It is worth a fortune and just waiting to be picked
off rocks. All you have to do is survive the sharks, the
conditions and the crime syndicates. Nigel Benson previews
There's gold in them there shark-infested waters.
Abalone. A fancy name for good old Kiwi paua.
But this gold is so valuable people will risk their lives for
The Australian documentary Abalone Wars has barely
started when the water turns bloody.
Episode one is just starting to plumb the depths with
49-year-old abalone diver Peter Clarkson, when it is revealed
he was killed by two great white pointers while surfacing at
Coffin Bay, off South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, last year.
South Australia is home to more sharks per square km than
almost anywhere else in the world and most divers have lost
friends and family to great white sharks.
Clarkson had already pulled in a big haul, when he decided to
test another stretch of ocean.
It was the last dive he ever made.
Veteran diver Howard Robb was skippering the dive boat and
frantically tried to pull Clarkson aboard when two great
whites attacked as the diver surfaced.
Diver David Buckland, who lost his brother to a great white,
was so shocked by Clarkson's death he refused go near the
water for six weeks.
All of the abalone hunters have lost at least one family
member, friend or crewmate to great white sharks and accept
they could be next on the menu.
But sharks are not the only danger and divers also have to
contend with treacherous waves, currents and poachers, who
often work for foreign crime syndicates.
Dunedin-based Natural History New Zealand director-cameraman
Max Quinn spent four weeks filming the three-part series in
"Every crew has a different story to tell. But, all the
divers told us in very vivid details about some of their
encounters with great white sharks. It was pretty scary
stuff. It's a real concern to them and they don't let their
guard down at all. Peter was so well liked and respected in
the industry that it was a huge shock to them all when he was
He's still very missed there and it was nice to be able to
include footage of him in the first episode and dedicate it
to him," Quinn said.
"Some of them use shark cages and some don't. It seems to be
a personal thing. The shark cages slow them down a bit, but
if you are confronted by a great white then it gives you
somewhere to go."
The divers work in tandem, with the boatmen topside, while
the divers prise abalone from the rocks, with warm water
circulating through their wetsuits to protect against the
The most vulnerable time for divers is while descending or
returning to the surface, so the safest place to be is on the
Their lifeline is a thin yellow oxygen tube, which allows
them to remain underwater for up to eight hours at a time.
In Port Lincoln this season, there are 32 quotas, each
licensed to catch seven and a-half tonnes of green and black
lip abalone, worth more than $1 million.
Green lip abalone is targeted at depths of up to 40m and
black lip abalone in shallow waters.
It takes the divers about 70 or 80 days of diving to get
"The weather was very changeable. One bag of abalone is worth
about $2000 and they can do five bags in a day. It's possible
to make $20,000 on a good day," Quinn said.
"But it's quite a volatile region. It's southwest of
Adelaide. and similar to parts of southern New Zealand."
Abalone sells for between $30 per kg and $50 per kg on the
domestic market, but can cost more than $100 each at overseas
China is the biggest importer of Australian abalone, paying
about $150,000 per tonne.
"Abalone tastes just like New Zealand paua, only paua is
Paua is just the Maori name for abalone."
The series is narrated by Deadliest Catch host Mike
• Abalone Wars premieres tomorrow at 8pm on