Life Under Foot
A sea robin searches for food along the sandy bottom at the Blue Heron Bridge.
Busselton Jetty, Western Australia
In a country with no shortage of outstanding jetty dives (including Exmouth Navy Pier, Rapid Bay Jetty and Edithburgh Jetty), Western Australia’s Busselton Jetty outshines them all. Standing on Busselton’s white-sand beach, the jetty seems to extend all the way to the horizon, where a cloudless Western Australian sky meets an equally blue Indian Ocean. In fact, at 6,040 feet long, picturesque Busselton Jetty is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere.
But it didn’t start out that way. Built in 1865 to service whaling and other types of vessels, the jetty’s original length was 518 feet. Seven extensions were added by the turn of the 20th century thanks to Western Australia’s booming resource trade.
Nowadays the jetty is a tourist attraction, drawing more than 400,000 visitors each year. And if you don’t want to walk the jetty’s full length — especially if you’re fully dressed in wetsuit, BC and tank — there’s a cute little petrol engine train that cruises down the deck at 5 miles per hour. The jetty is also Australia’s largest artificial reef, with a surprising diversity of marine life for a structure located at 33 degrees south of the equator (latitude). The Leeuwin Current brings a narrow band of warm water down the coast of Western Australia each winter, allowing tropical and subtropical species of animals and corals to thrive on, under and around this particular jetty.
Busselton Jetty’s hundreds of wooden pylons are covered in a vibrant tapestry of corals, sponges and other benthic invertebrates. Colorful cowry shells and nudibranchs, such as the short-tailed ceratosoma, can be found among the vertical growth, while schools of shimmering old wives, amberjacks and buffalo bream weave in and out of the cover of the jetty.
In the nearby sea-grass beds, Australian giant cuttlefish, squid and swimmer crabs hunt for tiny crustaceans. Western blue groupers — actually a type of wrasse — are among the jetty’s most inquisitive fish, coming right up to divers for a closer look at the strange bubble-blowers.
But one of the best aspects of the jetty is that even nondivers can enjoy its rich underwater ecosystem — an underwater observatory at the end of the jetty allows anyone to view and appreciate the marine life through 11 viewing windows at various levels within the observation chamber.
The jetty has been closed to divers for the past year for a massive $23.7 million restoration project and is scheduled to reopen to divers in October. The facelift includes new sections and widened decks, adding even more wooden and steel pylons for marine life to colonize in the years to come.
Make It Happen
Fly to Perth, Western Australia, then drive south three hours to Busselton. Conditions are best during the summer months (November through February), particularly in December, with visibility up to 100 feet. The Dive Shed in Busselton (www.diveshed.com.au) has daily trips to the jetty for around $80 including all gear. Cape Dive Centre in Donsborough (www.capedive.com) also has daily trips to Busselton Jetty, which is a 25- to 30-minute boat ride from Donsborough, or the wreck of the HMAS Swan, for $115 for two dives.