I didn't expect swimming with sharks to feel so peaceful. Observing the strange creatures gliding past me, I fought the urge to reach out and touch them, knowing that I was merely a guest in their strange world.
I dated a guy several years ago who loved sharks. He would drag me around the city to aquariums and shark exhibits, where I would look at the mangled wetsuits of attack victims on display and vow never to go in any body of water that might be inhabited by any kind of shark.
"They're really gentle giants," he would say. "People misunderstand them."
I've learned more about sharks over the years, and while I would still never go into the water if I knew a Great White was around, I have learned that sharks are, indeed, misunderstood. In fact, many are quite harmless. Which is why I felt confident enough to put on some snorkeling gear in Fiji's Yasawa Islands and get into the water with them.
The crystal clear South Pacific waters make Fiji one of the best places in the world to go diving with sharks. But those wanting to jump into the ocean with these surprisingly placid creatures probably have some questions about the experience. Is it safe? Is it ethical? What companies offer the experience, and how easy are they to get to? In this post I'll explain everything you need to know about diving with sharks in Fiji.
How safe is shark diving?
Sharks, particularly the small reef sharks that you'll most likely see on a shark dive in Fiji, are less dangerous than you'd think. They will most likely approach you curiously, but attacks are extremely rare. In fact, there have only been 4 recorded instances of sharks attacking divers in Fiji during the past 10 years.
The dive companies operating off the south coast of Viti Levu in Beqa Lagoon (pronounced 'mben-gah') have created walls in some of their diving locations, where divers can witness sharks and other marine life in their natural habitat without coming into contact with them. This, combined with the presence of Fijian "shark wranglers," creates a safer environment for the divers, as well as reducing the amount of human interaction with the sharks.
The biggest danger while diving with sharks in Fiji - or on any dive anywhere in the world - is drowning, so it's always important to listen carefully and follow any instructions given by the staff. And remember, the dive operators don't want anything to happen to you, so they'll be looking out for your safety as well.
A note on the ethics of shark diving
There are some things you should take into consideration while choosing the best place to go diving with sharks in Fiji - or anywhere else in the world. Animal tourism is a huge industry that doesn't always have the best intentions, and you should be wary of any place that offers a shark diving experience purely for entertainment, with no focus on conservation. Sharks are already an endangered species, so we must be careful to avoid any negative impact on their survival.
Baiting or chumming is a practice that many dive operators use to help lure sharks towards dive sites. This is considered to have a negative impact for two reasons: first, it may alter the natural behaviour of the sharks. Second, it's believed that this can open the door to aggressive behaviour as the sharks may link human presence with food.
Now, let's focus on the good!
One of the main benefits of shark diving is that it can help to create a change in the common perception that sharks are dangerous predators. Once you're in the water with them, you realize that there really isn't anything to be afraid of. It's an experience unlike any other, and many dive operators agree that giving people the chance to swim with these surprisingly placid creatures can help create more concern for their future.
The shark diving organizations mentioned in this post all have a strong focus on conservation. This means that they dedicate time and resources to help study and preserve the sea life in the protected areas they work in. Their conservation efforts, including movements to stop the horrible practice of shark finning, are made possible by the money the industry makes from the tourists who visit each year to see these amazing creatures up close.
While the concern about chumming and baiting is a valid one, many dive operators argue that the good (educating the public and turning a negative impression of sharks into a positive one) outweighs the bad (producing an unnatural influence to shark behaviour). Because the chances of seeing a shark increase with this practice, you will struggle finding a shark dive operator who doesn't use some method of feeding the sharks in Fiji.
Personally, I'm on the fence with this issue. As someone who cares deeply about protecting life on our planet, I am against any practices that have a negative impact on the wellbeing of these amazing marine creatures. However, while researching this issue, I haven't been able to find any definitive proof that baiting and feeding sharks is harmful to their existence. I also have to refer to my personal experience - I didn't think much of sharks until I witnessed them swimming peacefully inches away from me, so I know that this experience can change minds about whether sharks are worth caring about.
But I am not an expert in shark behaviour or marine conservation, and am fully aware that my opinion might be the wrong one. I invite anyone who has evidence relating to either side of the issue to please contact me through the form on this website, or through social media. I also encourage everyone who is considering participating in a shark dive to carefully research each company and make sure you're diving with one whose values are in line with your own.
WHERE TO DIVE WITH SHARKS IN FIJI
Barefoot Kuata Resort
Barefoot Kuata Resort offers shark snorkeling as well as their popular Awakening Shark Dive. The resort is located in the Yasawas on one of the closest islands to Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, and although it's possible to do a shark swim on a day trip from Nadi, I highly recommend staying a few days.
The resort offers an hour-long introductory lesson for first-time divers, and also provides a 4-day Open Water Course for those who want to get certified. They also offer advanced dives and courses for those who already have experience, as well as opportunities to volunteer on conservation dives.
