It’s quiet on the bottom of the ocean, 30m beneath the surface. Below the world of clouds, wind and the sun shining on humans running to and fro. That is until you start listening for the conversations - the noise of regulators and the buzz of boat engines. The pulse of underwater life.
I wouldn’t be surprised if underwater photographer Scott Grimster had a dorsal fin that neatly tucked away along his spine when on land, and conveniently popped out as the salt water engulfed his body. This human aquatic reckons he’d love to be a silvertip shark because it’s the most impressive of the sharks he’s ever dived with. He’s in the water daily - swimming, diving, taking snaps of creatures few of us ever get to see close up, and that’s where he prefers to be. “I’ve never found anything else that gives me the satisfaction diving does. Getting down to the bottom of the ocean and getting up close and personal with the macro climate. It’s the perfect stress-release. I get just as much enjoyment now as I did on my first dive. You can be sitting there checking fish out and then something comes up behind you out of the blue. I was lying on the bottom of the ocean at Flinders once when I felt a rub on my side. It was a massive bull ray curious to see what I was photographing. Unbelievable!
“You’re a bit of a sitting duck,” he continues. “The weirdest thing I’ve seen is a tasselled angler fish. It’s an ambush hunter so extremely well camouflaged. Only someone with a specially trained eye can find them with many years of experience. Our bay is the healthiest it’s ever been and we are seeing new species all the time that have come down via the east coast current. The summer months are a hive of activity which sees every marine animal making the most of the plentiful food sources available in the bay. That activity also attracts some of the bigger predators, including sharks and rays.”
Scott has dived all over Australia and in Fiji but says the Mornington Peninsula is recognised as having some of the best and most challenging diving in the world. “If you can dive down here, then you can dive anywhere because the Peninsula has an element of unpredictability and the weather can change in the blink of eye,” he says. There’s the dangerous entrance to Port Phillip Bay known as The Rip with big swells, deep channels and strong tides to contend with. Throw in the odd seven-gill shark and freezing temperatures over winter and it is still worth climbing out of bed at 5.30am.
Bigger predators don’t bother him because that’s all part of being in the marine environment. “I’ve only seen the occasional shark and I’m in the water pretty much every weekend diving from Sorrento to Rye, Gunnamatta to Mornington and Portsea. The thing is, the more you dive, the more you understand how the dynamics of the ocean works. Sharks are at the top of the food chain and are incredibly intelligent predators. They generally attack from the bottom. That’s why surfers, ‘spearos’ and swimmers are more of a target than us divers. Experience tells you when there might be one in the area and I’ve learnt up in northern NSW that grey nurse sharks stay close to the bottom to minimise an attack from a great white shark. If they sit high in the water column you generally feel quite safe. Seals over at the North Neptunes in South Australia chase great whites as it’s not the shark you see that is the one to worry about, it’s the one you don’t that sees you at the greatest risk,” he laughs. “You need to be patient to dive and don’t panic. Panic is the diver’s worst enemy – and complacency. That’s when things can go wrong.”
And things do go wrong sometimes, but not if you’re well prepared, says Scott, who started diving in 1999, taking photos in the early 2000s under the guidance of Dave Bryant. Preparation and having the right equipment is key. Yearly tank testing and good quality wetsuits are vital too, especially if you intend to dive in the depths of winter. “It can get pretty cold in Port Phillip Bay,” says this experienced diver. “The ocean will punish you if you’re not prepared. It normally takes me 36 hours to recover from a dive in the middle of winter, but the visibility is so much sharper in the cold and you get to see different creatures. Marine animals conserve their energy in freezing temperatures. Fish feel the cold just as we do and there are limited amounts of food available during the cooler temperatures so they don’t tend to swim as much.”
Even though Scott’s love affair with the ocean is all-consuming, this Mornington Bush Nursing Hospital-born boy who works in compliance and has had his photos published in Mornington Peninsula Magazine, The Herald Sun, and on Channel 7 among others is hooked on footy too. He’s been involved in football since he was eight and holds an honorary position on the AFL South East Commission. “We cover Auskick, junior, women’s and men’s leagues. It’s great to give something back to the game and play a part in developing quality people within our local community. We also cover a wide range of social issues including mental health. Mental health has become just as important as physical health in sport these days and we provide a framework of support networks for clubs to access. That’s a good thing,” he continues.
One of Scott’s most memorable dives was in Beqa Lagoon on the southern coast of Fiji, where villagers feed huge tuna heads to tiger and bull sharks. Scott explains. “It’s the best shark dive in the world, I reckon. Divers are taken to the edge of the channel where there’s a rock wall. Local Fijian shark feeders lower the wheelie bins down to the sea bed and commence feeding giant trevally and kingfish whole tuna heads until the sharks come in. Being able to sit next to a feeder with 250kg bull sharks coming straight at you is an experience I’ll never forget for the rest of my days, especially knowing it can tear you in half in the blink of an eye. Amazing.”
Check out flickr.com to see some of Scott’s brilliant photos and marvel at the not-so-silent beauty that lies beneath the surface of our sea.