Thanks to Ben Brayford from Granite Island Nature Park, I have now realized one of my diving dreams.
On Sunday 23rd June I visited Ben’s ‘office’ at Granite Island. Actually, it’s off of the island. Ben’s office is the “Below Decks Shark Aquarium”, a platform moored away from the Screwpile Jetty on the island.
I drove my wagon across the causeway to the island with two passengers onboard. They were my dive buddy Peter and my friend David Offord. David is our latest Society member and was on his first Society dive trip. It was good to see that Ian Catt, the Harbour Master, was on the job when he challenged me about having a causeway permit. He found that I was displaying the Marine Life Society permit as required.
We were on the Screwpile Jetty by about 10am and started to gear up for a dive. Ben soon arrived with a freshly filled scuba cylinder, saying that he had had to get Chris Fieldhouse of Victor Marine out of bed to start his fun-filled day. Whilst we finished gearing up, Ben rowed a dinghy out to Just Cruisin, the twin-hulled boat used for ferrying passengers out to the aquarium. By the time that he returned in Just Cruisin, we were ready to load our gear on board. We were soon tying up to the platform, with David showing off his skills.
Ben was the dive leader for the day and advised us that our first dive would be around the outside of the aquarium so that he could check the cage and windows. The ‘aquarium’ is actually a large mesh cage and we found that the mesh was thick with marine growth such as ascidians. Through the odd bare patch of mesh we could see sharks, fish and rays swimming around inside the cage. It was either fortunate or good planning that David was snorkelling because he was able to hop back on to Just Cruisin and help by taking our scuba gear from us for the exit.
Ben tormented us with debate about whether or not we could dive inside the cage with the sharks but he could see that were weren’t going to be put off from realizing our (my) dream. Ben told us that he would go in first but somehow in my eagerness I was first in and Peter followed me. We both waited on Ben and David before descending to the bottom of the cage. Ben had some more work to do on the windows inside the cage and David snorkelled around for a while. Meanwhile Peter and I explored the cage checking out the various sharks and rays.
Whilst some other MLSSA members were in Whyalla diving with dangerous man-eating, sex-starved cuttlefish, there we were, diving with several starving sharks. Ben hadn’t bothered to feed them that morning. Perhaps he didn’t want to get them too excited. Peter and I really enjoyed the dozens of Port Jackson Sharks around the cage. Some were quite large. We were occasionally checked out by a large Seven-gilled Shark, Gummy Shark and a 2m Bronze Whaler. It was great to see their long tails pass us by. My biggest surprise came when a large black stingray came straight at us before veering away.
On the bottom of the cage we often encountered three large wobbegong sharks laying motionless. The cage was also full of large fish such as sweep and a small school of about six Long-snouted Boarfish which allowed us to get right up close to them. We avoided contacting any of the residents of the cage so as not to upset any of them. By the time that Peter and I had seen enough, Ben had changed into his clothes and was ready to assist us out of the cage. Peter said that he would never forget this day for as long as he lived. I was thinking the same thing myself.
We re-boarded Just Cruisin for the return trip to the jetty. Ben had time to ask us about our dive before he had to leave for a dive course (Rescue Diver) in Normanville. We met Paul, the Captain of Just Cruisin, who would be taking tourists out to the aquarium for the rest of the day. We heard that the crew from “Getaway” would be visiting the aquarium the next day to film everything. We almost caught up to Ben on the causeway back to the mainland. We stopped for lunch on the foreshore before making the return trip home. The good news for all those camera snapping members who couldn’t make it on the day is that Ben is happy to have us all down there again another day.
Those cuttle-crazy crew are welcome along too.