This is about the Ultimate Dive, an exhilarating experience that many Emiratis and other nationalities are signing up for at Atlantis, the Palm.
(This is a report written for our magazine about Dubai Atlantis)
It’s a dive that washes off Dhs2,500 from your pocket in an hour, but you ultimately emerge from a massive tank containing 65,000 species of sharks, rays and fish with a thunderous “Wowww.”
“Just a few months ago when we launched the programme, we had reserved this unique dive only for our guests, but repeated requests from others forced a change of mind,” says Steve Kaiser, Vice-President, Marine Science and Engineering at the hotel.In one instance, a person who had booked in another prominent Dubai hotel had apparently sought permission to take part. “Though he was ready to pay, we could not allow him as he was not our guest,” stated Steve. The enthusiast additionally booked a room in the Atlantis merely to participate in the Ultimate Dive.
Steve oversees the design and development of the new water attractions at the resort. He is responsible for the entire eco-system of the Ambassador Lagoon, the 11 million litre marine habitat with 65,000 marine animals and The Lost Chambers, a mystical labyrinth of Atlantean ruins with numerous exotic fish and aquatic exhibits.
Opened in 2008, Atlantis utilises the 46 hectares site with 17 hectares of water park amusement, further marine and entertainment attractions.
Every day brings new challenges for Steve’s team and along with some touching moments.
Steve’s team burst in joy this month when a String Ray gave birth to four little ones. Surprisingly, one is a special baby with a slight deformity, though, thankfully, she behaves as normally as the other three.
The String Ray was growing bigger and fatter, and the department was not sure whether she was pregnant or growing “just fat.” The honeymoon had been captured on video.
The Ultimate Dive package includes two half-hour exclusive plunges in the largest open air marine habitat exhibit in the world. For every person taking the plunge, there are two divers. The minimum age is 10 and the participants need a diving certificate.The first is sort of a familiarisation leap, where one can submerge in the depths of the lagoon, explore the ancient ruins and species of the Arabian Gulf.
Refreshments and a full Arabic meze are then offered along with a briefing for the second dive.
It is during the second dive that one can experience the thrill of feeding the rays by hand. There are a maximum of four divers per session.
“The dive into the 11.5-million litre lagoon where one is guaranteed to glide alongside sharks, rays, wrasse, guitarfish and so much more, is a seven-star experience,” asserts Steve.
The fish are mostly species from the Gulf waters. But it is not that all the fish are a symbol of perfect unity. They do fight among themselves at times and get injured. The wounded and sick species are taken care of in a separate ward equipped with treatment facilities.
Steve’s colleague, Robert Pennett, says most participants are nervous initially. “But then they start enjoying. We have one guy coming from Abu Dhabi who visits every three, four months. An Emirati participant has visited five times. We like his enthusiasm,” he says. “Some of the species here cannot be seen in any other part of the world. We have experts exclaiming ‘what’s that?’ It is amazing. It is a huge pride for the UAE,” affirms Steve.
They call him ‘Fish Man’
His name is Steve Kaiser, but his colleagues and friends call him “Fish Man.” He does not mind it.
Extending his wet hands, Steve, Vice-President, Marine Science and Engineering at Atlantis, The Palm, says: “I fished with my dad when I was young. I had a fishing boat. I had opportunities in other fields, but stayed here. I love fish. So call me ‘fish guy’ and I am OK with that.”
Sporting a brown shirt dotted with graphics of sharks, the Hawaii-born says he does not often wear suits.
“Do you always wear such a shirt with fish designs?” I asked eagerly.
“Of course,” he shoots off. “I have 50 to 60 such shirts.”
Wherever he visits, Steve picks up shirts with fish designs. “Even in Dubai, I spot such shirts and pick them up instantly. It is my luck. I walk into a store and I find them.”
Once he had to wear a suit and his friends wondered how he had appeared without the fish. He smiled and flashed his tie. It had fish design on it.
Steve’s passion for the floating species is visible as his eyes widen with joy at the very mention of the word “fish.”
“The fish are my family. Ours is a very large aquarium. I’m more concerned with the health and welfare of my animals than anything else. I consider the 65,000 fish as my family,” reveals Steve.
At the end of day, he has to maintain all the equipment, feed animals and nurture them, which is a huge responsibility.
Prior to joining the Atlantis team, Kaiser oversaw the development of the new fish and marine attractions at the $1 billion Phase III expansion of Atlantis, Paradise Island in The Bahamas which opened in March 2007.
He was instrumental in the design of The Dig, an imaginative journey into ancient Atlantis; the Ruins lagoon, filled with Atlantis artefacts and home to over 20,000 deep reef fish; a replica of a Mayan Temple with five thrilling waterslides that propel riders through acrylic tunnels submerged in shark lagoons; as well as other water slides, swimming pools and lagoons.
Whilst in Hawaii, he was the first to successfully display a large number of shark species never exhibited before, as well as starting a captive breeding and “head starting” programme for green sea turtles.