Granite Island underwater observatory among plans for marine tourism venture

The underwater observatory, which is proposed to be located off Granite Island.
The underwater observatory, which is proposed to be located off Granite Island.

An underwater observatory, and opportunities to swim with marine life and hand feed fish are new initiatives on the table for Granite Island.

The state government, which manages the island, will assess a proposal that could result in a new tourist venture based from Granite Island.

Developers propose a marine tourism venture in the waters off Granite Island and a presentation about the plan was made at the City of Victor Harbor council meeting on Monday, April 27.

The presentation included a two-minute video promoting the proposal.

The project has been put forward by Oceanic Victor Pty Ltd directors Tony Santic and Michael Dyer and the company’s adviser Emma Forster.

Ms Forster and Mr Dyer represented the company at council on Monday night.

“It is only early days, but we want to make sure we get it right and do it professionally,” Mr Dyer said.

He said they approached the office of the state co-ordinator-general about the project, which is being considered in accordance with the government’s guidelines for assessing unsolicited proposals.

“It is government property so we need to go through the process,” Mr Dyer said.

“The state cabinet saw the economic benefit and have allowed us to now begin to negotiate with the Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources (DEWNR) regarding the lease.

“The lease has to be commercially viable for us to take this on.”

While in Victor Harbor, Ms Forster and Mr Dyer organised meetings with the community stakeholders in Victor Harbor, in addition to the council presentation.

They consulted with the Friends of Granite Island, the penguin centre and its manager Dorothy Longden, Victor Harbor and Districts Business Association and the community in general.

Mr Dyer said the feedback has all been very positive.

“It is imperative the community is on board and supportive,” he said.

City of Victor Harbor CEO Graeme Maxwell said council had been proactive and involved in meetings with government ministers Ian Hunter, Geoff Brock and John Rau.

“Granite Island is important to Victor Harbor, the Fleurieu community and SA tourism and once we were aware of the non-renewal of the lease by the Gunn Group, we knew the situation had to be rectified,” Mr Maxwell said.

The Gunn Group leased the kiosk/restaurant and penguin centre for the past 10 years.

The penguin centre has been running on a monthly lease since November, with the kiosk closing at the end of January.

“While it is early days, there is an air of confidence that the proposal will proceed if community acceptance and government will is present,” Mr Maxwell said.

“The proponents are certainly enthusiastic.”

Ms Forster said Oceanic Victor has a masterplan for the Granite Island precinct and invigorating the island will incorporate the penguin centre and the kiosk.

“The project will promote education, tourism and the cultural significance of the area,” Ms Forster said.

“The plan is to make Granite Island the premier marine discovery centre in South Australia.

“The education component of this project is unlimited.

“The best classroom is an outdoor classroom and we are looking at this for the long term.”

Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter said the proposal, which needs to pass through all relevant approvals, is an opportunity to reinvigorate Granite Island.

“We’re very keen to explore every opportunity to generate tourism ventures that make the most of our clean, green image,” Mr Hunter said.

“This proposal has the potential to promote Granite Island and the Fleurieu region and develop an exciting visitor experience that works hand-in-hand with the region’s marine parks.

“The public can rest assured it will be rigorously assessed against all relevant legislation and the guidelines for dealing with unsolicited proposals before any decision is made.

“This proposal has already passed through the first stage of the process, involving a preliminary assessment of whether it delivers good outcomes for the community.

“Now, the project’s proponent will need to provide a comprehensive business case to be assessed through the relevant government agencies.

“If the proposal is accepted, the government will then begin contract negotiations with the proponent.”

Mr Hunter said the community would be given the opportunity to have their say on various aspects of the project, with details to be announced in the near future.

Director of Oceanic Victor Mike Dyer and adviser Emma Forster met with key stakeholders, including the City of Victor Harbor, in gaining support for their proposal to rejuvenate Granite Island.

Director of Oceanic Victor Mike Dyer and adviser Emma Forster met with key stakeholders, including the City of Victor Harbor, in gaining support for their proposal to rejuvenate Granite Island.

The directors of Oceanic Victor, Mike Dyer and Tony Santic, have worked together for 22 years.

Mr Santic is famous as the owner of three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva, but he has also been a pioneer in tuna fishing in Port Lincoln and Croatia.

Mr Dyer has been involved in the marine and fishing industry for 34 years.

Oceanic Victor was formed for this proposal according to Mr Dyer.

“It is a new concept for us to come to Victor Harbor and we have made a significant upgrade on the underwater observatory that was off Granite Island for seven years,” he said,

“It is a great opportunity for us to expand out of Port Lincoln and Victor Harbor is the ideal location with its close proximity to Adelaide.

“It is the major reason we are proposing to come to Victor Harbor, as there are so many schools and universities within an hour’s drive.”

Oceanic Victor adviser Emma Forster has links to the Fleurieu Peninsula. Emma went to school at Rapid Bay primary and Yankalilla area schools and in 1989, her father Ron Forster built the underwater observatory which has been used in Port Lincoln and in waters off Granite Island from 1997 to 2004.

On Friday, May 22, Oceanic Victor will hold an information day in Ocean Street, Victor Harbor from 9am and Ms Forster encourages people to write to Oceanic Victor with their views on the proposal.

“We would like to know what people are thinking and add their ideas and thoughts on Granite Island,” she said.

“We would enjoy letters of support, as any support would add weight to our proposal.”

The group can be contacted via info@oceanicvictor.com

The underwater observatory which was located off Granite Island from 1997 to 2004.

The underwater observatory which was located off Granite Island from 1997 to 2004.

 An underwater observatory is nothing new to Granite Island, as the lessee of the island from 1997 to 2004, Stephen Edwards, purchased the observatory built by Ron Forster and had it operational for students and visitors for seven years in the waters off Granite Island.

It was called Below Decks Oceanarium.

Mr Edwards sold it back to Mr Forster at the completion of his seven year lease.

“It would be fantastic to have it back there [at Granite Island],” Mr Edwards said.

“It was well received when I had it and now they have spent a lot more money on it and these improvements will make it a wonderful attraction.

“The platform will be better and it is something Granite Island needs.”