Diving with Bull Sharks

“Envious to extremes!” “Eek! You are crazy, I will have nightmares for weeks thanks for this”, “You are one lucky scuba-girl!”, “Have you got all your limbs still intact?”

I got a great variety of comments from friends to my recently published video where I went diving with over 30 bull sharks in Fiji. No cage, mind you. It was a totally insane experience, and one very difficult to describe with words. Even the video doesn’t show the awesomeness of the dive but gives a glimpse into the world I just dived into. A world where I can mix and mingle with bull sharks in their own environment.

The reactions to my video were clearly divided by divers / non-divers; divers being green of envy and ready to book their flights to try it out themselves and non-divers thinking I’m insane at best and never wanting to set their foot into an ocean ever again. Sharks divide people, clearly. For some they are fearful, horrid predators, to others amazing, beautiful and gracious creatures that we get to observe underwater, when lucky enough.

I had read about this shark dive opportunity online so I had a faint idea of what to expect, but still the dive with so many bull sharks around me was even better than I could ever have imagined. You have to experience it to get that feeling, be in midst of 30 huge bull sharks to appreciate their awesomeness. We did 2 dives there, and saw probably a hundred different reef, black tip and white tip sharks as well, but the bull sharks were the stars of the day. Honestly, I felt no fear at any time, just enormous gratitude for the experience and breath-taking amazement.

The bull shark dive was organized by Beqa Adventure Divers (the acronym BAD might be cool but not descriptive) in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. When it comes to diving with the sharks, they know what they are doing.

The shark diving is organized in Shark Reef Marine Reserve, established in 2004, as a protected sanctuary for the sharks and to preserve the ecosystem where they live. They collaborate with the villages in the area,traditional “owners” of the reef, who have relinquished their respective fishing rights to the Shark Reef and get compensation from divers instead.

My major concern once first learning about this opportunity, was the fact that the sharks are being fed and hence guaranteed to be seen in such huge numbers. I’ve typically been wary about practices of feeding wild animals for enhanced sighting of them, but I observed or felt no harm being done to these amazing animals by them being fed. They are not caught, harmed by boat engines, touched by people or disturbed in any ways I could imagine even potentially harmful. Instead, it felt these guys truly cared for protection of the animals, of the reef ecosystem – and the villages and local communities who make their living out of the ocean (and us, their clients). They have extensive research material, blog posts and information on their website and collaborate with the government of Fiji.

I can’t express with words how amazing, eye-opening and wonderful this experience was, and I wouldn’t say that if I had any doubts about the activity being safe – both for the sharks and for us the divers. There are many ways to protect our oceans, reefs and their inhabitants – shark diving being an option when organized with benefits of all in mind.

I would like to encourage people to learn more about the oceans, about sharks and what their preservation means for us all. Set your foot in the ocean, don’t be afraid. I dived among 30 bull sharks and yes, still got all my limbs intact. And several cool videos and memories to last a lifetime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shark Encounters

I saved a shark.

It sounds pretty cool, and was purely amazing. I love sharks, small and large, as they are such gracious, thrilling creatures. And one of them is swimming free in the ocean thanks to me. Or last I hope so, after I cut it out of fishing nets where it had been entangled completely on a  side of a wreck. Poor thing was rather disoriented after the release, and luckily there were other divers near by shooing it out away from the threatening ghost nets.

This baby-shark rescue operation is but a drop in the ocean, and unfortunately mostly we hear about the more negative stories. Or more entertaining ones. This week trending has been the video from Mexico where a great white gets into the cage with a diver, after the bait apparently had been located too close to the door and somehow the incident could happen. Shark got out alive of the cage, luckily, though seemingly with some physical damage. The diver, well he was lucky to survive the encounter as well. The operators (heard yelling “is someone inside”) hopefully won’t – business-wise. Such reckless operations, no sense of responsibility. Not towards their customers, nor towards the animals.

Many people are afraid of sharks but I’m afraid for them. Sharks get killed for their fins, chased out of their natural habitat, and suffer from the loss of biodiversity, warming waters and reduced nutrition. It’s all our fault.

I dream of seeing the great white, but not on its own cost. Not on the risk of it getting harmed.

