The Byron Underwater Festival 2008 - sun, fun & record crowds
by Tim and Wandy Hochgrebe - published 8 May 2008
The 2nd Byron Underwater Festival was a massive success. Sell out events and activities, glorious weather and calm seas made this an event to remember for everyone. Almost 60 people from all over Australia came to participate in the annual underwater photo and video shootout competition, making it the biggest event of this kind in the whole Australasia region. Over 20,000 dollars worth of prizes including cameras, underwater housings, dive gear and a dive trip for two to Papua New Guinea were handed over to winning participants in 7 categories. Biggest winner was Ballina resident Mark Gray who scored both first prize in the SLR camera category as well as the Underwater Portfolio. Two local school groups went out with sponsor cameras to take underwater photos for the first time and the winning students walked away with an underwater photography course, diving vouchers and books.
The Marine Visions open medium art competition held as part of the Underwater Festival in conjunction with Retrospect Galleries saw over 100 entries including sculptures, photographs and some amazing fine art. Over 300 people attended the launch event on Friday and it was pushing room only to get close to the works. Winner of the fine art prize was Paul Colby with his work titled “Marine Playground”. Some works can still be seen at Retrospect Galleries this week and will remain on display on the Underwater Festival website
Part of this year’s Byron Underwater Festival was also the Australian premiere screening of the anti-JAWS documentary “Sharkwater” by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart. The screening was held as a fund raiser for “Australian Seabird Rescue” in Ballina and organised in collaboration with the BayFM “Generator” program at Byron Cinemas biggest screen on Saturday night. The night was a sell-out and the personal introduction to the film by world renowned underwater cinematographer David Hannan made the screening a huge success. Certainly a film everybody should go and watch when it get released Australia wide on May 15.
Other highlights of the festival were the underwater photography clinics by Mathieu Meur, who flew in for this festival all the way from Singapore. His clinics were sold out quickly and participants were putting their new learned skills to test immediately. Mathieu who authored 3 books on digital underwater photography promised to be back next year for more workshops.
Last years guest of honour, Australia’s own underwater pioneer Neville Coleman was back this year to launch his new book the “Nudibranchs Encyclopedia of Asia and Indo-Pacific”. Neville is the author of over 60 books and well known for his passion for the underwater world and the small and unusual critters it contains. Listening to him talk about his many decades of exploration is an inspiration and for those who managed to meet him during the festival or hear his radio interview on BayFM on Friday will realise what an amazing person he is.
The Byron Underwater Festival is an annual event and not just for divers. Aimed at everyone wanting to experience our marine environment for themselves it encourages all to participate - whether you want to learn more about it, dive it, snorkel it, kayak it … or even paint it. Only one year to go to the next one …