September 30, 2016

Utah’s Seabase

Giant sharks, huge sting rays, and 70 varieties of deep sea ocean life? Welcome to Granstville, Utah and Seabase.

by Al Sachrov

What do Grantsville and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have in common? They both provide tropical diving experiences that include sharks! The Grantsville sharks are nurse and bamboo, not the fierce Great Whites that prowl the barrier reef. The sharks coexist with nearly 70 varieties of tropical fish that live at Bonneville Seabase, a scuba and snorkeling “ocean” on the salt flats outside of Grantsville.

Seabase consists of three man-made ponds that vary in depth from 14 to 62 feet. The unique geology of the area provides both the warmth and saline water that allow fish such as groupers, pompanos, jacks and puffers to thrive. According to Linda Nelson, who owns the site along with husband George Sanders, Seabase got its start with equal parts “absolute insanity” and a passionate love for diving.

In the early 20th century the hot springs provided a spa for area residents. A period of decline followed. After she acquired the site, Nelson said that cleanup and construction did not come easy. The ponds had to be dug out and their sides lined with non porous cement. The facility opened to the public in 1990, and since then the public has certainly enjoyed meeting the aquatic cast of characters. Two recent additions are the manta rays, Steve and Irwin, named after the late host for the Animal Planet.

Caretaker Ron Simmons says visibility can range up to 12 feet. Swimmers can also view the fish by diving into an underwater air-filled glass chamber. But Simmons says nothing beats getting to know the neighbors in person. “You can dive down with a head of romaine lettuce, and 40 to 50 fish will eat it from your hand in five minutes. You would have to go a long way to see the concentration of fish we have here. I cannot tell you what it’s like to see a shark in Utah and then pet it.”

Linda Nelson is proud of Bonneville Seabase and the worldwide publicity and renown it has gained over the years. “It’s prevented us from getting rich,” she says, “but it sure is a lot of fun.”  §