I look forward to many more encounters with sharks, in conditions where both of us are free. Not me being locked up in a cage, nor with the shark being entangled in fishing nets. And most certainly not with the fin on my plate.

Live and let live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Dive?

Why am I doing this? For a passing second, I caught myself wondering the purpose of going diving, as I was holding on to the line in a rough sea with extremely strong surface currents, ready to assist my group of divers in descending down to the day’s dive site. The current pushing me up and down, waves smashing against my face, I needed to make sure my divers caught the line when jumping in, so they won’t get pulled  out to the sea. After the group was on their way down, I had to quickly follow and make sure they were doing fine and pulling themselves down on the line.

Down at 18 meters, we reached the destination, a beautiful wreck sunk some 40 years back.

As divers know, even when the current is hellish on the way up and down, typically the wrecks give some cover, protecting from the worst and allowing for interesting dives along it’s sheltered walls and with penetrations. Strong currents are not uncommon on these old wrecks and despite the struggle on getting to the site, I do love the wreck dives. They combine history, culture, stories and aquatic life like nothing else. Still, there have been moments when I hesitate the sense of it all, especially now that I was responsible for 5 other lives, them counting on my guidance to bring them safely back to the boat and in between experiencing something amazing.

I felt relieved when we were all safe and sound back on the boat. The conditions had been rough and the divers’ skills and calmness tested. They all passed and I was very proud of them, for smiling out of happiness of having seen such a cool wreck (and probably out of relief a bit too for having managed the dive in the rough conditions).

Safety comes first in diving but it’s not always easy to define the level for it. What’s ever safe?

We didn’t take any unnecessary risks on those 2 dives to the wreck. Every diver was well briefed on the descending and ascending conditions and techniques, and how best to take care of themselves. I think, that somehow diving in rougher-than-usual conditions is in a way even safer than some of the “easier dives”, as people are more aware of the risks, mentally and physically prepared and cautious of the conditions. They are mindful and completely focused.

Why do we dive in rough conditions? Of course the dive site itself is often motivation enough – a beautiful, interesting wreck with plenty of marine life inhabiting it, in this case. But it’s not just about what you can see. Diving is a lifestyle. Some might seek for adventures, others are interested in biology. Breathing underwater, feeling weightless, experiencing another world give sensations unlike anything else. Diving, like other extreme sports I presume, also teaches and trains on over-coming one’s fears.

Calm, easy dives are enjoyable and relaxing. But diving in rougher conditions builds character. It boosts self-esteem, gives confidence on own capacities and limits and builds trust on ourselves. It can be useful to test one’s level of alertness and reactions to uncomfortable situations, strengthening skills potentially useful in an emergency situation. To remain calm, stay focused and be alert.

I found myself fully focused, calm and ready to react. Being decisive and aware of the surroundings. Combination of yoga and self-defense, one might say, with an added sense of responsibility for protecting and assisting others.

Yes, diving is fun. No, it’s not meant for everybody. But for those who are ready for the opportunities it opens, the depths of the ocean are the only limits. I will return to my wreck next weekend, continue developing my own skills, practice my ability to lend a helping hand or a fin where needed, and play my part in making divers enjoy their weekend on the boat and out in the sea. Above and under. To appreciate life in all its forms.

Becoming a Dive Master

I started diving 6 years ago when I moved to Thailand. It was a big step for me, actually a mindbogglingly huge one. Or have you heard of divers who have a fear of putting their head underwater?

My underwater endeavor did start some years earlier on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where I learned to snorkel – and put my face underwater, if not yet the full head. Then I trusted myself to do a test dive, with first minutes spent in 2 meters, calming my mind and breath, acknowledging the fact that I was able to breathe underwater. It was frightening but at the same just extremely exhilarating. Cool.

Still I remember very vividly my Open Water course’s pool session. I was excited and nervous. Happy but worried I might freak out completely. Fortunately, I had about the best instructor one could ask for – calm, nice, fun, absolutely competent and assuring. Handsome too but that’s much less relevant (he had a girlfriend). With his guidance and calm presence, I felt empowered. I was at complete ease and mastered all the skills without any trouble or hesitation.