For those who don't want to dive, the resort offers the opportunity to snorkel with Black Tip and White Tip sharks at Moyia Reef. This is a great option for those who aren't confident swimmers but still want to get into the water with the sharks. Lifejackets, pool noodles and snorkeling equipment is provided, as well as transportation to and from the reef (approximately a 20-minute boat ride from the resort).
Barefoot Kuata is owned by the Barefoot Collection, which is a member of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES). The company is focused on educating the public about marine conservation, and it works with the local villages to keep the reefs healthy. The company offers the opportunity for volunteers to get involved with their conservation projects, and visitors to the resort can help in other ways, such as bringing needed items for nearby villages.
Barefoot Kuata Resort is located about 2 hours from Nadi via the Yasawa Flyer ferry, which leaves once a day from the Denarau Marina. You can find out about the resort and their shark encounters through their website.
The Pacific Harbour-based organization Aqua-Trek offers their Ultimate Shark Encounter four times a week. This 2-tank experience was designed to help divers learn more about the species of sharks that are found around The Bistro dive site at Beqa Lagoon (pronounced "benga"). Divers have the chance to see 8 different kinds of sharks, including the massive Tiger Shark, which can grow up to 14 feet long.
Aqua-Trek also offers PADI diving certification, including Open Water courses ranging from beginner to advanced. The company also provides snorkelling at Beqa Lagoon for non-divers.
Though Aqua-Trek is open about the fact that they do feed the sharks on their dive, they are also clear that they do it in the most sustainable way possible, by using high-quality fish scraps from a local factory. The company has won awards for their sustainable tourism practices and is focused on educating the public about shark conservation through their dives.
The Aqua-Trek dive center is located a 2.5-hour drive from Nadi, and around a 1-hour drive from Suva in Pacific Harbour. More information can be found on their website.
Beqa Adventure Divers
Beqa Adventure Divers manages Shark Reef Marine Reserve, which is the first marine national park in Fiji. It's within this reserve that experienced divers can participate in The Fiji Shark Dive, which the company advertises as the "best dive in the world". This popular dive lets you get in the water with the 8 different types of shark that frequent the area.
In addition to its shark dive, BAD also offers dives to popular wrecks and soft coral sites, as well as Enriched Air Diver courses and other beginner to advanced level PADI programs.
The company states that conservation is their first and foremost priority and that their dive trips exist to make their conservation efforts possible. In addition to helping make the Shark Reef Marine Reserve a reality, they engage in ongoing conservation projects, which they provide updates on via their blog.
The BAD dive shop is located in Pacific Harbour at Lagoon Resort (not to be confused with Beqa Lagoon Resort, which also offers a shark dive - see below). The resort is a 2.5-hour drive from Nadi and a 1-hour drive from Suva. Prices and other information can be found on the Beqa Adventure Divers website.
Beqa Lagoon Resort
Beqa Lagoon Resort offers an exciting Tiger Shark Dive at The Cathedral, a dive site at Beqa Lagoon that gives certified divers the chance to witness massive Tiger Sharks, as well as the 7 other types of shark that frequent the area.
The resort also offers PADI certification for both kids and adults, as well as the Shark Conservation Diver course which includes two shark dives at The Cathedral. For those who aren't quite ready to take the plunge, the resort offers a wide range of other activities, including guided snorkeling tours and hookah snorkeling, a unique cross between scuba diving and snorkeling.
The Beqa Lagoon Resort has worked with three local villages to make its dive site a protected area. It also avoids human interaction with the sharks, opting instead to give divers an experience where they can watch the sharks in their natural habitat rather than swimming alongside them. The resort does feed the fish, like the other dive operators in Fiji, but works to do it in the most natural way possible by imitating "carcass feeding".
The resort is located on Beqa Island, a 45-minute boat ride from Pacific Harbour, which is a 2.5-hour drive from Nadi and a 1-hour drive from Suva. Resort packages include transfers from Nadi, but private transfers outside of scheduled times are available for an extra fee. You can refer to the Beqa Lagoon Resort website for more information.
Other diving options
After considering the pros and cons of diving with sharks in Fiji, you may decide that it's not for you. And that's okay! Fiji has some of the best dive spots in the world, so you have lots of other options.
Dive Academy Fiji offers excursions to Rainbow Reef, which is home to the Great White Wall, one of Fiji's most famous dive sites. It's located off the coast of Vanua Levu, the country's second-largest island, and is home to some of the most vibrant coral you'll ever see.
Rakiraki, on the Northwest Coast of Viti Levu, is near Vatu-i-ra, which has more than 50 amazing dive sites. You can take a trip through Ra Divers, who are based at the lovely Volivoli Beach Resort.
If you're visiting Fiji between May - October, you can go swimming, scuba diving or freediving with the enormous but peaceful manta rays at Mantaray Island Resort on Nanuya Balavu in the Yasawa island group.
South of Viti Levu, near Kadavu Island, Mad Fish Dive Center can take you to the 60-mile long Great Astrolabe Reef, where you can explore the passages of the Alacrity Rocks dive spot.
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