The Reason I Say Vinaka (Thank You) to Fiji
There has never been a doubt in my mind that I was meant to see the world. I grew up in a family that believed it was important to travel, to learn new things and meet new people. But as my list of ‘places visited’ grew, so did my desire to change the world.
At a young age, I decided I was going to be a marine biologist. What most people don’t realize is that the ocean is the heart of the earth, and without it functioning properly, our earth begins to fade away. I’ve dedicated most of my 21 years of life to marine biology, going away to any and all marine-related summer programs. The more programs I did, the deeper my passion for marine biology grew. When I went off to college, I knew I would study abroad. It wasn’t even a question. I spent a semester abroad during my junior year at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. I learned so much living in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. As soon as I returned to America, I felt a slight emptiness. I wanted to go back. I wanted to do more.
I applied for another study abroad program, but this time in the Fiji Islands. This program was different; it was research-based, and I didn’t attend classes at a university. I learned marine biology in a whole new way, and became a different person during my one-month journey in Fiji. The program’s central focus was shark conservation and biology. Every single day, I dove with hundreds of sharks ranging across three different species to learn about their behavior and how to protect them. Before I left for Fiji, I had countless friends tell me I was crazy, and I was offered warnings like “Don’t get bitten!” We live in a world where sharks have been portrayed as man-eaters, but their true purpose is to be the apex predators of the ocean and essentially one of the most important species on our planet. And trust me, we are not in their diet.
A typical day for me in Fiji started very early. We would wake up at the crack of dawn and head over to the dive shop where we met up with our shark diving team at Beqa Adventure Divers (“the B.A.D boys”). We trusted them with our lives, and I also made friends with these wonderful people. We learned all the warning signs of an aggressive shark, and I gained multiple levels of certifications and advanced as a scuba diver. We dove at 100ft with our shark friends twice a day, but each time was like the first—it took my breath away. We descended to the ocean floor, and laid on our stomachs at the mercy of these 10-foot-long sharks. The B.A.D boys hand-fed the bull sharks in front of us, and we watched as they glided over us. Sometimes, a fin or a tail would graze us. There wasn’t a single moment I felt fear, even as I stared into the eyes of a predator who was only an inch or two away from me.
The BAD boys and the bull sharks taught me many things about marine biology. The point of Beqa Adventure Divers is to promote conservation efforts not only for sharks, but for other marine inhabitants living in that area. Since declaring the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, these conservation efforts have increased marine species by up to 80%, which essentially has restored the reef and ocean in this area. To be a part of these conservation efforts and to contribute to the promotion of a healthy marine world was a dream come true, and I didn’t want to leave.
I left feeling inspired because I knew that if I could make a difference in one month, I could only imagine what my entire career could lead to. My experience in Australia built a foundation of knowledge that I continued to build on in Fiji. Knowing that a small group of dedicated people can make such a difference left me inspired and honored to be a part of it. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
Vinaka (thank you), Fiji, for giving me this opportunity. I can only hope studying abroad can bring such joy to others who may need it.
Chelsea Leigh Black, Senior
Major: Marine Biology (psychology minor)
Studied abroad in Australia and Fiji.
Favorite travel quote: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” –Mary Anne Radmacher