Full Name: PT Hirschfield
Age: Sorry, could you please repeat the question?
Live In: Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne, Australia
Working For: Pink Tank Scuba
Diver Qualifications: Master Diver
When, where and why did you start diving?
I did my first trial dive on the Great Barrier Reef during a vacation on Magnetic Island in Queensland, Australia. In my very limited frame of reference at the time, the only reason people went to tropical islands was to scuba dive. So I booked a Discover Scuba session during the three hour boat ride out to Kelso Reef. I didn’t dive again until 10 years later in 2010 during a vacation to Hideaway Island in Vanuatu where my husband and I did our Open Water certifications.
I didn’t dive again until 10 years later in 2010 during a vacation to Hideaway Island in Vanuatu where my husband and I did our Open Water certifications. The only reason there was a 10 year break between my first and second dive was that no-one told me you could dive in Melbourne (which is actually better than much of the tropical diving I have done since!) Shortly after we returned from Vanuatu, I was diagnosed for the first time with endometrial cancer that knocked me out of the water for 10 months. The second time I was diagnosed, I was out of the water for 7 months. My passion for diving was my primary motivation to get myself back on my feet. When I was diagnosed as having a second ‘terminal’ recurrence in 2014, I undertook palliative radiation to shrink the largest ‘grapefruit’ sized tumour down to golfball size and was advised by my oncologists to give up work and live my dreams. Now I’m diving at least three times a week to make up for all the lost years and months of time! Plus I’ve been told that time spent underwater isn’t held against the time you have left to live on land, so I typically dive for up to 4 hours per 12-litre tank. To date, I’ve done around 650 dives and I’m planning an epic Mermaid Party for when I hit 1000. I’m bound to get there due to my acute case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Diving).
What made you choose to become a dive professional?
Half way through my Dive Master course a few years back, I realised that I was much happier just diving and taking photos and videos which I share on my Pink Tank Scuba blog. My greatest passion in life is taking marine life portraits, but I am also involved in ocean advocacy. Currently, I am leading a campaign against the killing of rays in my local waters of Port Phillip Bay (Melbourne). After 160 days in or at hospital in 2013, I used to call myself a Professional Patient, but no-one ever paid me. Now that I am pretty much a full-time underwater photographer and videographer, I get paid about the same but every dive is its own reward.
Which is your favourite dive site and why?
In the tropics, I’m a massive fan of Anilao in the Philippines. There are so many sites teeming with marine life and each one of them is so unique topographically that I can distinctly remember the names and defining traits of over 30 sites there, most of which I have only ever dived once. For temperate water, I find diving beneath my local piers along the Mornington Peninsula to be unbeatable. They are extremely accessible and are outstanding in terms of marine life diversity.
What has been the most memorable dive of your life and why?
A few dives come to mind where extreme conditions involving ripping currents and strong surge taught me some valuable lessons. But one of my favourite dives commenced as I was photographing two seahorses beneath a pier (a few months after I had been diagnosed with terminal cancer), when my buddy Ruth saw a giant cuttlefish literally approach me from behind and tap me on the shoulder. I was oblivious and non-responsive, so the cuttle swam around a nearby pylon and positioned itself to make direct eye contact with me, summoning me to join it for an unexpected journey. We travelled together side by side for over ten minutes. I filmed and photographed the animal as it led me out to some distant seagrass. After mating, old cuttles begin to physically disintegrate, often finding another cuttle in similar condition to stay close to while they face the end of their lives together. This cuttle had chosen me and I was utterly conflicted: to return with my buddy who had followed us out, or to stay with the cuttle as it had gently requested of me? I waved goodby to Ruth and watched her swim into the distance before realising it was not my time to die. I told the cuttle I was sorry I could not stay and reluctantly swam back to shore. The video, photos and full account of this story are on my blog here.
If you would come back as a marine life form in your next life, what would that be?
As an outwardly focused introvert, I love my privacy. So I think I would come back as a cryptic critter – probably one of the endlessly fascinating and elusive tasseled anglerfish I love searching amongst the pylons of my favourite pier. Alternatively, I might come back as the ultimate critter on my Bucket List: a Blanket Octopus. That might be my only chance to see one. I would gaze constantly into a mirror and wonder how I ever came to be so exquisitely beautiful.
Who is your dream dive buddy?
My dream buddy is my friend Mark Jones who I initially connected with over our mutual interest in underwater photography. We’ve dived together most weekends (health and life permitting) since we met seven years ago. Not only did he carry my gear for me into the water many times when I wasn’t well or strong enough to carry it myself, but he has been an amazing practical support and encouragement to me and all my family during my many health challenges. He’s a passionate advocate for ocean and animal welfare causes and he’s a fantastic underwater film maker.
What dive locations are on your dream “bucket list” and why?
My Bucket List is probably more full of critters than destinations. I’ve been grateful to already cross off great whites, tiger sharks and manta rays off my list. Next I would love to go anywhere that I could see whale sharks or basking sharks (and did I mention Blanket Octopus? 😉 )
What is on your bedside table right now?
A bedside lamp, an air fill card, and the business card of the Director of Education and Enforcement of Fisheries Victoria who I am in contact with as we negotiate better outcomes for the beautiful smooth rays and fiddler rays of Port Phillip Bay.
What is your favourite piece of diving equipment and why?
Aside from my underwater camera which is the primary reason I dive (literally, if the camera battery goes flat, the dive is over), I really love my Hollis Dry Hood – absolutely essential for cold water diving! I also love my Lotus i3 BCD with pretty pink trimmings. Basically, aside from my dry hood, any piece of dive gear that is pink is automatically my favourite.
If you were to launch a campaign to raise awareness on a specific issue that affects divers, the oceans or marine life, what issue would you target and why?
In February 2017, I exited from yet another dive, vowing that I could not bear to see another dead fiddler ray thrown back like rubbish beneath the fishing end of my local piers without stepping up and doing something about it. Fast forward a few months and we’ve had major media coverage for this cause, over 700 people joining the Project Banjo action group and over 26,000 signatures on our petition. We’ve had significant in person meetings with regulatory and peak bodies with the power to introduce reforms, leading to their acknowledgement that these are serious problems that need to be addressed and rectified as a matter of priority. Many people within the diving, fishing, local and tourist communities are banding together to say ‘Enough is Enough‘.
Basically, I would like to make it my personal mission to make rays – which have been much maligned over the past decade – more universally loved, appreciated and revered than sloths. Anyone who is keen to join our pro-ray movement and help us to #raysawareness can join our growing community here.
Where will you be in 10 years and what will you be doing?
That really depends on whether you believe me or my oncology team (according to whom I’m already on borrowed time). If I’m still alive and loving life in a decade as I fully intend to be, I’ll be underwater taking photos and videos of whatever amazing critters come my way. And during my surface intervals, I’ll be finding ways to help humans realise that the ocean is not ‘another world’ as many seem to think, but it’s their world from a different and infinitely wondrous perspective. It’s a world that we all must become more proactive custodians of, before everything we ignorantly or complacently take for granted today is gone forever.
Where will the ocean be in 10 years? I guess that depends on the sum total of the decisions that every individual, organisation and country choose to make now. I believe I’ll still be around and I hope with all my heart that there will still be a vibrant ocean full of life to explore. The alternatives are unthinkable.