I have always been passionate about travelling and marine biology so when I stumbled across the Shark Conservation High School Special Project in Fiji through Projects Abroad, I thought it was perfect. I went straight to work researching the project and it was not long before I was sold; somehow, I was going to find a way to make this trip possible. It took months of fundraising. I sold t-shirts I had designed and took on two jobs, but soon enough I was there and it could not have felt more like a dream.
From the moment I arrived, I could hardly contain my excitement. As I stepped off the plane, the Projects Abroad team greeted me. Being the first to arrive out of the volunteers, I sat restlessly in awe at the fact that I travelled all the way to Fiji on my own. Despite my parents initial apprehension of the distance, all the help from my volunteer advisor in the weeks before made getting to Fiji a breeze.
Living in Fiji
As soon as everyone had arrived, we made our way to the van to start our two-hour trip to the place we’d call home for the next two weeks. The trip was far from quiet as we were all excited and getting to know each other. Soon enough we were turning onto the street that led to The Beachouse without even realising that two hours had gone by. The Beachouse was where we would be staying during our project. It was even better than anything I could have hoped for. My advice: bring a few extra layers of clothing because it can get cold throughout the night.
Free time and weekend activities
On the first day, we played volleyball with the staff, followed by watching the sunset before sitting down to enjoy the meal prepared for us. The food was always amazing especially after long days spent dive training during our first week. Dinner was also always a great time to get to meet people from all over the world, as there are many other guests on vacation or even on other volunteer trips. Over the weekends, the activities they had were endless. They ranged anywhere from morning yoga, a trip to Yanuca Island, and free surf lessons. The other volunteers and I also took a hike to the waterfalls nearby. By the time we got back, we were almost unrecognisable due to all the mud caked over our bodies. I think my favourite memories are from just hanging out with the other volunteers on the beach, especially at night underneath all of the stars.
My Shark Conservation Project
The first week of the project was spent doing dive training for our certification. Although the dive days were early and the pool was freezing compared to the ocean, everyone would always look forward to getting back into the water. Our dive instructor made sure we learned everything we needed to know to ensure that we had the safest and best experience as divers. He took the time to work with us individually should we have trouble grasping one of the concepts. The following day, after we were all certified, we celebrated with the shark dive!
It was insane that our first experience as newly certified divers would be shared with more than 30 bull sharks. I was amazed with all the work done through the shark dive. The team were amazing and made sure everyone felt safe and secure throughout the dive. I am itching to go back and experience it all again.
If this is not impressive enough, a project called Mangroves for Fiji was established with a goal to plant 33 hectares or 330,000 mangroves in order to offset the carbon footprint of the dive shop and their two boats. They have already fulfilled this goal and are currently exceeding 39 hectares. This means the team are now working towards offsetting the carbon emissions of the flights that tourists generated in their travels to Fiji for the shark dive. On one of the days, we spent a day planting thousands of propagules and painting tables in the mangrove nursery.
My overall experience
Not a day has gone by that I have not thought about the incredible time I had in Fiji. I wish I could express how much this experience has influenced my life, and how it led me to grow in my passion and as an individual. Aside from the abundance of memories I hold with me, the thing I treasure most from volunteering abroad are the lifelong friends I made while I was there. Although I am no longer waking up in a bunk bed next to them and we are spread out in seven different countries around the world, I still manage to keep them close, speak to them often, and we make plans to visit each other if we can.
There is no experience quite like this and I am thankful every day that I took the leap to volunteer abroad. I would recommend this to anyone because it's something you’ll carry with you in the years to come.