Shark Diving - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji (April 2013)

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Shark Diving - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji (April 2013)

Postby AndrewRawlingson » Wed May 08, 2013 4:07 pm

As summer ended, my fiancée and I decided to book a trip to Fiji.

The flight from Auckland to Nadi was just under 3 hours. The queue at immigration was painfully long and while it was nice that a live band welcomed us to Fiji, I would have preferred that the band members picked up some stamps and got on with processing us! Our pre-arranged transfer to our hotel, The Pearl, took 2 hours.


The Pearl
First impressions were very good. It has large, spacious communal areas which are nicely decorated. The hotel is on the beach and has a pleasant pool with various chill out areas. Our room didn't quite live up to expectations. It was clean, but basic. Not what you would expect from a 4* hotel.

A buffet breakfast was included in the package and there was a good variety of Fijian and Western food. For lunch and dinner, there were a few options off site which were a lot cheaper than eating in the hotel. I had my shoes stolen from a communal area on our first day which was a bit unexpected, and annoying as I only took one pair with me!

April is the last month of the wet season. We didn't get much rain, but most days were cloudy. Air temperature was around 28 degrees C.

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Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) and Reef Dives
The major players in town. I booked a couple of reef dives to get in to the swing of things before the famous shark dives. A complimentary taxi picked us up from our hotel. When we arrived, things seemed quite hurried and disorganised. At the jetty, the dive guide insisted on re-packing my neatly packed dive bag in to crate, dropping my computer on to concrete. Fortunately, it was in a plastic box and no harm was done. They also insisted on setting up our kit which they didn't do very well. I'm sure all of this works for the average backpacker with hire gear, but it really doesn't work for me.

To cut a long story short, the dives were at an inshore site with largely broken, dead coral and poor visibility. Fijians don't do anything fast, but it was clear that the guide wanted to get this over and done with as soon as possible. He raced around the site and barely gave us a 20 minute surface interval between dives. Water temperature was 29 degrees C.

I had three spare days to do more reef diving. Apparently, the offshore sites are much nicer, but I didn't want to do any more reef dives with BAD. This was a shame because I got a very good impression of BAD through the communication I had with their office. They could not have been more helpful.


Shark Dives
I'm on the fence when it comes to shark feed dives. I've never done one before and can see both sides of the argument. The dive briefing was detailed this time. The feeds would take place on a reef wall at 30 metres, 10 metres and 5 metres on the first dive. This was not the time to practice neutral buoyancy or perfect trim. The instructions were to get down to the viewing station and stay down, either kneeling or lying.

Visibility was good at around 30 metres. At 20 metres, I could see a dozen adult bull sharks already circling the feeding station. These are huge, bulky animals and it was mind blowing to see so many of them. As the chain-mail clad guide prepared the feed, even more turned up. Dozens of bull sharks formed an orderly queue to be hand fed, but it got somewhat frenzied and stick-wielding guides kept things in order.

The customers cowered behind the feeding station taking photos. Occasionally, a large bull would pass overhead, so close that you could touch it. After a while, we retreated to the 10 metre station which was the preserve of the grey reef sharks and then the 5 metre station which attracted blacktip and whitetip reef sharks.

The second dive was held at the 15 metre station only. The bulls showed up and the action was even closer. You could hear jaws crunching tuna heads!

My second and third days shark diving followed an identical format.

BAD are good at shark dives. It's what they do and they run a tight ship. Feeds staged according to depth is a really good idea from a safety perspective. I would have liked more time in the water as neither gas or NDL were a limiting factor, but everyone goes in together and comes out together. It's not a personalised service and you do what you're told. It is something of a conveyor belt, more of a tourist show than a dive.

As for the ethics, if you are squeamish about divers making contact with hard coral, then this isn't a dive for you. Seeing divers crunching coral was uncomfortable. However, the damage is limited to quite a small area.

I don't know what the impact of feeding the sharks is in terms of fish stocks, but it was mainly tuna heads. It was contrived and felt like an underwater circus with the bull sharks taking on the role of big cats. Having said that, the locals can see the value in keeping these animals alive and the long liners are never far away. About a quarter of the animals had hooks in their mouths.

As a diver, it was an amazing experience, so my feelings remain mixed, but I will never forget shark diving in Fiji.

Video below

http://vimeo.com/65621335
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Re: Shark Diving - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji (April 2013)

Postby petemes » Sat May 11, 2013 1:19 am

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the write up about your trip. Its a tough one with staged shark feeds. They are like zoo's - everyone would prefer to see animals in their natural habitat, but noone has the time, money nor patience to do this. They are pretty cool up close. Bulls (or Zambezi) sharks are responsible for taking 80% of the attacks in South Africa, so to get Bulls and tigers in one spot is quite awesome.
Pretty cool stuff!!!

Pete
"A little less talk a little more action" Elvis Presley
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Re: Shark Diving - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji (April 2013)

Postby divepirate » Sat May 11, 2013 9:47 am

Andrew,
I too did a 'shark dive' in Fiji, although it was a number of years ago (17 years).

Your dive sounds much more organised than the one I did, your feeder was dressed for the occasion, where, when I did it, there was little organisation, other than drop down to the sand and stay well away from the feeding area.
No chainmail was used and the feeder kept the sharks at a distance with a long stick.

They are truly majestic beasts to see close up and like your scenario, the sharks came in very close, sometimes bumping past to get to food.

It is a shame how commercialism damages the reef, but small mercies that the damage is mitigated by the use of a specific area.
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Re: Shark Diving - Beqa Lagoon, Fiji (April 2013)

Postby Ulsterkiwi » Mon May 13, 2013 3:34 pm

My wife and I went on a 4 day liveaboard on the Spirit of Freedom last year. One of the draws for me was the shark feed dive on Osprey reef.
I made a video of this which you can see here...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKy9sYpBlBo

I must confess it was over dinner one night with some diving friends that I first thought about the conservation issues around shark feeds. A bit naive perhaps to not have thought of it before but there you go.
While I absolutley accept that such dives impact on animal behaviour I am not sure that stopping such "events" is the nice simple solution some would have us believe.
I am an academic and my research always involves people. One of the things you have to accept when you do work like mine is that once you start to observe a phenomenon or behaviour to try and understand it then you begin to change it. All you can do is try and minimise that impact.
Animals are the same. in effect every time we dive under the surface we are impacting on the behaviour of the animals we interact with, irrespective of how distant that interaction is.
After showing video like this to friends who dont dive, they usually ask if I often see sharks in NZ. I usually say no, but that doesnt mean they arent there! our presence in the water affects their behaviour whether WE see them or not.
The simple solution is we dont do ANYTHING to impact on the marine envrionment, including any diving. Yeah right.....
Surely we would be better to see the eco-dollar these operations bring in maintained and perhaps better regulated or at least operating within guidelines?

Anyway, arguments aside, nice pics and great vid! It is truly amazing to share the water with these animals, a very humbling experience!
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