I completed my OW training with thrill and excitement and continued almost directly to the Advanced level, which I always recommend for others to do as well because it teaches and supports you the most when done at a novice level. A year later, after plenty of fun fun dives in different sites and conditions, I completed a Rescue Diver course. It’s a bit of cliche in the dive industry but just so very true – the Rescue Diver course is fantastic and it’s a game changer. It changes the way you dive, it changes the way you look at diving and your surroundings. It gives light to all the risks while also teaching you the relevant skills and understanding for recognizing and attending to potential crisis / accident scenarios. The course gave me again new confidence and also a different perspective to the hobby. I want to enjoy my dives and keep myself safe – and ensure the same for others.

Now with nearly 300 dives under my belt, I feel I’m ready for the next challenge. To take the hobby to a new level and become a pro. Become a dive master. I’m not planning to make a drastic career change or quit my job – I’m planning to learn to be an even better diver, and learn how to support others better in their diving journey. In taking a more responsible role in leading dives and helping others, I hope to further develop my own skills and grow as a diver and as a human being. Because as with any responsibilities, taking them seriously and mastering them, will support the personal growth and give new perspectives for life.

I also believe that my previous fears, experiences in overcoming troubles, lessons in trusting myself and the ability to gain confidence will make me a good guide to others. I understand the fears, hesitations and concerns of others, I can relate to them.

Finally the bookworm part of me gets to enjoy the diving hobby as well – there’s plenty of theory to get familiar with in addition to the practical skills. I expect the navigation skills to be the toughest to conquer but also where great improvements are waiting to be achieved. If I’m to become a dive master, leading dives, I should leave my old mask-strap behind as it says “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too”. That’s my goal now – to not need that mask strap anymore! I want to be come a person who can confidently say: Follow me, I know what I’m doing and where I’m going.

Happy Things

We are in charge of our own happiness. But how to reach it? Can we measure happiness, and our own content with our level of happiness? And these different levels are needed, because no one can be “bursting out of happiness, over-joyous” all of the time – that would be very exhausting. Such moments and phases are absolutely needed but equally we need to appreciate the middle and lower level happiness times and factors. Appreciate and take joy out of various things, moments, achievements and people in our lives.

I use the word happy a lot in my life. I believe in happiness – on different levels. I call myself as generally a happy person, much due to the fact that it’s easy to give me moments of happiness. Anything pink will do. Pink is my happy color – my motorbike was pink, my phone cover is pink, my wrist supports in the office are pink. My water bottle is pink, my notebook is pink, my office scarf is pink (wait, pretty much all the scarves I have are pink). The pattern is clear – I try to fill my “everyday life” moments with pink because seeing anything pink (in a right shade) gives me at least a brief moment of feeling happy.

Pink is my happy color but I have other “happy” things as well. Reading a book makes me happy, practicing head stands at yoga, playing netball. I already wrote a text about the joy I get from hanging out at airports. I experience happiness everywhere, constantly. Like when my frequently visited food stall keepers remember my order. Happiness is everywhere. Slightly too spicy som tum (and most of my favorite dishes for that matter). Videos of my niece and nephew, laughing. Sun shining on my skin. Random messages from friends, skype calls with family. Smell of horses – anything related to horses. German language. Diving. Pink dive gear. Rock’n’roll music & 50’s lifestyle. Sunday newspapers. The Moomins. The list goes on.

Happiness should not wait for the big things – sources for happy moments  are everywhere. Sometimes we forget this and get indulged in our unhappiness, sadness, boredness, etc. I had started getting into that state recently. I allowed that myself for a short while but decided that an unsuccessful attempt at a relationship can’t be let take over my emotional state of mind. I was too deep to be  rescued by a look at a pink phone cover or eating salmiakki, and since a German TV show couldn’t lift up my spirits either, I had to rely on the next level of sources. So I went diving for the weekend, on a liveaboard, using my pink gear, accompanied with a good book. 50 hours spent diving, eating, sleeping and chatting with new friends made on the boat, did the trick. It  didn’t heal me but gave me the strength to feel relaxed and happy and not worry for a while. A weekend diving trip is a great reminder of how well things are. I’m not happy about everything in my life but I’m a happy person and can enjoy the good things while working on the less favorable parts.

Happiness. It’s a magical thing but fortunately, magic is everywhere. You just have to believe in it and want it. A lesson for life – learn to be happy. Learn what it means to you to be happy, what the sources in your life can be. Pink or blue or orange – the options are everywhere.

