March 2017 – Diving with Sharks in Fiji

Another shark diving trip is in the books, this time in beautiful Fiji.  There were more than just sharks for this dive as the islands are surrounded by acres of gorgeous coral reefs and full of lush rainforest and welcoming villages.  Fiji is something that everyone must experience in their lifetime.  The trip that I went on was with the Shark Angels, whom I’ve followed since meeting their founder a few years ago.

The first day was spent getting acclimated to the time change.  From Los Angeles it is a 10 hour flight and a 20 hour time difference.  This meant that I left at 10:00 pm on a Thursday night and arrived at 6:00 am on the following Saturday morning.  I was already in awe of the lush landscape and modest dwellings on the two hour drive from the airport in Nadi to the Waidroka Bay Resort.  We were driving on the opposite side of the road that we do in the US, complete with the steering wheel on what we are used to being on the passenger side.  The main highway went completely around the island and has two lanes with breathtaking beach views.  The climate reminded me of Florida, where I spent my college days, although with much less oppressive humidity.  There were no concentrations of buildings in the part of the country where I was, therefore no “heat islands” to amplify the already hot weather.  We did get a good storm that came through that was a bit more than the normal humidity rain that happens in the afternoons.  I hadn’t seen the likes of this type of rain since leaving the American south.

The diving was incredible!  Other than a malfunctioning BC (which is now retired in Fiji) and an uncooperative sinus cavity (for which I will consult my ENT physician), I truly enjoyed the amazing beauty of the islands.  Never had I seen so many acres of colorful coral.  Certainly there aren’t many places like this on our planet.  The topography of the land is quite amazing.  When I took days off of diving to try and surf I found out just how true this was.  In order to get to a surf spot, one must go by boat for 15-30 minutes.  All breaks are reef breaks, emphasis on the word “break”.  As I look now online at the spots the surf guide took me to they all say level “expert”.  Although I’ve been surfing a long time, I hardly qualify for the “expert” breaks anymore.  For example, the second time I tried to go surf there was a group of pros from Brazil that were tearing up the waves…each one getting a little bit of a “Fijian Tattoo” aka reef rash aka OUCH!  Pretty to look at…from the boat.  I did paddle out but just managed to not get crushed, something I recommend for the pure adrenaline and beauty of it all if you are able.

Okay, back to the main attraction – shark diving!  Here’s some great footage that I got from the resort’s dive instructor, Warren Beyers.  He’s very committed to showing everyone that sharks aren’t the feared killers that the media plays them up to be.  I highly recommend diving with Warren and Chelle at Waidroka Bay Resort – they are hands-down the two most stoked dive masters I have ever seen and they honestly care about their guests.  Zero attitude, 100% enthusiasm and fun!

We met a lot of dedicated shark conservationists on this trip, including The Klute, a poet and amazing citizen scientist that is dedicated to shark conservation.  Klute has published a book of shark poems that gives all proceeds to Fins Attached, a shark research and conservation group.  Here’s his unedited video of one of the shark dives that happened on this trip followed by an unedited video of the wreck dive from this trip:

The shark dives are an important part of shark conservation and the local economy.  It is a delicate balance of trust and ocean stewardship.  The locals have agreed not to fish there in exchange for a marine park fee.  It really does work out and is an example of why sharks are worth more alive than dead for those that don’t understand the environmental/climate connection.  You can read about the whole arrangement at this link.

I met the most amazing villagers while in Fiji and took part in some local customs.  We visited the village school, the village, and then had Fiji Night at the resort.  The people are so incredibly fortunate – they’ve got an amazing sense of community and really take care of each other unlike what I see in my big city life.  We in the States could learn so much from their example.  The children are amazing as well, I saw little girls helping a special needs boy.  Nobody was bullying him or excluding him.  He was part of the group, as he should be!  Really a far cry from my elementary school experiences.

In the village, mothers happily posed their children to have their pictures taken.  Everyone was SO welcoming.  Everywhere you walked you heard the shouts of, “Bula!” which means hello/welcome in Fijian.  Yes, they recognize that we will be giving donations to the village since we are there.  However, the warm welcome felt very genuine.  All donations to the village went to help the entire village and there was also a little farmer’s market-type stand where we bought fresh coconuts and other village-grown produce.

I received the most amazing gift from Elizabeth from the village.  She works at the resort and we became friends during my stay.  She taught a Fijian language class for us and then gave me and The Klute a special storytelling.  He recorded the story and I got the paper she wrote it on.  The last night we were there, she presented us with hand-made kava bowls!  Mine sits proudly in my kitchen, causing me to smile every time I glance at it.

I’m making plans with my Shark Angels friends to return to Fiji for a week later this year.  We intend to return to the village school that we visited for a week of marine science/shark education.  We’ve made some great friends there and want to foster the next generation of shark conservationists and scientists.  Fiji has my heart for sure and I can’t wait to return to see all of my friends there.  We’ll be raising money for the trip soon and will post on our social media platforms the details when they are ready.  In the meantime, I’ll be using photo and video from this trip and the Guadalupe Island trip to educate SoCal kids and adults.  The goal here is to empower citizen scientists and shark conservationists.