and half a body sticking out, the other half and the head are deep in a dark cave… a carpet shark I figure… harmless if you don’t upset it… so major back paddle to get away from there! The visible part was so long it did not fit in the camera frame!

    • You are so right, Mike. It is very much a reward which we badly needed. It is a mix of emotions: elation, delight at experiencing all this and some nervousness too because it can be daunting; the size, behaviour of some of the beasties… Take yesterday for instance: we were diving outside a lagoon along the reef wall. I was following a gutter full of fish… mesmerising… until I spotted a large tail and half the body of what looked like a shark laying on a ledge, the other half of the body and head was in shadow inside a cave! A carpet shark I figured, harmless as long as you don’t annoy it! So there was some major back paddling happening to get away – it was so big it did not fit in the camera frame!

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