Diving Deep: Benzie on Ocean Passion, Conservation, and Australia's Underwater Wonders

Diving Deep: Benzie on Ocean Passion, Conservation, and Australia's Underwater Wonders

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and why you have a passion for diving?

A: I’m Benzie, and I’m a freediver living in Stockleigh, Queensland, Australia. I’ve always loved the water, but I didn't grow up near the ocean. When we would go on holidays, I nearly spent my entire days swimming at the beach.

I’ve always been passionate about protecting the ocean and working closely with Sea Shepherd. In fact, I donated my original art to help fundraise for them, and did some pretty creative things with that. I do underwater photography as a means to capture what I experience and inspire my hyper-realistic artistry. 

During the COVID19 pandemic when my water sports were canceled, I discovered freediving. It took my snorkeling adventures to a whole new level. It's a skill that changed my life and has allowed me to go depths of 30 meters on one breath, travel around the world and discover animals in the ocean I never knew existed.

The ocean takes you to a moment of living in the present and has the ability to quiet the mind.

Q: As someone who dives frequently in Australia, what has been your most awe-inspiring underwater experience there?

A: The ocean has the amazing way of surprising you when you least expect it. Sometimes you won't see too much big life or too many fish, and other days it's overwhelming with the amount of sea life you see in a day. It's very addictive, and it makes you just keep going back for more.

The first time I ever saw a whale shark was in a place where you would never think one would be. We had a big group of humpback whales one time because orcas where in the area and we had an amazing swim with the whales. Another time I came across a large group of eagle rays, and I decided that I was going to stay underwater forever that day and live with them in the ocean. I can't narrow it down to just one 

Q: The Great Barrier Reef is facing significant threats like coral bleaching. What are your biggest concerns regarding its long-term health and conservation?

A: I don't know enough scientifically about the reef, but now I have swam on it alot. I don't think the bleaching is its biggest threat, I actually think it's fishing. Such a small percentage of the reef is only protected and most of the reef is open to all kinds of fishing. 

The green zones like Lady Elliot prove that excluded fishing areas even as small as a tiny island make a huge effect on the biodiversity of the reef keeping the coral and it's inhabitants abundant and healthy with a wide array of marine life.

I've seen bleached reefs come back to life overtime, as sad as it is to see them dying I don't think we’ve had enough time to see a full cycle of a coral and how it can recover quickly if it has the right circumstances 

Q: How has diving in Australia shaped your perspective on the importance of marine conservation efforts in your country?

A: I’ve quickly learned that marine conservation comes down to politics and fisherman, so it's very hard to get an area protected. We have a species of shark here called grey nurse sharks that are critically endangered and very little is done to protect them. For example, we use shark nets and drum lines on our beaches to keep “people safe” but actually these nets are just floating in the middle of nothing, sharks can swim around them and under them to the beach, so more often than not other animals get stuck in these nets, die, and then attract bigger sharks to eat the carcass. During whale season many whales get caught in these nets, and it's very distressing sometimes causing death. 

Nets Out Now Coalition has been running for years but the government keeps the nets in place as a false sense of security for tourists.  

Q: Queensland has some remote and unique diving locations like the Ningaloo Reef. Can you describe exploring any lesser-known but incredible dive sites?

A: Ningaloo Reef is an icon in coastal western Australia. It's an amazing place, desert meets the ocean. Because of its remoteness it's very abundant with pelagic life and it's also closer to the continental shelf.

Queensland has a huge amount of islands that are great for diving that I would love to explore. The more accessible diving is in New South Wales further south in the cooler water. There are plenty of places you can just dive from the shore. Queensland requires a boat most the time to get to diving locations.

Q: Australia recently established a vast network of marine parks. How do you think this will impact ocean conservation and diving opportunities?

A: It surprisingly starts to help the biodiversity very quickly. Within a couple of years changes start to happen like, bigger schools of fish, larger pelagic life and healthier coral. it's amazing how quickly nature reboots itself when it's left alone.

Q: What are some "holy grail" marine species that divers dream of spotting in Australian waters?

A: For me it would be orcas. It's rare, but they do come. Sometimes, even whale sharks show up, and they are more likely to be seen on the other side of Australia. We are pretty lucky here because of the east Australian current. We have a huge range of ocean life that migrates and feeds off these currents all times of the year.  

Q: With the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef, how do you approach observing marine life there in a sustainable, low-impact way?

A: If you consumer sea food, I think it's important to know where it comes from. This  hugely impacts the ocean. Sourcing sustainable food is quite difficult now with deep sea trawling and overfishing. Shark finning is also a huge concern. Humans kill sharks in alarming numbers and without them the whole ecosystem will collapse. 

Eating less or none will help the ocean recover. If the demand adjusts then extreme fishing will not be needed.

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