No matter where I travel across the World of Water in search of new species, scuba diving and snorkeling and photographically recording aquatic wildlife there is one place where I always return to, Western Australia.
I guess it comes from my early dreams of discovery. For a small boy on the east coast of Australia the west was as far as one could go, and the West Coast, the ends of the earth, as I could imagine it.
Despite it being a bit chilly for me sometimes, the south western coast has a range of virtually unknown marine fauna and what is known is as exotic as one could find anywhere.
One way or another I have spent a fair bit of time in the West and discovered many new species and made lifetime friends. By a strange twist of fate much of my family lives in Albany in South-West Australia and during visits I endeavour to take advantage of time and go diving whenever possible.
The ocean coastline at Albany is very rugged and constantly caressed by the huge swells rolling in from the southern ocean. Rarey can one dive from shore on the open coast and all diving takes place from the sheltered waters of King George Sound. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Having sustained an injury to my left shoulder while diving last year and the subsequent results of it freezing up and becoming unworkable I had not dived for a year. A year of rehab exercising persecuting painful pressure points and stretching 'screaming for mercy' muscles resulted in getting it mobile again and I was looking forward to trying it out. However, a year out of the water wondering if I could ever get into a wetsuit, or dive again, left me with a lot of trepidation and uncertainty.
When you get older your chest reduces its ability to expand so that the volume of air taken in on every breath is also reduced. Tight wetsuits, altering body dimensions, heavy weight belt and expanding BC all work against breathing. Although I had passed every lung function test in the book (and some) and been cleared for diving my lung scars from years of being exposed to lethal chemicals during factory work in my youth added to my uncertainty. Sea Suits of Australia came to the rescue and built me a made-to-measure wetsuit that was perfect ( lots of room for expansion) and with a modified dive plan I was busting to get wet again.
I should never have worried, the new looser suit and Ewe's assistance unlocking my maximum free flow air adjustment on the regulator worked wonders and I managed ok. ( photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
No longer carrying three camera systems, ( as I had for every dive for the previous 40 years) diving nowadays is somewhat of a luxury. One camera system certainly allows me to concentrate and close focus on more elusive subjects. (Photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
Situated some 400km south of Perth, Albany was always a sleepy little town to me, great in the summer, cold in the winter but I always managed to get in the water somewhere. Be it photographing Right whales off the bow of a runabout, deep down at fault line, snorkelling the shallows, or shooting frogs in the swamps, Albany never failed to produce excellent critters.
This year it seemed different; it was bustling, new buildings going up, prices going up, property going up, rents going up. It seemed that Albany was embroiled in the same resources boom that the rest of Western Australia was enjoying; it was going ahead. Even though the land was parched from lack of rain and the farmers were doing it tough (as they were across Australia) the economy was booming.
One of my favourite southern sea stars the Saori star Nectria saoria was originally discovered by divers and described in 1967 by Scoresby Shepherd, a great South Australian pioneer diver. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
I had done a fair bit of diving and snorkelling at Albany over the years and knew only too well that the great Southern Ocean packs a mighty punch in its massive swells and driving winds. However, I had chosen to visit in February and hoped that I could squeeze into the last few weeks of summer.
The Albany.Dive.com dive shop is situated at an easy to find location and is the complete dive shop. (Photo: Nigel Marsh)
Albany Dive had changed hands since I was there last. It was now owned and managed by the owners Uwe (pronounced 'Oover') Klinge and Lianne Sulkowski.
Joey, (my assistant and videographer of my auto-biographical documentary series) and myself went along and introduced ourselves. The dive shop certainly looked prosperous with an excellent layout and equipment displays and a full range of gear and services including an Internet cafe, lecture rooms, video display units, wall posters, a very large range of hire equipment and a friendly atmosphere.
As it turned out Uwe and Lianne love diving, love teaching, love photography, take excellent video and most of all, love sharing their experiences and enthusiasm with their students and customers.
Uwe Klinge surrounded by a huge school of Swallowtails Centroberyx lineatus at Seal Cove. (Photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
With extensive diving experience in Europe and throughout the Red Sea they had come to Australia, bought a Kombi van and took off to dive the West Coast, ending up in Albany some time later with a passion for diving and a dream.
Through a lot of hard work, determination and against all the odds Australia can throw at overseas battlers with unpronounceable names, they carved out their place in the sun and now live their dream on in Albany.
For the small-minded their choice of an elephant logo for a dive shop brought squawks of mirth from the maladjusted minority and no doubt fuelled many smirks in their beers. However, for those of us who bothered to look beyond an unpronounceable name, Uwe offers a very logical reason for his choice AND he sticks by his reasons.
Why the elephant?
"You are probably wondering why we have an elephant as our logo at AlbanyDive.com. Not the most obvious image of scuba diving company, we know, but there is a method our madness. Let us explain.
When we think of elephants it's as noble giants of the sun-baked African plains, or perhaps as hardworking servants of mahouts in the lush forests of Asia. However else we might see them, it's as firmly land-dwelling creatures that they enter our imaginations. Now, think of dugongs, or manatees, the gentle cow-like whales that love-starved sailors mistook for mermaids. Notice anything familiar? Probably not, but elephants have more in common with dugongs than you might at first think.
