ITS 6AM. BARELY AWAKE, I GRAB A BIG CUP OF COFFEE AND BOOT UP MY LAPTOP. MY PARISIAN DAY BEGINS WITH: YOUVE GOT MAIL... Fred Bavendam has written: The season of seadragon reproduction is upon us and I am starting a dragon quest.
 I want to photograph a leafy seadragon carrying eggs. If you have some free time in December or early January, bring your fins and meet me in Adelaide.
 The only dragons I know about are found in mediaeval literature. They were large, ferocious and frequently fire-breathing monsters that visited mayhem and distress upon the populace. They seemed to exist primarily to provide some knight in shining armour with an opportunity to demonstrate his virtue by tracking down and slaying the beast. But such dragons never existed.
 My curiosity is aroused.I launch an online search and find www.dragonsearch.asn.au, which is dedicated to surveying the waters of South Australia for seadragons. Photographs show these creatures as a kind of pipefish. They belong to the family Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses, and are found only in the cooler waters of southern Australia.
 There are two species. The leafy seadragon, Phycodurus eques, has a body that is green or brown and covered with branching appendages. It looks like a piece of seaweed.
 There is also a weedy seadragon, Phyllopoteryx taeniolatus. Its body is reddish, with yellow spots and purple-blue bars. Seadragons grow to more than a third of a metre and have very long, tube-like mouths for sucking up mysid shrimp. They also eat larval fish and plankton.
 What really surprises me is that the female produces several hundred eggs, which are then laid on the tail of a male. He fertilises them and carries them until they hatch, four to six weeks later, between late November and January. The transfer of the eggs is thought to occur at night but had never been seen. The picture of a male leafy seadragon with eggs is impressive. Now I understand Freds interest.
 I grab my fins, and an additional 40kg of diving gear and cameras, and board a plane for Australia. Thirty-some hours later, Fred meets me at the airport and our quest begins.
 We start looking for dragons under the jetty at Edithburgh, a small town at the south-eastern tip of Yorke Peninsula, almost directly across the Gulf of Saint Vincent from Adelaide. Its a three-hour drive.
 Fred has occasionally seen seadragons here before, and it has a very easy shore entry, with several sets of steps leading down from the jetty.
 To avoid the hooks of the fishermen above, we spend most of our time in the green water under the middle of the jetty. I see lots of interesting things: colourful nudibranchs and black cowries on the pilings, sponge crabs carrying ascidian hats, and a bright blue swimmer crab feasting on mussels, but I pass them by. I am on a quest.
 A few metres away, I see a piece of algae drifting above the sandy bottom. Its not the first bit Ive seen float by, but this one is drifting against the current.
 I swim closer. A leafy  seadragon! I watch its head bobbing slowly up and down, and finish my tank face to face with this exquisite animal. It ignores me and continues its own quest, for mysids.
 Back at the car, Fred is pleased, but less excited than I am. He has seen sea-dragons before and this one didnt have any eggs. On the next few dives at Edithburgh we see no more dragons, and move on to another jetty 90 minutes south of Adelaide, on Fleurieu Peninsula.
 Diving the Rapid Bay jetty is a quest in itself. You have to carry all your gear about a kilometre from the parking lot to the seaward end, then climb down to a small metal grid from which you can lower your cameras on ropes to the water, 4m below.
 Then you either jump or use an old rusty metal ladder to enter the water, and do it all again in reverse at the end of the dive. Its an ordeal in the hot sun.
The 20 water is a welcome relief. Fifteen minutes later, I see my second seadragon - one of the weedy kind. Compared to its leafy counterpart, it seems positively gaudy in red, yellow and purple, like some guy dressed for a nights clubbing. But a seadragon is a seadragon, and I shoot most of my film as it hangs above a broad bed of seagrass just beyond the pilings.
 Im low on air and on my way back towards the ladder when I see Freds flashguns blazing in the distance. He has found another dragon, a leafy one.
 Its a bit smaller and brighter green than the one at Edithburgh, and much more co-operative about having its picture taken, so I finish my roll on it.

