Sophie Boukatch - Shark Conservation in Fiji
Arriving in Fiji
From the moment I got off the plane and took the bus ride from Nadi to Pacific Harbor, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be.
I arrived later in the day and dinner was being prepared. Oni, our host mom, made the best soup that night and one of the many meals I will never forget.
The day after my arrival was dirty day. Once a month all the volunteers and staff members go into the community and participate in a big project. Ours was to paint a community center. The whole center took us around two hours, which was surprisingly fast considering we weren't even supposed to paint the whole building! Ending up with a major amount of paint on our faces and Sulu’s, we all took a step back and applauded our work.
While some of us were washing the paint brushes, others went door to door in the community collecting empty water bottles. In Fiji they don't have a recycling business, so we try to collect all used plastic bottles. That day we collected 121 bottles!
After we all finished collecting bottles and cleaning up, the people in the village prepared a real Fijian meal of fish, coconut spinach pies, potatoes, sticky rice and whole shrimp. After an amazing meal and chatting with the locals, we sat down in the grass for some traditional Kava, which is a root mashed up in water and passed in a circle for everyone to drink in a carved coconut bowl.
Conservation in Fiji
On Sundays and Wednesdays all the volunteers and staff members go out to do survey dives. During the week you learn and are quizzed on all the fish and turtles and learn how to identify the sharks, so that on the dive you can record what you saw. The boat ride to the dive sites are usually wet and bumpy, but a great time over all. The first survey dive was by far the best one I went on. Right from the start of the dive a school of red snapper appeared and so many more fish, but the best part was the second dive when two cuttlefish appeared and slowly swam by!
As a volunteer I got two dives during a trip, with a 40 min surface period. During that time you change your tanks and the Beau Divers give you tea and the best cookies ever. The survey dives are really a great time to get closer to the other volunteers and learn some great things.
The shark dive is what everyone is excited for. My first shark dive was amazing. Right when we got down to 30 meters, 43 bull sharks appeared along with 13 white tips. They swim all around the ‘arena’ and sometimes right above you. On the second part of the dive we went up to 15 meters to feed the white tips. I was situated right in front of the guy that was feeding the sharks; they would swim right passed me.
My overall experience in Fiji
The work week in Fiji is Sunday through to Thursday. For the weekend you’re allowed to do your own traveling as long as you’re back on Sunday. For my first weekend me and a few other people went to Nadi and went skydiving. I had always wanted to go skydiving and in Fiji it is cheaper then America and the view from 1000 feet up is 1000 times better than my hometown desert.
Overall I do not regret anything about my time in Fiji. The friends I made there I still contact and plan to visit later on in my travels to other countries. You form such close relationships with the other volunteers, good byes always involve waterworks. The work you do there, from tagging sharks to counting them to simply planting mangroves makes an incredible impact on the way you see ocean conservation and sharks in general.
I was only there for three weeks but already signed up for two months of volunteering with Projects Abroad next year.