Monday, January 21, 2008

The Underwater Sea Lab and a Latte

January 19, Busselton at the Goose Restaurant having a latte followed by local champagne.

****Warning**** Following blog contains multiple and vague references to "The Life Aquatic"

After walking roughly one kilometer over the Busselton jetty, it was not the rotting chunks of wood on the deck that concerned me. The wood was old, but amply thick enough to stand rotting for a few more years before it deteriorated to any real danger. What concerned me was whether the $20 ticket to the Busselton Underwater Observatory for a 45-minute tour was worth it. 836 meters to go, and I would find out.

The Jetty itself has been in existence for over 140 years. Starting at roughly 150 meters right off the town’s main street, it was used for the loading of timber that ultimately paid for the unloading of dry goods that built Busselton. The Jetty was forced to grow as wind and wave action brought more sand. The ships, once lighter-weight sailing vessels, grew bigger and deeper with steam and coal. Horse carts gave way to rail and Busselton boomed through the virtue of this slim timber gateway to the world.

With the development of Bunbury’s port to the north, ships did not need Busselton’s jetty, and it was closed to commercial traffic in 1972.

It was a liability, and cost a fortune in upkeep. Yet the town chose to keep the structure. In 1976 an underwater observatory was proposed. 27 years later in 2004, it became a reality. 550 tones of concrete and eleven $20,000 acrylic windows were anchored to the sea floor.

From the shore it looks like a large shack on the end of a very old jetty. Up close, it looks like a modern shack. Inside, the top floor and entrance are “museum chic.”

I was still not convinced. Our guide was pregnant, but not chewing any gum. We descended to the first level. It was more or less at this point that I felt I was stepping into Alistair Hennessy’s sea lab. On the first level – the tide level, revealed in a cross-section of air and water – the surface acted like whipped cellophane revealing silver dollar sized barnacles. The next level was the same 100-year-old piling, now hollow in the middle and held together only by the life that had made their home around it. The colors: orange-purples, blues, reds and greens. Their soft texture looked like an artist’s brush strokes. It might as well have been an impressionist’s picture of an underwater piling.

On the sea floor, we walked on dry, red terracotta tiles Through one window – an encrusted anchor, another, a school of yellow-finned mackerel. No food is brought to them. Just the natural attraction of the unnatural reef draws them in. It was truly breathtaking. My 45 minutes inspired me, and I felt compelled to take something, like an espresso machine. Since this was not the Life Aquatic and there were no espresso machines or interns, I had to settle for my latte at the posh "Goose" restaurant on the shore side of the jetty.

No comments: