Amalie Marstrand - Shark Conservation in Fiji
Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by the ocean and everything in it. As a child, I dreamt that one day I would become a mermaid and swim along with sharks, orcas and dolphins, in the deep blue sea. I aged some years, and to my big disappointment, becoming a mermaid was not on my guidance counsellor’s lists of things to do, but the dream to one day see these animals and swim with them in their natural environment wasn’t given up on.
I grew up and became aware that the magical underwater world that I had always been so fascinated by, might not be there for my future family to see, and that some of the animals that live on this planet today, soon might be wiped out forever.
I knew something had to be done, but how I personally could make a difference, I had no idea. So I joined Projects Abroad at their Shark Conservation project in Fiji, to learn more about sharks and to help spread the word.
Arriving in Fiji
I arrived in Fiji on a Monday, spending 36 hours on flights and in airports. I did not know what to expect when I landed and what the next four months in the country would be like. At the airport a sweet local woman put me onto the bus to Pacific Harbour; where my accommodation was.
As I sat there, in the crowded bus a bit tired but unable to sleep because of the hundreds of butterflies flying around in my stomach, all kinds of thoughts went through my head. I just sat there and tried to relax taking in all the new impressions around me. I glided through landscapes of deep green rainforests and white sand beaches behind a wall of palm trees, and even though I couldn't get any further from Denmark, I already felt like I was home.
My Shark Conservation placement
I arrived at the “shark house” where I met the other volunteers; so many people from different nationalities from all around the world with one great passion: sharks. There was so much to take in, in so little time, and for a moment it was easy to forget the reason for which I came to Fiji, and just enjoy the magnificent nature around me.
On the first evening in Fiji, my head had a difficult time catching up with my eyes. There I sat in a boat, under a supposedly endless black sky filled with glowing stars, feeling a cool breeze on my skin while the boat glided through the water, on my way to my first tagging trip. We didn't catch any sharks that night, but it didn’t matter because I was still excited to see what was under the surface.
My first breath under water was a surprisingly uncomfortable experience. It felt so surreal being able to breath under water. I fell asleep that night, worrying about if I ever would learn how to dive. The next day we headed to the ocean on a little boat named, The Hunter. I suited up in all my gear, my dive instructor jumped in and suddenly I stood on the edge of the boat just staring down at the deep blue sea.
A rush went through my stomach and without any more thought, I took one giant stride into the water. A few seconds later, I was surrounded by corals and fish in every imaginable colour. So much beauty gathered in one place. Everything just seemed to move in synchronicity. The worrying thoughts I had had at the surface vanished as soon as I descended a few metres and took some deep breaths.
My experience in Fiji
I had now spent six days in Fiji and still hadn't seen any sign of a shark, but that was just about to change. On a Sunday, the last day of my dive course, we went to another reef. Again, I was in the water surrounded by fish in every size and corals in every colour. Though I was under the surface of the ocean, I felt like I was in heaven.
My dive was almost over and we headed back to boat, and then I saw it. A circa 120cm white tip reef shark swam out from under a massive coral. It lasted for just a few seconds; a few blinks with my eyes and it just silently continued into the blue and disappeared. The perfect predator right in front of my very own eyes!
You can't be anything but amazed by seeing these beautiful animals that have swam the waters of our planet for more than 400.000.000 years, swim just a few meters ahead of you. For millions of years Sharks have been on the top of the food chain, controlling the ocean’s ecosystems and keeping the oceans healthy.
Reading about how the number of sharks in the oceans has been declining so rapidly; being finned and having their carcasses just being thrown overboard, to be in medicine and a status symbolizing soup just breaks my heart. This apex predator needs to exist in order to keep balance in the ocean.
All in all, my experience in Fiji has been amazing and my journey has only just begun.