JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sealife centre - window cleaning dive

Flicking through my newspaper cuttings, it's fair to say I've done some silly things as a news reporter. But I did get chance to mix business with pleasure with an assignment at Birmingham's Sealife Centre and I thought I'd share it with you along with a couple of videos of the event.

MOST window cleaners have seen untold eye-opening situations from the top of their ladders. But few will have witnessed anything as blue as the sight that greeted a team of volunteer underwater washers in landlocked Birmingham. Because the nine scuba diving members of Scubaction have the weirdest window cleaning job in town. Their task is simple – to descend into the underwater world at the city’s Sea Life Centre to keep the giant tank spick and span. Oh, and try to ignore the sharks and turtles keeping them company while they work. Dive leader Adrian Marsland, aged 42, said: “It is unusual, but where else in the centre of Birmingham can you get to dive with creatures like that?” The tropical 800,000-litre tank is one of the main attractions at the centre in Brindleyplace with its two giant Green Turtles, family of Blacktip Reef Sharks and colourful reef fish. While the water is continuously filtered, sediment settles on the viewing windows and across the tunnel, creating a thin film interfering with their view of the marine creatures inside. About once a month, the team pack their scuba gear, pick up their fluffy squeegies and plunge into the five-metre deep fish tank to begin their unusual cleaning operation in full view of the paying public. Mr Marsland, a scuba instructor with 30 years experience, said: “The main aim is to clean sediment from the windows and the tunnel, pick up the corals and re-smooth the gravel. “The turtles scrape it away and expose the bottom of the tank and accidentally knock the corals off so we have to go in and glue them back on. We work our way through the tank cleaning the windows so people can see the exhibit clearly. “And it’s always nice to interact with the public, especially the children who seem to like it when you wave back at them.” The team was originally set up about ten years ago by Ray Kirton, now living in Corfu, who had a scuba shop in Leamington Spa. It is made up of divers Steve Johnson, Rose Johnson, Andrew Moore, Dereck Massey, Bob Mayne, Graham Williams, Nick Hillerby and Jeff Faint. Engineer Mr Marsland, originally from Stourbridge, who took over running of the group in June last year after returning from Australia, said the biggest problem was not the sharks, but the turtles. “The wildlife are not bothered about us being in the water but the turtles like to let you know you are in their domain,” he said.



Headbutted - by a 42-stone turtle I KNOW Birmingham city centre can sometimes be a dangerous place, but it’s not every day you get headbutted – by a 42-stone Green Sea Turtle. I’d expected the threat of a nibble from the family of sleek Blacktip reef sharks to be a more pressing underwater problem. But when I joined the window cleaning dive team at Birmingham’s National Sea Life Centre, they made it clear the beautiful sharks were not an issue – but the turtles could be. Underwater, graceful Gulliver and Molokai like to let you know they are boss and will bump you, scrape past your head and nibble long hair. One of them knocked my camera out of my hand. Maybe he doesn’t like papparazzi. This was one of the most surreal underwater experiences I’ve ever had. Normally I’d have to fly half-way around the world for close encounters with sharks and turtles. But here I was in tropical waters – right here in Brum. The visitors to the Sea Life Centre last Sunday were not seeing ‘fins’ – that really was a journalist with a soggy notepad and squeegie in hand. I’d joined volunteer divers to spruce up the inside of the tank but I’m not sure I made much a splash with my window cleaning. It’s fair to say I’m no George Formby. I probably spent more time waving at the awe-inspired youngsters gazing outwards at the beautiful marine life behind me. Now I know what Nemo felt like stuck in his tank.




This article first appeared in the Birmingham Mail

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