Diving in Singapore

imageWhen one is thinking of Singapore, many things come to mind. Diving probably isn’t one of them.

When I was offered a job in Singapore, I wasn’t too excited. About the job, yes, but not about living in Singapore. To me Singapore embodied the boring developed side of Asia – being organized, clean and, well, organized and clean. Over the years in Southeast Asia, I’ve grown very fond of the opposite. I love the chaos of HCMC and Bangkok, the motorbikes, noises, never-ending hustle and bustle of the thrilling cities. They are original, authentic, so very Asian.

I used to travel to Singapore on business a lot so I thought I knew the place. And I was right – it is organized and clean. It has plenty of superficial entertainment, upper-class feeling and high ceilings.

But it still has “Asia” in it too. In the hawker centers, on the streets of Little India, in China town. It also has much more, it has the fantastic Arab street, cute Bukit Timah, and pretty much all possible sports one can think of available. Even diving.

See, up until now, I’ve been praising Singapore for it’s fantastic sports opportunities and naming only diving and skiing missing. Well I haven’t figured out skiing yet but diving, I went diving in Singapore waters. A 10 minute boat-ride from the shore and voila! We were on a reef.

Needless to say, it wasn’t among the best dive sites I’ve dived on. But it was better than what you’d expect a small city-state with a massive harbor could offer. Much respect to those environmentalists and conservation enthusiasts who have fought for the reef and for underwater education. The Sister’s Trail in the Marine Park offers 2 dive trails along which one can learn more about the species and conservation and take part in the efforts, by observing, recording and sharing data.

Visibility was as expected very poor, but I’ve actually dived in worse conditions. With the lack of visibility, there’s no need to keep eyes open for big stuff that might swim by, allowing an undisturbed focus for the interesting macro world. There were many nude branches, seahorses, critters, schools of fishes and interesting corals to see. Much, much more than I’d ever have expected. I was sincerely interested in looking around and our dive master is convinced to identify completely new species in the near future.  He kept his eyes open for a pink seahorse for me.

Singapore – you’ve given me thrilling experiences from dragon boating by Gardens by the Bay, abundance of netball games, yoga of all kinds in amazing small studios and in a park and so much more. Now you’ve given me an opportunity to go diving for an afternoon, and at the same time learn more about the underwater world and its inhabitants and help to protect them.

And I have to say, coming back to surface, floating in the warm waters between two uninhabited islands, looking over to the beautiful Singapore skyline – that’s pretty remarkable. Something different, something unique, something memorable.

 

Need versus Want

“What do you need?” – Was the question my friend asked me as I half-jokingly begged her to talk sense to me, fearing a shopping fever on our way to the dive expo last weekend. I had been there the day before to check out on the offers and had made a long wish list.

A backplate system, was my answer, and a torch. And a knife. Being modest, as my wishlist also included pink fins, new pink dive computer and pink rash guards. Pretty much anything that is made in pink. You see the pattern here. It’s pink, it makes it on my wishlist. Truthfully, “nothing” would have been the correct answer as I do have a full set of gear that is perfectly functional. Just not pink.

I ended up with the backplate system, and a few small fun stuffs but dropped the expensive but pink additionals. But the shopping spree had me thinking of this whole “I want” culture. Because in reality we need very little, but want a lot.

I’m reading a book telling a story of a poor Indian country-boy who becomes a successful business man. At the stage of still being poor, he is wondering about how the dreams of the rich and the dreams of the poor never overlap. “The poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.”

Do we really confuse the need and the want or is that just a way of speaking? Few of us actually need new shoes, a phone or a backplate system for diving. It’s an easier justification for the purchase than the honest “wanting”, but in a way just an abuse of language. Want and need are not a matter of perspective only.

Why are we so reluctant to admitting just wanting something? Why do we need to hide it behind the need? If you can afford it, and your want is not harming anybody, why not be up-front with the wanting.

I could have continued with my jacket-model BCD but wanted the backplate for an improved dive experience and convenience. I want it to be pink because pink is my happy color. I want pretty much all my accessories to be pink, because pink is a color that makes me smile. I don’t need to be happy or smiling – but I do want to be.