Nature lovers itching to swim with sharks or roll with the rays need look no further than their own backyard. Ocean Park is opening its aquarium to divers this month.
The park's new scuba-diving programme lets visitors swim in its 5.2 million litre grand aquarium, which is home to more than 5,000 fish of some 450 species, including hammerhead sharks, manta rays and blue-fin tuna.
"Through the scuba-diving programme, visitors will better understand the important relationship between us and marine life and help protect the ocean in their daily life," said Ocean Park education manager Alex Wong Wai-tung.
The programme, which starts on 20 April and runs every Saturday, consists of two sessions. The three-hour journey starts with a behind-the-scene tour which gives visitors a glimpse of the park's work in breeding and conserving marine animals. Then, diving coaches will lead visitors, in groups of three, on a 30-minute diving session following a designated route in the water. The maximum depth for each dive will be 12 metres.
Divers must be aged 15 or above and hold a recognised scuba diving qualification. Participants under 18 must have a health declaration and liability release signed by their parents or guardians. All divers will be restricted from touching or feeding the fish for safety reasons.
"We will require participants to keep a respectable distance from the fish to minimise the nuisance to them," said David Lai Yiu-nam, senior curator of aquariums. He said the sharks in the aquarium were of a mild species, which did not have a record of attacking humans.
Jobi Chan Sze-ting, who was invited to the park yesterday to be the first patron diver, was delighted with the experience.
"I've never seen so many different species of fish at a single dive before," she said. "The clear water [in the aquarium] helped me to do that. I'd say it's one of the best memories in my 10-year diving history."
Local marine life lovers are known to travel as far afield as Indonesia and Malaysia to catch a glimpse of rare marine animals.
A maximum of six people will be allowed to dive each Saturday, at a cost of HK$2,180 per head. Five per cent of the fees will go to the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation for wildlife conservation and education.