Just like us, elephants enjoy a cooling dip in the water and are excellent swimmers. Not only are they good at the doggy paddle, they also have their own built-in snorkels, their trunks. They quite happily swim in deep water by poking the tip of their trunks above the surface and can swim long distances without once having to come up for air.
As scuba divers are well aware, water puts pressure on our bodies when we go beneath the surface. We feel this pressure especially in our lungs and breathing becomes harder work the deeper we go. In common with most other animals, we have a space around our lungs which allows them to expand and contract when we breath. The lining around this space contains many small blood vessels.
Scientists discovered that elephants don't have a space around their lungs as we do. If they did, the difference in pressure between the air they breathe through their trunks and in the space around their lungs would cause those little blood vessels to burst. Because we are much smaller than elephants, when we go snorkelling this pressure difference does not harm us. For elephants it could be fatal, so instead of a space they have a flexible material called connective tissue surrounding their lungs which doesn't contain any blood vessels at all. Clever, eh?
Scientists also know that elephants are closely related biologically to the dugongs and manatees we mentioned earlier. From studying fossils they think that the ancient relatives of elephants lived in water like dugongs do now. Over millions of years they came out of the water onto the land and evolved into the masters of the savannahs and forests we know today.
Despite giving up the ocean-dwelling life for one on land, elephants still have other physical features that give away their watery past. When they are tiny foetuses, they have special structure in their kidneys only found otherwise in fish and frogs. Male elephant foetuses also have their testicles inside their bodies, like their cousins the dugongs, which would have made them streamlined in the water.
At AlbanyDive.com we like the fact that they are still water babies at heart and that's why we chose an elephant for our logo. If only we had built-in snorkels too!"
Uwe Klinge Lianne Sulkowski
Everybody's favourite, leafy sea dragons Phycodurus eques are a feature of many dive sites at Albany. This one favours the bow of the Cheyne II as home. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
To me, the concept of a dive shop having its own jetty where divers could kit up in comfort, with seats, shelter sails, lockers, fresh water washing tanks, drying space, showers, parking and dock was a brilliant idea.
Located along the harbour breakwater at the town jetty the Albany.Dive.com jetty is unique to the area. . (Photo: Nigel Marsh)
Located along the harbour breakwater at the town jetty, the position was well thought out and well planned. Although simple in its construction I have no doubt that it took a great deal of money and a great deal of tenacity to get the project approved, designed and built, but whatever it took it was worth it in the long term.
Tenacity and professionalism are part of what Uwe and Lianne are all about and German precision and thoroughness comes through in every aspect of their business. 'A bloody cheek, asking me for my certification card and log book, no less'. However, I was certainly glad they were so thorough and on the ball, as they certainly helped me out very nicely.
Diving for all its fun and adventure is a serious business and those that think it less, shouldn't be in business.
Only found in the South West Australia the unique red-lipped Morwong Cheiliodaetylus rubrolabiatus is a spectacular, easily photographed fish.
(Photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
AlbanyDive.com's 8.7 metre Shark Cat has the usual safety features, three outboard motors, central tank holders behind the seats and can take 12 divers, fully loaded.
The trips out to the islands in 'Cheyne II' take around 40 minutes on a good day and a little longer when there is a swell running, or serious wind chop.
If one dives Albany or anywhere along the South Coast of Australia, ocean swells are just part of an every day event. Albany is lucky as it is on the sheltered waters of King George Sound and, as such, this gigantic natural deep water harbour affords protection.
Huge granite rocks and spectacular smooth-topped granitic islands rise from the clear waters and provide excellent shelter from all but the severest weather conditions. Most of the dive sites have moorings.
Seal Cove at Breaksea Island is the hauling out location for a colony of New Zealand fur seals and Australian Sea Lions. These superb aquatic acrobats never cease to amaze. We followed Uwe into the water and proceeded to explore one of the many dives at Seal Cove.
The vis. was around 20m and even though my new 'airy' wetsuit was only 3mm I had no trouble with getting cold in the 20 degree water at all. Uwe took us across to the giant rock bommies, through deep gutters and swim-throughs up the rock face and into a big cave filled with bullseyes and swallowtail nannygais. It was fantastic!
I'd visited that dive site many years previously and each visit always seems as exciting as the last. Just before we got back to the boat Joey was 'buzzed' by a beautiful female sea lion and the footage of her 'close encounter' proved one of the highlights of our trip.
A female Australian Sea Lion 'buzzes' Joey.
These superb aquatic acrobats always interact with divers and produce startling 'close encounters'. (Photo: Jorina van der Westhuizen)
I could write a book on all the marvellous dive sites and breathtaking scenery and unique aquatic wildlife Albany has to offer the serious and not so serious diver, but that is in the future.
For the present, why not pay Albany a visit, dive with Uwe and Lianne and let some of their enthusiasm and expertise and their passion for diving and wildlife, revitalise your spirit?
I have no hesitation in reccommending their services, especially, if like me you need a little 'looking after' Even better, go find out for yourself, after all, what would I know about diving? You might just discover ( as I did) just how good swimming elephants really are.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Albany.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)