A typical day for Rick Anderson sees him don his wetsuit, airtank, mask and fins and head out into our deep blue ocean to explore and interact with the local wildlife … his favourite of course, the shark. With twenty years’ local dive knowledge, Dive Instructor Rick Anderson tells us about his favourite places to dive, and what can be found beneath the surface.
Hi Rick. When and why did you first get into scuba diving?
I started scuba diving in 1990, though it was something I wanted to do from the youngest age. My mother still has my Kindergarten book, where I wrote, “When I grow up I want to be skin diver and hunt sharks”. I have stuck to my plan, except I hunt sharks with a camera.
I have snorkelled, free dived and spearfished my whole life, since the age of about eight. The ocean and the creatures within have held a constant fascination for me. Interaction with all sea creatures and animals is the greatest high I have experienced.
Can you give us a bit of a run down on your career as a Dive Master/ Instructor.
I gained my Divemaster certification in 1998 and started working on live aboard dive vessels in North Queensland. Pro Dive Vessel, Running Free II, was where I cut my teeth in the diving world, working on regular trips diving the GBR and world famous Yongala shipwreck, enjoying many experiences with wildlife, people and cyclones.
I gained my instructor ratings while working for Pro Dive and began contracting with dive operators such as Quicksilver, Fantasea, Pro Dive, and Reef Lady throughout North Queensland. Returning to Port Macquarie in 2000, I started my own dive company. I still contract to other dive operators throughout Australia for a change of pace now or then.
What interests you most about the underwater world?
I have always been fascinated by sharks and shipwrecks (treasure!) Whenever I come across a shipwreck, the excitement of potentially finding some sort of treasure is always there, or purely diving on a shipwreck that maybe hasn’t been seen for over a hundred years. The history behind many sunken vessels can be fascinating.
Sharks, however, are my big love! The beauty and majestic nature of this animal make them so endearing to me. Over the years I have dived with many shark species, including Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Mako Sharks, Hammerheads, Grey Nurse Sharks, Grey Reef, Great Whites, Lemon Sharks, Wobbegongs, Leopard Sharks … and my special one, which is the Port Jackson Shark. I have a special bond with a couple of the local Port Jackson Sharks that I have been interacting with over the last few years; it’s at the point where they come to me for a pat and a cuddle.
Anytime I spend with sharks makes for an awesome day. And when I get to show people how beautiful sharks truly are, I feel I have achieved something positive.
You are indeed very passionate about sharks. Why then, are these creatures so commonly misunderstood?
Sharks are wild animals living in a wild world, where every day is about eating, breeding and surviving. Sharks are not waiting to rip our arms and legs off. Most interaction between sharks and people is either by mistake, or out of curiosity. Most sharks that come into contact with people are quick to turn tail and run (swim). We are not on their menu and once they see a
person close up, they are quick to realise we are not what they want.
Unfortunately, sometimes sharks make mistakes in adverse conditions and do damage to humans. This is generally made worse by the media reporting of such incidents and the Hollywood take on the reality of sharks – making them out to be monsters. Treated with respect, avoiding being in the water during overcast weather, fish migration, dusk and dawn, and avoiding seal and penguins colonies can help reduce the chances of negative shark interactions.
You spend a lot of time under the water – is it always the same, or does the scenery change.
The underwater world is constantly changing. The sponges, seaweeds and corals change with the temperature of the water, as do many marine species. Fish life can change; they are also the best indication of bad weather coming, usually leaving for deeper water a couple of days before it happens.
Over the cooler months we have an abundance of lobsters, Grey Nurse and Humpback Whales. Then in the warmer months we have rays, turtles, Port Jackson Sharks and Pelagic fish. Autumn and spring bring our most spectacular dive conditions, with calm seas and clear water.
How has our marine life changed over the last two decades?
During the past 20 years or so we have seen commercial netting of the Hastings river cease, as well as a reduction in trawl netting off our coastline. This has had a positive effect on our reef systems, with plant life such as sponges, kelp and corals being able to regenerate. With this, we have seen the return of more fish species to the area. A lot of these fish spawn in the river, so with the healthier river system these fish spawn upstream and then flush into the ocean with the summer rains.
As with many parts of the world, there has been a drastic drop in sharks such as Whalers (Bronze, Dusky, Bullsharks). But with the increase in protection zones across the East Coast, we are seeing a return of the friendly Grey Nurse Shark.
What is your favourite local dive spot and why?
My favourite would have to be Delicate Nobby. This dive site offers some of the best underwater diversity on the Mid North Coast – a favourite haunt of the mature and juvenile Grey Nurse Sharks. There are different species of turtles and a myriad of fish. You can often find baitfish to Pelagics, the odd Tiger Shark, occasional Dusky Whaler, Guitar Sharks, Wobbegongs and Port Jacksons. There is an assortment of crustaceans and shellfish living among the sponges, soft corals and kelp. The diversity of this reef is so unbelievable, that at times the diver has to push fish out of the way so they can see where they are going!
Having dived Delicate Nobby for over twenty years, I have never had a boring dive there. In recent years I have even been privileged enough to spend time in the water with Humpback Whales and an Australian Fur Seal there.
You must have a
bucket list dive site too; where is it?
The one spot I have wanted to travel to is Bikini Atoll in Marshall Islands. The area was once used to test atomic bombs after World War II. From about 1946 they tested the effects of the bomb on vessels and other things. The area was highly radioactive and only opened to Scuba Diving in 1996. My fascination with the area is that there is an entire fleet (of ships) on the bottom of the ocean – including battleships, destroyers, and an aircraft carrier, to name a few. This is truly a wreck diver’s paradise! It’s a difficult place to get to, with numerous flights, and a twenty five hour boat ride! Underwater wildlife is my passion, but wreck diving is just for fun.
For those who love the water – should they take the plunge and learn to scuba?
For those who love the water and wildlife, then have a paddle around in a mask and snorkel, first. Scuba diving offers the opportunity to spend time in nature below the surface. For the time that your air supply allows, you can become one with the sea, exploring the underwater world.
Only 10% of our oceans have been explored, so every time you go below the water you have the opportunity to explore and discover a world that your friends are unaware of. Scuba diving is a great sport for those who are adventurers, or just adventurers at heart.
Instagram @ricksdiveschool / FB @ricksdiveschool SDI Instructor, Ocean Guide Port Macquarie.
M 0422 063 528.