PICS: Diver’s magical dugong encounter off Bundaberg’s coast
IT WAS a chance encounter for Bundaberg dive instructor Jake Persson, and one he will never forget.
Mr Persson has been diving his entire life and has seen many a creature under the sea - from colourful nudibranchs, to cleverly disguised stonefish, timid sea snakes and turtles - but it was the very first time he'd ever seen a dugong up close in the water.
"It was my first time ever seeing a dugong and it was honestly incredible," Mr Persson said of the encounter at Barolin Rocks.
"I was taking a photo of a little nudibranch and my dive partner I was with at the time grabbed my leg and shook it and I stood up and he or she literally came up to have a look at what we were doing and did about two laps around us and then was really looking and darted off after that."
Mr Persson said the dugong was about 3m long.
"It was like someone had strapped four 44-gallon drums end-to-end with each other," he said.
"It was a really surreal experience and something that I've always wanted to see.
"It was like something ticked off my bucket list when it comes to animals I want to see in the ocean."
Mr Perrson now has a couple of new undersea ambitions.
"My next one would be to see a manta ray which we get here as well... and I really want to see some sharks," he said.
Sharks are nowhere near as concerning as people may think, according to Mr Persson.
"They're not as dangerous as people make them out to be and honestly when we get in the water, our bubbles are quite noisy to them so they tend to disappear as soon as we see them."
Mr Perrson said most shark attacks happened when people were on top of the water and could be mistaken for some other sea creature on the shark's menu.
"When you're in the water with them they don't think twice," he said.
"We're not their food so they've never bothered us really."
Mr Persson said he had seen hammerheads in the water but as soon as they saw people they swam off.
Sea snakes are another misunderstood sea creature, Mr Persson says.
He says they have small fangs and can only really bite people on the ears or between the fingers.
Mr Perrson, who works at Bundy Aqua Scuba, has been diving in Bundaberg for a little over a year, but with his parents owning a dive store in Adelaide, he learned to dive at the age of 8.
He had an open diving licence by the age of 12.
"It's been a cool little lifestyle," he said.
Mr Perrson feels most at home in the sea, and says the holiday season has been a busy one for the region.
Scuba diving classes take four days, including classroom teaching, swimming pool test runs and open water experience.
With keen divers no longer heading overseas or interstate for their tickets, it's been a busy time for the Walla St shop.
"All the travellers we've kept in Queensland, so it's been quite good," Mr Perrson said.
And there's good reason to train to be a diver in Bundaberg.
"Honestly, the whole Bundaberg foreshore's quite unique because of the old volcano there, it's given the entire foreshore a spot because coral will only bond to rocks - it won't bond just to sand," Mr Persson said.
"All the way from Burnett Heads to Elliott Heads is just full of coral.
"A lot of people from Bundaberg don't know how unique the coastline is here and of course you've got Mon Repos as well so you get a vast array of different turtles.
"It's really cool and the wreck dives we have here are amazing."