Down to dive

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Imagine being underwater with a vibrant array of sea creatures like fish and turtles when suddenly, a massive, hammerhead shark swim right towards you.

Though few attacks have been recorded, the bigger of these shark species are fierce in looks and speed and many people would swim the other way.

However, on a trip to Heron Island in 2020 Hervey Bay’s Matthew Hammond – although feeling intimidated – wasn’t about to give up the chance to snap a quick photo.

You see, the 17-year-old is a passionate underwater wildlife photographer who relishes in swimming with the oceans diverse range of wildlife to get that perfect shot.

He’s madly in love with his hobby!

“We were snorkelling the channel when out of the blue a great hammerhead shark turns up,” Matt said.

“Quite large, we estimated it to be about 4m in length, it swims right up to me and in a complete panic I managed to get a shot of its face just in time before it swims off back into its oceanic habitat.”

This is one of the many memorable moments he has experienced underwater since finding his passion as a 14-year-old on a trip to the Fiji Islands.

Mum, Alison, is a marine biologist and her work has seen Matthew, his dad Jon and sister Li-Wen travel to and dive at iconic locations like Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island, Cairns, and most recently Alaska.

His favourite photo to date is of a green sea turtle coming up for air in a lagoon at Lady Elliot taken with his Sony a6400 camera.

“I’ve always loved snorkelling and free-diving, so to introduce photography into this was a challenge and new experience I found quite emotionally rewarding,” Matthew said.

“Capturing these moments from all these different trips helps me remember my personal highlights.
“My mum, dad and sister all have experimented with the hobby before, owning their own cameras, but my mum in particular is the one I share this hobby with most.

“She’s a marine biologist so she picked this hobby up through that and introduced me to underwater photography.”

Matthew’s favourite dive spots around Hervey Bay include Woody Island, Wathumba at K’gari (Fraser Island), offshore at Point Vernon and Toogoom, where he often practices his free diving and breath hold training.

This is a technique utilised in sport and exercise science to increase athletes’ tolerance for oxygen deprivation, which is important when you’re diving with only a mask and flippers.

Every time you slip into the water and hold your breath you are a free diver, exploring the world of water from the shallows to the depths of the ocean.

Once he got the hang of it, Matthew said he just loved the freedom freediving offered.

“I very much enjoy free diving as this how I take all my photos.

“I love the freedom and mobility it offers me in the water.

“It was really a practice makes perfect kind of thing too … I would just always picture what kind of shot I was going for before I dive down, and the longer I could hold my breath for, the more chance I had of getting a shot that could work.

“I didn’t really know what to expect (at first), all I knew was that mum had gotten some really cool photos underwater and I was hoping I could do the same.

“I really enjoy nature photography on land as well, but nothing beats the freedom that comes with being in that water; it’s a lot better for angles.

“I love the adrenaline rush I get whenever I find a new species I haven’t photographed before.”

With such a great love of the ocean and all creatures great and small that call the habitat their home, Matthew is also very environmentally conscious.

“My experiences travelling have often been ocean oriented, this has given me a great appreciation for the beautiful yet fragile nature of the ocean’s marine ecosystems.

“I very much care for the health of marine environments.

“This passion of mine has culminated over the years due to several factors: my experiences snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, my mum sharing what she does in her studies and what I have learnt at school in marine science.

“What I do to help is a try my best to live a sustainable lifestyle and help my mum in her animal rescues at Turtles In Trouble from time to time.”

Matthew will graduate Year 12 at St James Lutheran College this year and plans to put university on hold to pursue his passion, travel, and work.

“After I graduate, I plan on taking a gap year and trying to find some work on an island and hopefully gaining some practical experience driving boats or assisting in snorkel tours.

“And after that I’d like to go into high school teaching where, ideally, I would teach marine science and aquatic practices.

“If I was ever provided with an opportunity to do so, I’d love to turn (my hobby) into a job.”

You can view all of Matthew’s exquisite underwater photography on Instagram under matthammond_uwphotography.