I’m an islander so I have a very strong love with the sea.
I took scuba diving certification because you can’t know the marine world without going deep.
After some dives in Sardinia, I started thinking about sharks.
I have seen many videos made in South Africa but the cages were not my maximum aspiration.
Both because in life I don’t like being in a cage, and because it’s a very cruel practice for sharks.
In fact, they are attracted with baits and it is not uncommon for the shark to get hurt or to get stuck in the cage until it even dies from his injuries.
In my travels I learned to respect animals and this was not the experience I was looking for.
To see the sharks I wanted to go to their natural habitat, to see them free.
So I looked for a way to make this dream come true (but it would be better to call it madness) and I found 4 possible destinations: South Africa, Hawaii, Bahamas and Fiji.
I don’t know if there are others place but the cosmic coincidences have brought me to Fiji, where for many divers you do the best diving with sharks in the world.
Here, in fact, you can see up to eight different species of sharks: black fin, white fin, gray, silver, tawny nurse, tiger, lemon and bull sharks .
Obviously sharks are the centerpiece of the dive but the ocean could also be crowded with Labori Maori fish, rainbow, giant carango, moray, groupers, rays, turtles and over 400 species of tropical coral reef fish.
In short, those who hate aquariums and want to see free animals in their natural habitat must come here.
About three hours by car from Nadi International Airport and one hour from the capital Suva, there is Pacific Harbour, the main base for all tour in the Beqa Lagoon.
Here in 2004 Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established, an example of sustainable and efficient ecotourism.
An international team of scientists is constantly engaged in research on animal species that live in this area of the Pacific Ocean, the world capital of soft coral.
You cannot think of protecting sharks if you are not also working on habitat conservation.
The companies that manage the marine reserve, in agreement with the government, carry out a sustainable economy project with local fishermen (who have a huge increase in fishing outside the reserve) and with the community (many of them work as underwater guides or as guardians).
Part of the money earned is also spent on education, infrastructure, equipment and waste recycling.
Once my madness is decided, I immediately think of how to do it.
I watched a lot of videos on Youtube, read the stories of divers in specialized sites and contacted hostels and hotels until I found the center that organizes sharks dives.
There are limited tickets so you have to book in advance.
Two dives with equipment reanta cost about € 150,00.
After booking, I spent the time I needed to review the theory, do some diving in Sardinia and watch videos to be mentally ready for what I would find in the Beqa Lagoon.
Then came the day of departure. It took almost 24 hours to reach Nadi from Cagliari and exiting the airport I immediately found a van to Suva with stop in Pacific Harbor.
Almost all guests in this area are divers who will participate in this show.
On the fateful day the tension is palpable and even the most experienced divers have a lot of emotions.
Someone has thousands of euros of equipment, I simply have a bathing suit, mask, towel and gopro.
Talking to someone I notice their amazement because I have only about twenty dives and have not experiences with “easier” sharks.
But I’m like this, I don’t like the middle ground and I have to go immediately beyond the limit.
A van takes everyone to the port. After the bureaucratic formalities, wetsuits are put on and we are divided into two boats.
To reach the place of the dive it takes about 20 minutes of navigation in which the technical briefing is held.
With clarity and great excitement, the guides explain what will happen down there and how to behave, both underwater and in case of emergency on board.
Then suddenly the boat stops, we quickly check ourselves and go in the water.
THE FIRST DIVE
Almost everything that can go wrong in a dive happened to me in the first dive.
I don’t have much experience so I go into the water among the last ones, so I saving air.
We are about 30 people but, unexpected for me, we have not formed couples to go down safely.
So we all found ourselves in a row near the boat until the words that started the dive: “let’s go down as quickly as possible to -100 ft“.
This was not the signal I expected.
I start to descend slowly but quickly, soon finding myself alone around -65 ft.
I search one divers to continue safely but at least 20 people have already reached the established point, the others are above me with difficulty in go down.
While I ask me if it’s safer to end the descent on my own or wait for someone to reach me, I see a shark about 30 ft away.
Don’t ask me what shark it was, don’t ask me how many ft it was big… It’s the first sharks I see and I hadn’t imagined seeing it this way.
I go down as fast as possible thinking only “let’s go, before it sees you!“.
But once I arrive at the established point, “the Cathedral”, I have more problems.
Because the videos you see on Youtube (but then I’ll do similar one) show perfect situations, calm breathing, stable images, serene divers resting on the coral reef.
The reality is damn different..
I thought to find a stable reef but there are only rocks on the seabed.
And at -100 ft sea current is very strong.
Maybe the situation or because lack of experience, but no one keep the structure and stay still.
