Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Walk Along Queen's Beach

Brisbane residents have a strange relationship with Moreton Bay. We look at its calm blue waters and long for the surging surf of the Gold Coast instead. We feel intimidated by the wilderness of its untamed spaces and try to control what we can - a cycleway here, a canal estate there. Then we fly to far flung corners of the world to have experiences we might have found in our own watery backyards after all.

I've been guilty of this too, I must admit. It wasn't until I strolled along the coast of Cornwall and sunbathed on the shores of the Great Lakes that I realised I had never appreciated the beauty of the environment I was born into. Now, when I see a film or television show where some neurotic New Yorkers head off to the Hamptons for the weekend, I feel privileged to have a beach of comparable quality close at hand. And so it is today that I found myself wandering along the creamy sands of Redcliffe's Queens Beach.

Queen's Beach
Wandering wasn't the original plan however. On a calm day, the water surrounding the Redcliffe Peninsula is just clear enough to make out the fish swimming below. This is due to the fact that it is close to the seaward entrance of Moreton Bay, where the ocean water flushes away the sediment that is carried out from the Brisbane and Pine Rivers. With this in mind, I thought it might be worth trying to snorkel along Queens Beach and checking out the rocky reef offshore, where there was bound to be some interesting animal life lurking.

Offshore reef

After all, where there are fishermen like these two, there's bound to be fish.

Left: Little Black Cormorant, Right: Little Pied Cormorant

Previously at this beach, not only have I seen Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), I've also encountered the biggest stingray I've ever seen - a beautiful yet intimidating Coachwhip Ray (Himantura uarnak). Combined with the fact that Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) sometimes frequent and nest in the area, I headed into the water fully prepared to become Brisbane's answer to Jacques Costeau.

This is what I saw:

Fifty centimetres depth, Queen's Beach

It seems that the water is clear enough to look into, just not through. Defeated, I settled for strolling along the beach on a beautifully sunny day, something which has become a rarity in Queensland these past few years.

I still felt somewhat disappointed however, as my original goal was to see the fish of the area and I doubted I'd see much by simply walking through the shallows. How wrong I was! In just a few minutes, I saw Trumpeter Whiting (Sillago maculata), Crescent Grunter (Terapon jarbua) and schools of River Garfish (Hyporhamphus regularis) that included this pointy-faced fellow:

River Garfish

I also came across this little armoured tank of a creature, a Yellow Moon Crab (Ashtoret lunaris).

Yellow Moon Crab

It seemed to have two defences. Its main one was to disappear in a puff of sand each time I got close, but I am proud to say that I outwitted this David Copperfield move without much difficulty. After placing it on the beach for a photo opportunity, I noticed that the crab's other defence was to play dead, hanging limply every time it was moved or touched. Not once did this tennis ball-sized animal raise it's claws in aggression or try to attack me, which made it all the more endearing. When it was gently put back in the water where it was found, it dove into the sand again and I continued on my way.

By now it was 1pm, with the sun high in the sky and the heat like a warm blanket over the sand. I was surprised to see that the beach itself was abuzz with insect activity, and many large dragonflies and butterflies were filling the air. It was this little beauty that caught my eye, however:

Metallic Jewel Bug

It's called a Metallic Jewel Bug (Scutiphora pedicellata) and it is usually found under bark and on leaf litter. This one may have attempted to cross Moreton Bay, only to land in the water and wash up here.

Reaching the end of the beach - seeing Yellowfin Bream (Acanthopagrus australis), Sea Mullet (Mugil cephalus) and Diamondfish (Monodactylus argenteus) along the way - I turned around and walked back, this time looking at all the tidal debris and collecting the standouts. What I found suggests that the water off Redcliffe is reasonably healthy in its abundance of marine life.

Shoreline objects


The biggest object is the bleached remains of a small coral colony, which occurs more commonly in Moreton Bay than what people often realise. Moving clockwise (to the right) is a marine sponge and then shells that include a cockle, scallop, periwinkle, whelk and clam. In the centre is a mussel.

I finished up the afternoon relaxed, happy and glowing from the sunshine. In total, I had shared the beach with about six other people the entire time I was there - a far cry from the crowds in Barcelona and Bondi. I guess the trick to making the most out of the beaches we have here in Brisbane is to not force them to be something they're not. They aren't good for surfing. They are even worse for snorkelling, as I discovered today. But they're perfect for finding a quiet spot to lay your towel down, to cool off in the water and sort through the shells. Their healthy ecosystems mean that they're also good enough to fish from, as long as we don't take more than a fair share (or ideally, we catch, kiss and release our captures, Rex Hunt-style!). If it's been a while since your last visit to Redcliffe's beaches, why not give them a try in the next few weeks before winter starts to bite?

If you see me, I'll be the guy staring at shells and trying to snorkel.


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