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Travel & Tourism
Scuba diving in Utah is already tough enough, but one local couple has made it possible for divers to get a real ocean experience without leaving the state.
Linda Nelson and her husband, George Sanders, have been teaching people how to scuba dive since the mid-1970s. In 1979 the couple opened a dive shop, Neptune Divers, in Salt Lake City to further their training abilities. Just a few years after opening their dive shop, Nelson and Sanders realized it wasn’t easy for students to practice diving in an inland state. The only lake nearby that was warm enough was in a remote area just south of Wendover called Blue Lake.
“We had a hard time getting to open water clear out in Wendover in the winter time because that’s the only area where there were warm springs,” Nelson said. “But the lake has major bug problems, sometimes you’re walking in deep mud or sometimes it’s too crowded. In 1983 the flood year in Salt Lake happened and you couldn’t get on the freeway and go west anyway, so we decided it would be nice to have our own place to dive that was closer to Salt Lake.”
Nelson said the goal was to find warm springs within 100 miles of Salt Lake to set up a year-round diving area. By looking at a geothermal map, they found what is now the Bonneville Seabase in Tooele County, near Grantsville.
“We found it on the map and finally figured out where it was by flying overhead,” Nelson said. “When we got here it was a garbage dump, an unofficial place to get rid of stuff. Eight dump trucks full of stuff cleaned it up.”
Nelson said the Bonneville Seabase has grown to be a lot more popular than they ever envisioned, because it was initially designed just for Neptune Divers’ scuba diving students. People don’t only visit the seabase to practice scuba diving, they also come for snorkeling, fish pedicures and fish feedings.
“We built [Bonneville Seabase] so students at Neptune would have a safe and easy place to go,” Nelson said. “For the purpose of fun we put tropical fish in the water. The warm springs are salt water, so we’re able to put ocean fish in, which gives people an ocean experience. We try to make it real so people who are divers can be better divers.”
Fish will nibble lettuce out of people’s hands, and a fish feeding each morning allows divers and snorkelers to see what types of fish are in the water before they get in. People can also have a spa experience at the seabase.
“One of the fun things we have is a fish pedicure,” Nelson said. “You can come out and watch the fish feed in the morning and get a pedicure. The little mollies come up and nibble. Our fish are more gentle and do a better job than the fish pedicures they advertise in Asia.”
Although Nelson said there’s not anything they can do to control the temperature of the water, it stays fairly warm throughout the year. During the summer months, the temperature typically sits between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the winter months it can dip down into the 60s.
Dozens of varieties of ocean fish can be seen in the water at the Bonneville Seabase, including nurse sharks, angel fish, groupers, pork fish, monos and butterfly fish.
“The oldest fish we have is a nurse shark,” Nelson said. “He’s at least 20 years old. We got him when was one-and-a-half feet long, and he’s maybe nine-and-a-half feet long now. We’ve rescued quite a few fish, gotten them from pet stores and gotten them from aquariums.”
The seabase has three diving bays. White Rocks Bay is the smallest and shallowest of the bays and is covered during winter months to provide a warm entry and exit point. Habitat Bay is the seabase’s largest area and includes platforms for training, a boat wreck and a long channel for compass training. The Abyss is the warmest and deepest bay, which can reach a depth of up to 62 feet depending on water levels. It also has platforms for safety stops and a platform at 60 feet.
“The water goes up and down like an ocean would,” Nelson said. “The shallowest area is 12 feet deep and it goes down from there.”
Nelson said she and her husband are continuously working to make the water at the seabase more clear for divers, but because of their age—Nelson is 68 and Sanders is 74—they are starting to slow down a bit.
“There are six of us who run the place,” Nelson said. “At the moment we’re doing well, but down the road it’ll be interesting. Our employees all have some small ownership in the business.”
The seabase accommodates divers from around the world as well as those looking to get certified locally.
“It’s been an awesome thing for us,” Nelson said. “It’ll prevent us from ever being rich, but we’ve met some of the most interesting people and we’ve loved being here.”
The Bonneville Seabase is open daily during July and August. During the rest of the year it’s open Thursday through Sunday or by appointment. For business hours and more information, visit www.seabase.net.