Madisen Hiebert from Canada is a 20 year old SPTO Intern with the Sustainable Tourism Development Division. She shares this story of her special encounter with the Fijian sharks of the Yasawas during a trip with her friends.
“The one thing I always said I wanted to do while I was in Fiji was to swim with sharks, the thought of this was terrifying but I knew I had to do it. In early March, I was in the Yasawa’s with my friends when the host of our homestay mentioned that there was the option to do snorkelling with sharks. We all agreed pretty quickly that we were going to do it. I was so excited that this was actually going to happen, as I have always had a love for ocean life.
The shark reef was just off the coast of Wayasewa. The boat was filled with excitement and nerves, this was new territory for us. The guide hands me the mask and mouthpiece “do you know how to use it?” I tell him no, I’ve never snorkelled before. Thinking I’m going to get a brief lesson on what to do, he puts the mask on me and tells me to jump in. I look at him saying I don’t know how and he tells me to put both my feet over the edge and just slide in. Unaware that I was referring to the snorkel and not getting off the boat he turns to help someone else. Realizing that this was probably the most information I was going to get, I put my feet over the edge and jump in.
Instantly looking in the water, I am amazed by the difference between above and under. Though it was cloudy and the water was rough, below was so colourful and full of life. Words cannot describe the beauty that lies beneath the water. Swimming out further from the boat, I saw my first whitetip reef shark. I tried my best to contain my excitement, as smiling too much would cause water to get into my mask. Looking up to see my friends, still in the boat, I called for them to get in because this was something they needed to see. Soon more sharks came out, and seven of them were swimming around us. I cannot express how amazing that experience was. The sharks were no strangers to human interaction and swam right beside us, less than an arm’s reach away. It was a great way to unify the balance between animals and humans.
My favourite moment was when I was looking down, watching the fish swim and interact with each other, when a shark swam right alongside me, just inches from my face. Paralyzed, not out of fear but out of amazement.
What I saw is what I could only imagine in movies, the colours of the coral and the fish. I was in shock about how there was a whole life that I had never seen before, it was one of those things that a picture wouldn’t justify, it has to be experienced. It’s something that I think everyone has to do. This experience was amazing but it was also a reminder that if we don’t make efforts to protect our oceans, the life that lives in it won’t be here for our future generation.”