In what could catapult Visakhapatnam into a top scuba diving destination in the world, a second shipwreck with a critically endangered species of Goliath grouper was discovered by a team of experienced divers and diving instructors on Monday in the sea off Bheemunipatnam, 45 km from the city.
This comes a month after a century-old shipwreck was unearthed in the region. The latest find is said to be located at 23 metres below the sea surface and is a much larger one spread over 180 metres. But what makes Monday’s discovery even more special is the spotting of the extremely rare species of Goliath grouper fish, considered to be the keystone species of an ecosystem. This fish is entirely protected from harvest in the U.S. and is recognised as a critically endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Scuba divers and instructors from Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Andaman Islands and France were in the city exploring the waters near the first shipwreck over the past couple of weeks and the latest findings they say are “millions worth of treasure” for the global scuba diving community. Many of them have clocked more than 2,000 dives across the world and said it was the first time they had spotted the Goliath grouper.
Scuba diving instructor Balaram Naidu, director of Livein Adventures who was among the first to discover the second shipwreck, told The Hindu : “We were absolutely taken aback to spot a four-metre-long Goliath grouper coming out of the shipwreck! It is an extremely rare sight because of its dwindling numbers worldwide. Divers flock to Florida to see these amazing creatures. The one we saw is likely to be 16 to 17 years old and weighing a mammoth 500 kg.”
Since it is situated in the depths of the seabed, unlike the first shipwreck, this particular spot is open for only advanced divers. Most parts of the ship, which is said to be nearly a century old, are intact and placed upside down.
Some of the other interesting aqua life species spotted were large school of barracuda, the trevally and jack fish and a rich bed of corals like the star feather corals, sand corals and whip corals.
“The State government and the Tourism department must mobilise ways to preserve these shipwreck sites and make them no-fishing zone. If the Goliath groupers are fished out of this place, it will be kill the entire ecosystem,” said Keshav Ram, a Hyderabad-based diver who went with the team on Monday. The divers believe the latest discoveries to be just the tip of the ice-berg. “It took us four years to reach here. We are now making a presentation for the AP Tourism dept. to tell them how significant these findings are for turning Visakhapatnam into a global scuba diving destination,” Mr. Ram added.