I harp on all the time about seizing the day and grabbing opportunities yet when I was invited to dive with sharks at Blue Planet Aquarium (which is pivotal to the plot in Three Little Birds) I politely declined. Sitting in a very large aquarium with toothy creatures from the deep was not on my personal Carpe Diem list. After further cogitation (gosh that’s a big word for me to use), I changed my mind. Here was an opportunity to do something incredibly exciting. I was a fool to disregard it. My involvement with the Backup Trust cemented the deal. I would get sponsorship for the dive and raise some awareness and funds for the charity who help support people with spinal cord injury.
The Blue Planet Aquarium near Chester, is Britain’s largest aquarium and home to over 100 living displays including Europe’s largest shark collection. It offers much more than just a window into underwater life. It is a superb place to bring children for visits or birthday parties and has a spectacular aquatunnel- a moving walkway through the aquarium, so you can walk with the sharks and stingrays and watch people like me diving with them. There are regular shows too at the large aquatheatre. There is too much to say in praise of this venue, so I’ll merely suggest you check it out yourself by clicking the link HERE.
The entire team at the aquarium are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly and highly professional. I have dived before but those in my group had not. If you have never dived you MUST try this as an introduction to the sport.
We started out in a classroom where we learned about the basics of diving and had talk given by a super instructor, Gwawr (which is Welsh for Dawn). Next we moved off to get kitted out in diving suits and boots and get a shower before entering the training pool. I was one of two women, the other being Amy for whom this was a surprise. It was her birthday and her boyfriend had not told her where she was going. She thought it was going to be a racing car circuit! Another young man was also here as a surprise and was quaking in his neoprene boots, that was until we started the training dive session. I have to admit at this point I was distracted by the sight of young muscular men clad in tight wetsuits. I think I made some ridiculous comment about them looking like the cast of X Men then scurried into the pool where I tried to hide underwater.
The session was excellent. The emphasis was on safety. A team of three dealt with all our needs in the pool and all equipment was to a very high standard. There was three hours of air in our tanks so no chance of running out on a thirty minute dive not even if you hyperventilated and guzzled it. Gwawr wouldn’t let us go to the aquarium until she was completely satisfied we were well-prepared for our underwater adventure, safe to dive and comfortable. You are told you can come out at any time should you suddenly develop a nervousness … trust me, you won’t want to come out!
A picture is worth a thousand words so here are a few of my dive. I went into the aquarium with Amy. Now, I have dived in some wonderful places and seen pretty fish and turtles and all sorts of marine life, but I have never dived somewhere that is a) so comfortably warm b) not difficult to navigate (normally tides and waves move you about) c) seen so many fish, species in one dive d) seen or been in immediate proximity to some of the most magnificent sharks. e) felt so safe.
It was a privilege to be in the animal’s environment. They swam slowly and with a slightly feigned disinterested air. Two safety divers are with you as well as an instructor/guide so you are always safe. They block and protect you should you get in the path of one of the sand sharks, tiger sharks, zebra sharks, lemon shark , nurse sharks or guitar sharks.
Small yellow fish nibbled away at me while I dived. They are cleaner fish that eat bacteria. Small electric currents alert you to the fact they are nibbling at you and your hair. They are asking you to pour sand over them so they can take a sand shower. Oblige and you get clusters of them queuing up to join in. The large Trigger fish who watched us also loves sand showers.
The longer I was in the aquarium, the longer I could have stayed. It is an incredibly relaxing and fascinating place.
The whole time you can be observed by people in the windowed tunnel. Mandi, who took some of the photos, was there for me and kept grinning, waving and giving me the thumbs up. Other people watched and waved too.
As we were leaving, something very special happened. I was tapped heavily on the shoulder by a safety diver who drew me away from Amy. I was given the sign to drop to the floor. Was I about to be eaten by Wilma? I looked at Gwawr who was encouraging Amy to look out of the window. In the tunnel, face pressed to the glass, was Amy’s boyfriend on one knee, holding a box in which sat a diamond ring. Behind him two members of the staff were holding a banner. ‘Will you marry me?’ was written on it. Amy’s mask steamed up with tears. I gulped and my eyes filled. She forgot to breathe for a few minutes. We all waited. She nodded. We applauded soundlessly in the water and exited the pool. Guess who was first to the shower and back out to the auditorium? Young love!
Diving with sharks has become hugely popular at this venue. I now know why. It is, how can I put it? Amazing? Awesome? Fantastic? Just wow? Yes, all of those. I urge you to put it on your Carpe Diem list.
Would you like to visit the aquarium, see the sharks and learn more about this fascinating world? I have FOUR FREE tickets for you. Blue Planet Aquarium have given me these to share with you. Take the family to the aquarium for free or give them to someone for Christmas.
To win them you need to tweet this post or post in on your Facebook page and answer the question:
What is the name of Blue Planet Aquarium’s oldest shark?
Answer below in the comments and you will be entered into a draw. I’ll reveal the winner/s on Saturday.
If you would like to have the same experience I enjoyed. Blue Planet Aquarium are offering 20% Christmas Special. Details are on their website below. Go on, make someone’s Christmas one to remember forever.
Blue Planet Aquarium http://www.blueplanetaquarium.com/
Ah yes, the title of this post, Ducking and Diving. You might remember I have been doing challenges from my book Three Little Birds with three rubber ducks. Well, Wally, the blue duck who should have been on this challenge bailed at the last moment. One look at the sharks and he did a runner. Even the little fish were twice his size so he decided he was more of a land duck!