On the southern coast of Viti Levu lies the sweet town of Pacific Harbour, filled with life and vibrant people. It’s where I lived for about two months with up to 18 other people from all corners of the earth volunteering our time for the better of our planet. Not only did we learn about mangroves and conservation but we got to get up close and personal with the misconstrued predator of the ocean.
I realized my assumption that sharks were just incredibly beautiful and gentle creatures that the world has misunderstood for decades was true during my first shark dive with Beqa Adventure Divers. The conditions were perfect, the ocean was calm with a slight breeze from the west. The dive boat glided across the wide open ocean, spraying up the salty turquoise water. It was a quick boat ride out into Beqa Lagoon where the Shark Reef Marine Reserve is located. This has been a Marine Protected Area (MPA) since 2004 and the dive shop, Beqa Adventure Divers are the protectors. The Marine Reserve was Fiji’s first MPA that is dedicated to researching and protecting the local shark populations in that Lagoon. All of the surrounding villages and communities are supported by the amount of divers who visit and dive at this site, compensating for the fisherman who rely on that as an income to support their families.
As the boat pulled up to the site you could feel the power and intensity that was swimming below. As we got ready and finished getting our dive gear on we were reminded of our briefing from a few minutes before. In an orderly fashion we all exited the boat and waited for the signal to descend into the dark blue abyss. You could faintly see the shadows of all the sharks below, circling around almost waiting for the audience to join. The reef below was full of so much color, it was bright, vibrant and had an abundance of life. Fish of all different shapes, sizes and colors danced through our legs and arms coming in close to our masks to have a peak. Our descent was slow and steady, giving time to enjoy the fish swirling around us as our bubbles drifted to the surface. We settled gently on the ocean floor at 30 meters as 15-20 Bull sharks hovered in front of us. There were too many fish to count that were moving in and out as one, dashing from the sharks that entered the area. They swam around in circles slowly, only making quick movements for food. Laying on the bottom of the seafloor watching all these sharks with their mouths slightly agape, the razor sharp teeth protruding out just enough to remind you of their strong nature. Their body flowed so easily through the salty water and the force of their caudal fin propelled them so elegantly. In some occasions they would get so close to you, you could feel the force of it as they turned quickly away. And by laying so still watching with awe and wonder, that force from the fin could push you back from where you were laying. These bull sharks are big and bulky with a length from 7-11 feet. Their grey blueish coloring fades into a soft white underbelly and their snout is blunt and short. They are named one of the most aggressive sharks but you wouldn’t ever think that after laying there watching them in their pure form, swirling and dignified. After sitting there for awhile we made our ascent to 15 meters and if you looked close enough there were teeth that had fallen out of the sharks naturally onto the reef wall on the way up. You were pretty lucky if you got the chance to find one. We were met with blacktip, whitetip and grey reef sharks swimming inches from our faces. Getting hand fed by the DiveMasters right in front of our eyes. They would come in quickly, getting a piece of the dead fish and dart off just above our heads as they swallowed the chunk whole. You could see every detail of their bodies as they gracefully moved. The cuts and scrapes that gave them nicknames so you could tell them apart were prominent, and it was the same with all the bull sharks below. They all had such strong personalities just like us but they couldn’t care less that there were humans down there watching them so naturally. They couldn’t have seemed more relaxed. It was a surreal moment, being completely vulnerable and open with such intimidating creatures, it was truly indescribable. After we surfaced from the whirlwind of a dive I was left speechless. Still to this day, thinking back on those dives it’s hard for me to find the right words to express the feeling it gave me. It’s comparable to the happiest, most content and admirable feeling. A rush of all good emotions and an extreme feeling of appreciation.
You can read more in depth about my time volunteering in Fiji in my blog post, Gentle Jaws, where you can also learn about our effect on sharks and how important they are to our world as a whole. If you feel as passionate as I do about protecting our sharks, you can find out information about what you can do on my page WHAT CAN YOU DO.