Chasing Coral – A Film Everyone Needs to See

As an avid scuba diver, I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the destruction underwater, the damage human conduct is causing to the oceans. At one dive trip I felt I saw more plastics than fishes – a scenario that’s predicted to become a reality by 2050. The good news is that corals are highly endurable and prone to survive, if given the tiniest of chance. Which means, we can still change the faith of our oceans, we can still save the underwater world.

Yesterday I watched the award winning film “Chasing Coral“, a truly eye-opening documentary made in collaboration with WWF. The film shows the beauty of the underwater world, and its destruction. In other words, the reality. The team spent 3 years shooting the film, including support from underwater videographers and scientists around the world, and the outcome is stunning. Both in good and bad, as the shooting shows the true beauty of the coral reefs. The film explains their function and importance, and features the reality and feared future that the changing climate is causing.

Coral reefs don’t need to be saved for their beauty, for our recreational purposes. They need to be saved because the life in oceans, and lives of many people depend on them. That’s right, coral reefs are not just important for the marine life. People receive many benefits from coral reefs as well. It’s an ecosystem that protects coastlines from storms and erosion; provide jobs for local communities and are a source of food and even new medicines (yes, in addition to the recreational value which further brings economic benefits to many). Income, food, physical protection, cultural and recreational values – coral reefs are invaluable for so many reasons.

Coral reefs contain the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, and they are vulnerable to human action causing global warming. Ironically, coral reefs are also protecting humans from some of the impacts of global warming, as they protect coastlines from the damaging effects of waves and tropical storms.

I have a new mission for my next dive excursion. I will continue shooting the beautiful scenery and vibrant underwater life, but I will add to that the other side of the reality. I will no longer choose the best angles to feature the beauty, but the best angles to feature the reality. And that reality often includes plastics, bleached corals and little marine life. From now on, I will start showing the underwater world as it is, not as I would wish it to be.

Watch the Chasing Coral film and you’ll understand, too. And care.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.