I had just turned 18 and was setting off on my first solo adventure to a destination over 10,000 miles away to an island in the South Pacific…. Fiji.
I was about to embark on my very first SCUBA diving experience with a volunteer program run by the Non-Government Organisation Frontier.
Frontier have many different projects across the globe. One of those is a Marine Conservation project based on a tiny island East of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. http://www.frontier.ac.uk/Destinations/Volunteer-Fiji.aspx
Gau Island (pronounced: now) is an un-commercialised island. You will not find any restaurants, bars or any other tourists, you really are on your very own private island.
The first week on the island, myself and the nine other volunteers began our PADI Open Water course.
Our confined dives were just in the shallow bay a few metres from the dive deck. The best part about not being in a swimming pool for confined is the fact you get to see the marine life.
After completing our confined dives it was a very easy transition to the Open Water Dives as we were already use to the saltwater, surge, and the wildlife around us.
On completing the course we then had the freedom to dive with our buddies without an instructor and go explore.
Strict rules were adhered to, to contain the 5 buddy pairs and make sure we behaved ourselves. Everyone’s dive computer was checked by the surface support to make sure we did not exceed the 18 metres and the duration of the dive was no longer than 45 minutes. If either of these rules were broken it meant a dive ban for the next Saturday, our free day off to shore dive as much as we wanted! The following week we completed our Advanced Open Water. The team were then ready to start the research.
Gaul Island has a barrier reef running down the West side. Our job as volunteers was to collect data on; fish species and abundance, invertebrate species and abundance and also coral and algae species and percentage cover throughout different locations on the reef.
Two 30 metre transects were used at four different depths and a team of 4 would work their way along the tape measure and record their findings. At the end of the day all records were then put into a database.
After 5-6 weeks on the island we had an interval of stormy weather, which was perfect for us to complete our PADI Rescue Diver and EFR course. Probably the most fun I have ever experienced while learning first aid and how to help in diving accidents. Not only does the course make you a safer diver but it also is the first step to helping others.
The beauty that Fiji has to offer underwater is spectacular. There is a reason it is the soft coral capital of the world. With the vivid colours and visibility that stretches 30 metres + it is very hard to be disappointed.
Fiji also boasts a healthy shark population. Ningali Passage is a break in the barrier reef with a current and is a site that is guaranteed to give you shark sightings. As you descend down into the blue you will spot the odd White tip shark cruising in the current. Getting deeper you can perch on a ledge and just sit and watch. The majestic black tip reef sharks will come by in their dozens. If you are truly lucky you can get the chance to see hammerhead sharks. For this site a live-aboard trip is a must. There are many operators; https://aggressor.com/fiji.php http://sirenfleet.com/liveaboards/fiji.html http://www.naia.com.fj/ http://www.tuitai.com/ and if not participating on a volunteer program, then a live-aboard is the only way to get the most out of the dive sites in Fiji.
The most famous shark dive in Fiji is in Beqa Lagoon. It has been suggested that it is the best shark dive in the world and is certainly the most exhilarating dive I have done to date.
This site is just south from the main island and is easy to get too if you’re staying on the main island.
It is one spot on the planet where you have the chance to see many different species of shark but the main attraction is the Bull Sharks.
My two buddies and I were the only divers booked on. We got on to the boat and made our way down the river. We were accompanied by 5 dive guides; the feeder, the camera man and the others with large poles. I certainly felt safe, but getting closer to the site nerves started to kick in. You always hear about big sharks, see them on the TV but in person it is a different ball game! The trip is made up of two dives with a surface interval on the boat. If you are lucky you may also be treated with a Tiger shark encounter! A DVD is available of the dive which I strongly suggest you purchase. A great way to relive one the most exhilarating experiences.
Fiji was the start of my underwater adventure and 8 years later, now a PADI instructor with a degree in Marine Conservation I look back on this experience as my favourite. Not only did I make lifelong friends, and cemented my love for the ocean, I also changed from a somewhat bored, lost teenager to a focused and excited young adult who was ready to explore this beautiful planet of ours. I will always be thankful to my dive instructor for kick starting my career in our blue planet and I hope to re visit the stunning waters of Fiji one day.