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!








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.

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.