By Maryanne Firth -The Tribune
It's the best place for divers — aside from the water, of course.
The 18th annual Shipwrecks Symposium hosted by Niagara Divers' Association drew a record crowd to Centennial Secondary School on Saturday.
More than 500 people attended the day-long event, which featured a wealth of impressive speakers well-known to the scuba-savvy community.
"It's a record day," said organizing committee member Ian Marshall, adding this is the first time in its lengthy history the event has cracked the 500-person mark.
He chalks it all up to the calibre of speakers that were on this year's program, including the likes of Jill Heinerth, a pioneering underwater explorer and award-winning filmmaker, Robert Osborne, an avid diver and senior field producer for the CTV documentary program W5, and Mike Fletcher, known for his work as dive co-ordinator for the series The Sea Hunters on National Geographic Channel, as well as for lending his expertise to other broadcasters such as History Television and Discovery Channel.
Presenters covered a variety of topics, including water conservation, underwater photography, and, of course, experiences with the wealth of shipwrecks found in the Great Lakes and beyond.
Along with the intriguing topics, Marshall believes the unusually warm spring temperatures helped encourage the increase in attendance.
The warm weather is a reminder the dive season is nearing, he said, and people begin to get anxious.
Some have even put their wetsuits on and taken a dip already thanks to Mother Nature's warmer-than-normal season opening.
People travel from as far as Newfoundland, Calgary, and even England to attend the symposium, which Marshall calls the "only one of its kind."
It's the only symposium that focuses mainly on shipwrecks, he said, and it does so because of its proximity to the Great Lakes — where the "best wreck diving in the world" can be found.
For many people, the event is an annual tradition that unofficially kicks off the approaching dive season. About 60% of the crowd, on average, returns years after year.
While there are always a number of recognizable names on the registration list each year, this time around there was an increased number of new faces in the crowd — a sight the association is always happy to see.