“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” -Baba Dioum

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It’s been just over one week since Nichlas and I left Arizona for the Bahamas.  Our beginning here has all been a bit surreal. I’ve gotten to do and see some things underwater that I’ve wanted to do for years and can feel that there is a lot of opportunity to grow.  Please excuse me for missing last week’s post, but I took the week off to immerse myself and enjoy being present.

Last July Nichlas and I were working at a dive center in Gili Air, Indonesia and imagining where we would go next.  We both love Indonesia but wanted to see more of the world and dive somewhere else. It was a goal of ours to go somewhere with big stuff.  For those of you who aren’t divers that means sharks, mantas, whales, and other pelagics. After leaving Indonesia we spent months living at my parent’s house exploring locations, learning about dive centers, and applying for jobs.  

Early one Sunday morning, after nearly 3 months of no ocean, I was scrolling through instagram and had the idea to contact a dive center that always posts epic photos of sharks. Feeling bold, I emailed Stuart Cove’s and asked if they were hiring.  To my surprise, I got a response within minutes. Indeed Stuart was hiring and he thought Nichlas and I might be the perfect fit for the photography team at his dive center. Stuart invited us to visit the Bahamas for a few weeks to see if it was the type of place we’d like to live and work.  Fast forward a month and Nichlas and I are now in the Bahamas diving with the sharks I had seen in pictures!

I’ve dived with sharks before, but never on the same scale as in the Bahamas.  We had sharks in the Gilis, but due to overfishing and habitat exploitation it was the rare highlight of a dive to see a single shark swimming in the distance or hiding under a rock.  In the Bahamas we see sharks swimming nearly every dive. Plus Stuart Cove’s does daily shark adventure dives that include shark feeding. On our first day of diving we got to go on the shark feed dive and it was hands down one of the most special moments of my life.  For 45 minutes I sat on the bottom of the ocean watching more than 30 sharks eat and swim. Sharks are the most coordinated animal I’ve ever seen, I could watch them move forever.

With all the destruction humans have done to the ocean in general, and sharks in particular, I was shocked to see so many sharks in one place.  According to the World Wildlife Foundation humans kill an estimated 73,000,000 sharks a year, primarily for shark fins. Shark populations are down to critical levels and they are still being fished at unsustainable rates.  Many shark species populations are down by 95-99%, which is considered functionally extinction. I didn’t think the ocean had that much shark activity left in it, but it does and I am so grateful to be able to see them in the wild.

The shark feed reminded me of the first time I saw a manta ray.  Just like my first encounter with a manta the beauty of the graceful, gentle, and powerful sharks made me cry.  Never once did I feel any danger that a shark would attack. Sharks have existed for millions of years for a reason, they are smart.  There were so many moments during our first dive where I made eye contact with a closely passing shark and felt it consciously acknowledge me, not as a meal, but as a visitor.  

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Humans are not on a shark’s food radar.  The reality is we have little to fear from sharks, while sharks have every right to fear us.  For every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately 2 million sharks. Little is being done about shark poaching because most people don’t spend time underwater and therefore don’t notice what is happening to the ocean ecosystems.  In the off chance awareness of the dwindling shark population is raised, many see the possible extinction as a good thing because of misinformation about sharks being bloodthirsty human eaters.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous before going on my first shark feed and even more so the first time I put on shark armor to get closer to the feed.  But in both instances my fear turned to love in a matter of seconds. We wear shark armor to protect us from shark bites, but its not because the sharks would intentionally attack, it is a precaution.  Wearing shark armor, I comfortably let the sharks touch me (strip club rules, we only let them touch us). Being with the sharks is spectacular. I respect shark’s powers and am mesmerized by their perfectly evolved form.  It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I will get to dive and photograph the sharks every day if I take this job.

Besides diving with sharks, another long standing interest of mine has been to learn to plant corals.  My friend teaches Sea Shepherd coral propagation courses in Koh Tao, Thailand and its been a goal to visit and learn to help the reefs.  This week Nichlas and I helped an organization called the Reef Rescue Network tend to their coral nursery which operates out of Stuart Cove’s.  We spent an afternoon with 10 volunteer divers planting and tending to the corals in an artificial reef.

The nursery is composed of about 20 PVC pipe “trees” that hold coral fragments by a string to the “branches.”  The small coral pieces get nutrition from the moving water and eventually grow big enough to be replanted in an actual reef. Nichlas and I spent 90 minutes underwater attaching new coral fragments to the branches so that they can grow and be transplanted.  The water was cold and we didn’t see much, but it was a rewarding dive.

I’m looking forward to putting in more volunteer hours with the Reef Rescue Network.  Corals are vital to a healthy reef system and unfortunately, like the sharks, corals are in danger because of human activity.  In Indonesia I saw the difference between healthy and unhealthy coral reefs firsthand by diving regularly in the Gilis and on a 10 day trip to Komodo National Park.  

Before Komodo I was happy diving every day in the Gilis because I was ignorant as to how bad the coral really was.  The Gilis have a lot of human traffic and therefore a lot of destruction. Dynamite fishing, waste runoff, and rising water temperatures have devastated the once beautiful reefs.  Though people say Komodo corals are dying, they are vibrant in comparison to the Gilis. Diving in Komodo gave me new eyes. I actually got sick to my stomach and had a near panic attack when I saw the condition of the reef in the Gilis on my first dive back.  Since then I’ve been eager to participate in reef restoration projects. Haley, the head of Reef Restoration Network is teaching a course for PADI instructors to learn to teach coral farming next week and I can’t wait.

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