A deep dive down to a whole new world

Published on:
Monday, 28 August, 2023

Jutting 1.8 kilometres out to sea is the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere.

The Busselton Jetty is iconic to the south west coastal city drawing half a million visitors every year. Now, visitors can have a fully immersive experience diving and snorkelling amongst 13 underwater sculptures at the end of the WA heritage listed jetty.

Installed in June, the underwater sculpture park delivers a triple bottom line in terms of benefits.

It provides tourism benefits for visitors and water enthusiasts with a unique experience, it will attract more visitors creating an economic benefit, and it acts as an artificial reef attracting hundreds of marine species and sea sponges which keep the ocean clean and absorb carbon, generating environmental benefits.

Managed by non-for-profit Busselton Jetty Inc without funding from the State Government, each visitor ticket sold contributes 25 percent of gross revenue to the Jetty Maintenance Fund. It is a unique business model.

City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said the City manages the dedicated Jetty Maintenance Reserve.

“The Jetty Maintenance Reserve receives a significant proportion of funding from the business activities on the jetty, so it’s important to maintain that income through new and innovative projects that ensure visitation remains strong,” the Mayor said.

“The underwater sculptures, which form part of the current scope of works, will undoubtedly prove a powerful drawcard into the future to secure the sustainability of the Jetty.”

Last financial year, $1.1 million was made from tickets sales, going to the City of Busselton’s dedicated reserve.

The jetty itself is one of Australia’s greatest artificial reefs and over 158 years, the submerged timber and steel piles have become colonised with a beautiful array of marine invertebrates, creating a vibrant and diverse habitat for over 300 species.

Busselton Jetty CEO Lisa Shreeve said that within hours of the first sculpture being installed on the ocean floor, new inhabitants moved in.

“The first sculpture installed was the shipwreck replica of SS Pericles and within hours, a giant school of trevally came by swimming through it and within days invertebrate life started forming on it, it was incredible to witness,” said Ms Shreeve.

“Clean oceans account for 70 percent of the air we breathe and more marine life living on the sculptures means more sponges cleaning the ocean. The Sculptures will then help us educate people about the marine life and its importance to the environment.”

The Busselton Jetty Inc put out an Expression of Interest for the sculptures and received over 60 submissions. From a short list of 20, 13 were chosen. All 13 artists are Western Australians with seven from Perth and six from the south west.

“All artists were paid for their work and during the pandemic, that was a lifeline for some of them,” Ms Shreeve said.

The 500-square-metre underwater art gallery intentionally positioned the sculptures positioned away from the existing Underwater Observatory to protect the established marine life there and to disperse visitors.

The sculptures are eight metres below the surface but some of them are two or three metres tall and are visible snorkelling from the surface.

Ms Shreeve said that the sculptures and the environment will be continuously monitored.

“Six weeks after they were installed, the bronze mermaid has been covered in bright red growth – and she looks absolutely striking.

“The 13-tonne concrete octopus has long tentacles and is fitted with over 80 glow-in-the-dark, solar-activating stones that will absorb sunlight throughout the day and glow at night.

“And the three-metre tall postmaster sculpture is a nod to Andrew Stonehouse Thompson Jr, the Postmaster General and Customs Officer who used to ride his bike to the end of the jetty in the 1940s and 50s to check cargo and collect mail from oncoming ships.”

“The kiln in which the Postmaster was fired in belongs to local ceramicist Ian Dowling who happens to be the grandson of Andrew Stonehouse Thompson - the original Postmaster General and Customers Officer – talk about serendipity!”

Future plans include periscopes to view the submerged sculptures from the jetty and QR codes located adjacent to the sculptures that connect to underwater webcams.

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