National Geographic : 1997 Jan
ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID DOUBILET Dawn in the Tasman Sea always seems to be a struggle. The sun rises against powerful, dark weather rolling in from the west. Clouds form, then break, and for a moment the huge cliffs of southeastern Tasmania glow with yellow warmth. "This must be the most accessible wilderness in the world!" shouts local diver Gary Myors as he drives his 20-foot powerboat through the swells. We're heading south toward Fortescue Bay near Tasman Island. Hobart, Tasmania's capital, is only 35 miles away. Yet the cliffs here are bleak. Tasman Island is uninhabited, its lighthouse an automated beacon. I imagine our roaring yellow boat is a time machine traveling along an unchanged seascape, a land that Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first saw in 1642 and that English navigator Matthew Flinders circumnavigated in 1798. Those explorers, traveling at the edge of their known world, had no idea of the stranger, wilder world beneath their creaking hulls. Just a few miles off Tasmania's eastern shore the continental shelf ends, and the ocean floor plunges to more than 3,000 feet. Cold water rolls up the slope, while pockets of warm water drift south from the Australian mainland. In coastal bays these waters blend-clear, cold, and rich in plankton, a lure to creatures normally found 600 to 1,000 feet deep off the mainland. We anchor in the calm of Fortescue Bay. The water is 51°F. As we struggle into dry as suits, I feel like an aged knight preparing r ma for a joust. Once overboard we fly into the sunlit branches of a kelp forest rooted 75 feet below. It's rare to see kelp teem with such strange actors. Silvery fish called real bastard trumpeters weave past red velvet fish. Brilliant white-lined sea anemones (following pages) nestle in beds of yellow sponge. Weedy seadragons feed on clouds of mysid shrimp that roll through the kelp like fog. After an hour and a half we surface. Our dry suits have leaked, and we shiver like badly tuned diesel engines. But we'll soon go again. Diving here is like peering into a secret window to the deep. DAVID DOUBILET covered saltwater crocodiles for the June 1996 magazine.