holy grail
Back at the ladder, Fred shoots his last few frames on a large school of oldwives, black and white fish that look a lot like the angelfish I had in an aquarium when I was a kid. Once again we have found seadragons, but still no male with eggs. The holy grail has eluded us, and our time is running out.
 Fred has heard about a dive operator on Kangaroo Island who claims that if he cant find a seadragon in two days of diving, hell give you another two days for free. But can he lead us to a male with eggs
 Driving south, we catch a ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw, on Kanga-roo Island, which is about 90 miles long and 40 miles wide.
 After 60 miles of paved road we turn left onto a dusty red track, and as the sun sets we reach the farm of Jim and Josie Thisleton, who own Kangaroo Island Dive Safaris. They welcome us with big smiles and very welcome glasses of cold water.
 You want to see a leafy with eggs Jim asks. No worries, mate. Just follow me. And we do. In the darkness we follow his Landcruiser down a track that seems more suitable for goats than vehicles. Even with a 4x4 we barely make it down to the small cove where Jim keeps the Wind Cheetah, his 15m sailing catamaran, which is capable of supporting 12 divers.
 Exhausted after a long day travelling, I dive... into a rejuvenating sleep. And dream of seadragons until the following morning, when I hear Jim saying: Coffees on.
 I hardly notice what Im eating for breakfast. I rush out onto the deck to look around. The boat is already anchored at the first dive site, sheltered from the seasonal southerly winds in the lee of sheer rocky cliffs towering high above us. Not long afterwards were jumping off the stern and following Jim across the sandy ocean floor to kelp beds that stretch in every direction as far as we can see.
 How will we find a seadragon in this haystack Jim has been diving here for 15 years and its only 10 minutes before he stops and points at a pair of large, kelp-covered boulders a few feet away. I see nothing but seaweed swaying back and forth. Moving closer, I still see only the bubbles coming from his regulator. Jim is laughing.
 Finally he comes over and points directly at one particular piece of kelp that is in fact a leafy seadragon. And I can clearly see the rows of orange eggs glued to its tail. Im ecstatic!
 Fred has an ear-to-ear grin, too. Our quest is at an end. Weve finally found our dragon - or, rather, Jim found it.
 We stay and dive with Jim for a week because, even though we came looking for only one special seadragon, we find much more. Jim shows us two more leafy seadragons with eggs - weedy seadragons with eggs, too.
 We photograph a big school of red swallowtails and red snappers that live next to a rocky wall covered with yellow zoanthids. I also swim with the beautiful blonde Australian sea lions. They rocket up to you, looking into your eyes with their own big dark eyes that seem to ask: Would you like to play with us
 Jim tells me how to answer, using body language. Roll onto your back and spread your arms wide. Show them your tummy, and keep looking at them. That means: Me too, Id like to play with you. It works. Its magic.
 For our last dinner on the boat, Jim serves up a huge lobster he has caught on a dive earlier in the day. Delicious. We drive off with promises to come back another day. I will. Our dragon quest was successful, thanks to Jim. He was our knight in shining armour.

Jim
Jim Thistleton of Kangaroo Island Dive Safaris, watching a leafy seadragon
Jim
Jims liveaboard dive boat Wind Cheetah
An
An Australian sea-lion
a
a male weedy seadragon with eggs on his tail
diver
diver with a large school of swallowtails

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Fly to Adelaide, South Australia. From there you can reach Kangaroo Island by ferry, from Glenelg to Kingscote, or from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw. There are also daily flights. There is no public transport on KI but you can hire a car in Adelaide and take it on the ferry, or take a bus to KI and rent a car there. Book both ferry and car well in advance during the peak season, from mid-December until late January.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Kangaroo Island Diving Safaris (KIDS), www.kidivingsafaris.com, 0061 8559 3225
WHEN TO GO : November to April. Water temperature in November is about 16°C and by January it warms to 20°C.
COSTS: Dive Tours (01244 401177, www.divetours.co.uk) can arrange holidays to Kangaroo Island - 14 nights including return flights to KI, full board accommodation and two dives per day for 10 days costs £3100. If you make your own way, diving and full-board accommodation at KIDS costs about£200 a day. Two boat dives costs£95.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.dragonsearch.asn.au, www.australia .com