January 15, 2014
After spending 113 hours and 36 minutes under water in 2013, the zoo’s Dive Team is far from “all wet!” The divers, along with support from staff on the dry side, completed 85 dives last year in their quest to keep the zoo’s Great Barrier Reef tanks sparkling clean.
Though the 78 degree water temperature sounds balmy, Aquarium Area Manager and Dive Safety Officer Gary Stoops says divers need to wear wet suits to retain body heat, which is lost faster in water than in air. The thick wet suits also protect divers from aggressive fish. “Some of the fish are very territorial. The triggerfish and even the zebra moray eel have been known to challenge the divers, and even nip at their wet suits.”
The shark tank is a different story. No diver has ever been bitten during a dive with the blacktip reef sharks. “They just stay away from us,” states Stoops.
When the zoo is open for the season, guests can witness dives and can even get involved in an interactive dive chat! Divers are outfitted with a speaker and microphone that allow for live question-and-answer sessions. Dive Chats are held every Wednesday and Thursday at 1:30 PM.
All-told, divers spend about 90 minutes in the water during each dive. Most of that time is spent cleaning the coral, and of course avoiding the eel. At 15, he is the aquarium’s oldest resident and is an expert at defending his territory.