The only major, adrenaline-fueled activity I wanted to do during my two months in Fiji was to scuba dive with bull sharks.
The moment I arrived at the Fiji Beachouse, my very first day in Fiji, a backpacker came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in diving with sharks near Beqa Island the next morning. My answer was an immediate YES! What tipped this random guy off to ask me just as I was confirming my dorm room at the front desk?
“Alright good,” he replied. “We’ve got a group!”
His name is Dwayne (Australia), a traveler who’s been in Fiji for quite some time now, also staying here at the Beachouse. He mentioned he’s gathered a group of six backpackers who were all in and we’d need to be up and ready by 6am.
Scuba diving in the vicinity of sharks is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done something similar twice before but in the protection of a steel cage. Now within hours of landing in Fiji, I was magically presented with the opportunity to dive freely with them. Unlike the Great Whites and the Galapagos sharks I caged dived with prior, this time we would scuba in the complete open-ocean-wild with a number of possible sharks: bull sharks, nursing sharks, white-tipped, black-tipped, and the biggest of them all, the elusive tiger shark.
The following morning, I went to the front desk at six sharp and met the other divers Dwayne gathered who all also stayed at the Beachouse. Among the motley crew of divers were fellow Beachouse backpackers Ross (UK), Nathalie (Sweden), and another Daniel (Australia). We took a private car hire about 40 minutes east along Queen’s Road to Pacific Harbor. There, a small boat was there to charter us to Beqa Island, a small island just a few kilometers south of the main island.
Once we docked on Beqa, my team of divers were equipped and prepped about what we were about to do. It turns out that Beqa Island is one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, specifically bull and tiger sharks, however the tiger sharks are usually a rare occurrence. This also wouldn’t be a typical scuba dive and not just because there are wild sharks lurking. We were instructed that we’d swim down about 20 meters to an arena where we will watch the dive masters tempt to attract and feed any incoming sharks with their tuna heads.
So far so good. I didn’t feel any motion sickness as of yet. The small boat out into the middle of the ocean above the arena was a little choppy, but I was alright. We anchored with a couple other boats filled with divers. This was a shared opportunity. My group of six turned into a group of about 15. Whatever, I just had sharks on my mind!
Once it was time, we put on our gear, strapped on our weights, and spit and rubbed our masks. I always try to be the last one in the water among a group of experienced divers, because I tend to use up more oxygen than most, so any air I can save is essential. I plopped into the water, released the air from my BCD and began the decent down a mossy rope that guided me towards the arena. As I went down, I noticed my regulator wasn’t in the best condition. Every time I inhaled, a little water would run through the mouthpiece and into my mouth. Instead of a natural flow like when I usually dive, this one felt as if I were gasping for air every time I took a breath. Like I had asthma or something. Anyways, I reached the seafloor and joined the others kneeling down at the arena. Holy shit there were so many fish! Thousands upon thousands of tropical fish, all colors, shapes, and sizes. We were surrounded!
Two dive masters were in the arena, with garbage bins toted to their waist. Inside these bins were fish bait. On the floor were two punctuated chests also filled with fish heads. The other divers and I were knelt in a single row behind a wall of ocean coral and rocks that came up to about our waist. No sharks in sight yet, just an insane amount of fish.
While I was contemplating on whether I should let a nearby dive instructor know that my regulator was malfunctioning, other divers had separate issues with their gear as well. Ross’ mask wouldn’t fit properly behind his head and constantly filled with water no mater how much he cleared it. The other Daniel had a nose bleed for some reason. And another diver’s tubes became detached which caused her to dangerously rise to the surface. Our equipment sucked. Gasping for air underwater ties into my mild claustrophobia, but I kept it cool. I debated if I should leave and swim back up. That’s how uncomfortable I was. BUT not before I see a frickin’ shark!
It took about 15 minutes before it happened. One of the dive masters unleashed a buffet of tuna heads at once that caused a frenzy with the nearby fish. A barrage of fish and fish guts balled into what looked like an intense underwater dust cloud. Suddenly, a sound similar to thunder rolled in and out of nowhere appeared four massive bull sharks! They burst into the scene chomping at the giant tuna heads scattered in the arena. All the other little fish got out their way. One would think to be terrified at the sight of an oncoming shark, larger than a human, underwater but no. We were all completely mesmerized. Myself, almost hypnotized, so much that I wanted to swim out into the arena and touch them.
Minutes went by and more bull sharks joined the arena. A total of 16 different bull sharks showed up to claim any major bait lying around. Whenever a shark came into the vicinity, the dive masters swiftly swam out of the way…way away from the hungry beasts. The wall barricade felt like an invisible barrier came between us and the sharks. They never swam through the barrier, but came awfully close to side swiping us at times. Still none of us budged.
At this point, I’ve been down here long enough to cope with all the water I was breathing in and spitting out. I didn’t want to miss any of this action. I didn’t want to miss the chance to see the even bigger tiger shark.
Unfortunately after about 25 minutes, we were signaled to swim around the coral to our safety spot. No tiger sharks in sight today.
Back on the boat, we had to wait about an hour at the surface before we could go back down on the second dive to do the same thing. I coped with my crappy regulator and decided not to whine about it to the dive masters. I’ll just deal with it again.
The second dive was more of the same; an infinite amount of fish and more bull sharks. They swam in like a gang coming in to steal food from the smaller guys. But not once did they pay attention to us divers. I think the sharks here are used to humans coming down here every other day, feeding them giant tuna heads. One could say this is detrimental to their natural instincts, others may say this is great for creating awareness of the bull sharks. They aren’t that bad. Most reported shark attacks are from bull sharks but that’s only because they are one of the most expansive and abundant sharks in the world. Not only can they adapt to warm and cool temperatures, but they can also swim just fine in fresh water. I’m not sure if this is true or not but I’ve heard bull sharks swim freely in the Great Lakes of Michigan, my home state. I’m not one to find out personally.
After the second dive, I immediately took off my gear and went to the roof of the boat to lay down. I was feeling woozy. Nathalie joined me soon after. I slept the whole way back to Beqa Island and thank God because I wouldn’t have lasted much longer!
Once we got rid of our gear and recorded our dives, we were happily escorted off the island and were serenaded with a farewell song by the staff of the dive center’s resort. Actually, I’m not sure if the farewell was actually for us or the nearby couple who happened to be leaving the island and boarding the same boat we just so happened to be on. Regardless, it was a nice touch!
Upon returning to the Beachouse, I spent the last few days there chillin’ and hanging out with the backpackers I met there over time before I had to part ways to begin the next phase of this Fiji trip.
Many of you know that I frequently cater to a volunteer organization called IVHQ. My last IVHQ was in Guatemala, which is where I decided Fiji would be my next placement once they opened it up as a new program there. This would be my ninth time volunteering and I had about six weeks coming up with them. I’ll be teaching in a local primary school in the island capital of Suva. Time to revert from backpacker mode to volunteer mode.
Let’s see how this new group of volunteers and this new school I’ll be placed in shapes up to my previous efforts.