Kaleidoscope of bizarre creatures

By Justin Gilligan 25 October 2013
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To celebrate 30 years of the marine reserve at Port Stephens, Justin Gilligan snapped some of its weirdest inhabitants.

Justin Gilligan photographed a series of sea creatures on black backgrounds to celebrate 30 years of the Fly Point-Halifax Marine Reserve at Port Stephens, New South Wales.

SEAWATER PULSES IN AND out of Port Stephens with the ebb and flow of the tide. With each surge of water, nutrients nourish a perfect combination of temperate rocky reef and soft sediment that lie submerged in the estuary between Fly Point and Nelson Head.

The tidal influence combined with the sheltered geography creates a unique scenario in which delicate sessile marine creatures such as sponges, anemones and soft corals thrive in a relatively shallow environment.

Within this colourful of undergrowth lives a bizarre suite of marine creatures I photographed to create this series, one of which was previously unknown to science.

Unique marine life of New South Wales

Only three hours north of Sydney, the Fly Point-Halifax Marine Reserve – now a sanctuary zone within the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGLMP) – has been popular with divers since it was declared in 1983.

To celebrate the past 30 years of protection, I decided to create a collection of portraits featuring the area’s more unusual inhabitants on a featureless black background.

I developed a portable studio that was completely open and made of Perspex. None of these models were ever forced to partake in a shoot, it was essential that the images were created on their terms.

My dive colleague was Dave Harasti, a scientist with the PSGLMP. Among the milieu we observed were brightly coloured nudibranches, blue ringed octopus, bubble shells, anglerfish and sea hares.

Dave’s most unusual find however, was an unrecognisable octopus with particularly long tentacles. After examining the images, Dr Mark Norman, a biologist at Museum Victoria, confirmed the find as an undescribed species of drop-arm octopus.

Such rare encounters will continue to draw divers back to this popular area. It’s comforting to know that its protected status will help it to remain intact for future generations to explore.