When one moves, he moves at least 5 divers.
That’s while a lot of sharks are feasting a few inches from us.
When the situation has become too dangerous (or perhaps when the shark meal is over, I don’t know) the guides show the way to the second part of the dive, swimming countercurrent.
We are about -50 ft.
Here I find a better location. But the calm finishes soon.
On the right side, the current is visibly stronger and if I and others are repaired, the divers in that area have so many difficulties.
They cannot stand still and are swept from one side to the other, to practically involve the whole group.
Now, like inside a giant washing machine, there is chaos: it’s impossible not to inadvertently give and receive elbows, kicks and shots of scuba tank or lose something (cam but even worse the air source)..
Impossible not to end the dive and bring everyone back to the surface.
But every diver, even the most experienced, knows that the main danger is always one: the air.
In a similar dive, even if it only lasted 25 minutes, can happen what you imagine: someone finish air in the scuba tank.
I have seen at least one other person with this problem.
Yes, another one, because I finished my air, at about -30 ft.
Near me there is however one of the guides and at the classic signaling gesture, I immediately receive the emergency air source (regarding the videos at home I’ll see that obviously there were various safety tanks in the water).
The ascent continues without further problems.
Once on the surface, I jump on the boat, realizing that I have lost my gopro.
Resigned, I notice one of the guides who descends without hesitation, recovering the cam (and also ending the video with sharks near him).
On the boat I need a few minutes to recover serenity. I’m not terrified but I think everything happened in the deep.
Others have not seen beautiful momentis. Someone has seen anything.
As mentioned, some divers at the beginning of the dive immediately found themselves in difficulty and, feel panic or isolated, come back on the boat.
THE SECOND DIVE
With a cup of hot tea and something to eat, the moment of an important decision is approaching: do the second dive or stay on the boat?
I admit that I have long chosen the second option.
Too many things have happened down there, I don’t want to relive a similar experience, once I was lucky but I don’t know if the second would have the same result, I saw the free sharks in their habitat and maybe I’ll get a video from other sub…
But then I think the worst has already happened and it can’t happen again after a few minutes, I saw the sharks but I didn’t really admire them, I’m here, having lost and recovered my gopro means that I have to reuse it.
In short, I decide to do the second dive but to change my strategy.
I prepare well in advance and go into the water third.
This allows me to go to -100 ft with the guides and choose the place sheltered from all currents.
I see the first curious sharks who observe us moving very slowly.
Now it must be all right and I just think not to get upset because everything depends on me.
While the rest of the group finishes the descent and settles down on the seabed, I’m relaxed, with the perfect set-up, I concentrate on slow breathing and my gopro is stabilized.
Thousands of fish color the water and the number of sharks increases quickly.
They are curious, come up to a few centimeters and then change direction when I start to think that they are banging on me.. They are wonderful and it’s a very strong emotion to see them free, a dream come true.
Then it’s time for lunch: a bin full of fish opens slowly and the sharks show all their power. They move more frantically and the water becomes cloudy.
I enjoy an incredible show. I’m inside one of the many documentaries seen on TV.
About 100 sharks are close to me, almost caressing me, we can look each other in the eyes.
In the meantime thousands of fish are hurtling in all directions, perhaps to recover the crumbs left by the owners of the oceans.
We are guests in their home. Privileged guests.
I was mentally prepared for this dive so I live it with total relax.
The bin is moved horizontally so that all divers can live the same experience. I live what I was unable to see in the first dive.
After about 15 minutes the guides repeatedly beat the air tank: it’s the signal that the dive must end and we have to begin the procedures for ascending to the surface.
I don’t know if something went wrong with other divers but I think it’s likely.
However, I’m happy to have lived this experience and my video will excite me every time.
Diving with sharks is a difficult experience to explain if you don’t live it.
I wrote in the simple present tense to involve you in every moment and in every emotion.
Probably I risked a lot because my little experience but also divers with much more experience come back to the boat unable to get off quickly and others have still had difficulty managing the current.
Perhaps safety has not been impeccable but diving in Beqa Lagoon started a lot of years ago and no one has ever been killed or seriously injured.
However, you are surrounded by large sharks, potentially lethal predators that must be respected.
I think that animals which lives in this area of the Pacific Ocean are now accustomed to divers and to receive the daily, certain, predictable and punctual meal.
We could also discuss how ethical this is, but I think that is important not to harm animals, and this happens, as shown by all scientific research.
These activities also guarantee the protection of sharks because they allow local communities to live thanks to the thousands of divers (amateurs, professionals, scientists, biologists, film directors etc.) who go daily to the Fiji Islands to live this incredible experience.
You should try it at least once in your life.