FROM mermaids to underwater weddings Manly Sea Life Sanctuary has been working its aquatic magic for more than half a century.
Now the Sydney aquarium (which opened as Marineland in 1963) is set to close its doors forever on January 28, with former employees paying tribute to the iconic Manly attraction.
Bundaberg marine biologist Sue Michelle Sargent, 52, was a 'mermaid' at the aquarium in the early 90s. The mermaids were female divers who swam with sharks, rays and more.
For Sue, her stint working with seals, as an aquarist and diving into the tank as a 'mermaid' was her "big break" into the world of marine biology.
"My time at Manly was an important part of my life and a significant crossroads in my career," she said, adding that working there was like working with family.
"It's so sad to hear that Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is closing down after all these years, but it has a rich history to remember."
Sunshine Coast photographer Kathy Hill recalls working with the seals, doing a lot of the feeding dives in the oceanarium and early morning visits to the fish market to collect fish for the seals when she worked at the aquarium in the early to mid 80s.
"The first time I dived I was rather nervous, but it was the huge grouper fish that actually worried me more than the sharks until I found out that he was just after a chin scratch," said Sue who went on to become a dive instructor and now runs her own photography business while indulging her love of the ocean working for Queensland Fisheries as a research assistant contractor.
She said her time at Manly "working with four fabulous fur seals and diving daily" set her on the path to a long and happy marine-based career.
Her fondest memories are of the four fur seals, Suzie, Boscar, Peanut and Salty.
"They each had their own personalities; smart, comical and a bit sassy. They knew our uniforms and could spot us walking through the crowds that gathered just before show times," she said.
Another Sunshine Coast woman, Melinda Bacon, remembers working as an educator and seal trainer between 1993 and 1996. "I loved my time as a diver. It was a time I felt truly alive," she said. "I lived to be in the water - it was the place where I was equal."
Since opening on November 7, 1963 the North Shore attraction has welcomed hundreds of thousands of families through its doors, helped Australian youth start their careers, and has even hosted an underwater wedding.
It has also celebrated several world-firsts, including being the first to rescue, rehabilitate and release a great white shark and breed grey nurse sharks on-site - and countless rescues of turtles, stingrays and more recently, the rescue and return of 'Fluffy' who was swept up onto Manly shores.
The oceanarium has held many recruitment rounds for divers over the decades, and had a strong presence of female divers and aquarists, although bikinis were later replaced with wetsuits.
- Marineland Sydney officially opened in November 1963 and was the largest oceanarium in the southern hemisphere and third largest in the world.
- One of Australia's first underwater weddings was held at there in March 1971.
- In 1988, after a $12million revamp, the attraction opened as Underwater World - home to the biggest underwater tunnel in the world.
- In January 2000 the attraction is renamed Manly Oceanworld after being bought by Sydney Aquarium.
- In June 2012 it gets another new name - this time Manly Sea Life Sanctuary and becomes a leader in marine life rescue and rehabilitation.
- It has made 82 rescues, including 30 turtles, 17 rays and 15 sharks.
- It has also bred 13 little penguins through its breeding program.
- Manly Sea Life Sanctuary makes headlines in September 2017 following the rescue and release of Fluffy - an injured juvenile great white shark found beached on Manly shores.
- January 28, 2018 - The Manly Sea Life Sanctuary closes its doors for the last time.
Manly Sea Life Sanctuary will close to the public on Sunday, January 28. For ticket details go to manlysealifesanctuary.com.au. Share your memories at www.facebook.com/theseniornewspaper