There are many great shark dives in the world, but how many offer a multi-level dive all year round, on which you can have close encounters with up to nine different species of shark – blacktips, whitetips, grey reefs, silvertips, tawnies, sickle fins, lemons, tigers and bulls? The answer is only one.
Just 20 minutes by boat from Fiji’s Pacific Harbour lies a very special marine park where, over the years, important shark research and conservation work has brought the marine life back to this once over-fished area. With support from both the Fijian government and the traditional owners of the area, as well as a lot of hard work from Beqa Adventure Divers, Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Fiji’s first national marine reserve, has become a hugely successful eco-tourism shark project. What makes this site especially unique is the impressive numbers of bull sharks that visit the marine park throughout the year, and, although the temptation of food is the main encouragement for these sharks to visit, as I found out over my 12 days here, these sharks are far from being conditioned to just relying on eating fish scraps every day of the year; sharks that I saw at the beginning of my visit were no where to be seen by the end of it.
27 METRES: SHARK ENCOUNTER 1 OF 4 – PUTTING THE BINS OUT
As the group and I descended down the reef slope to the Arena my first bull shark came into view. I had seen nothing from the surface but as we approached the man-made reef wall, the sharks seemed to appear from nowhere. With great efficiency the whole group of divers were quickly guided into position behind the waist high wall by the Beqa Adventure Divers divemasters. Equipped with their aluminum shark staffs, the supervisors spaced themselves evenly behind the group, ensuring that everyone was safe and secure.
Meanwhile, in front of the group, bull sharks of all sizes were now slowly cruising the length of the wall looking at their spectators very closely. From behind the curtain of bubbles created by the line of divers, Fabiano appeared, towing what looked like a wheelie bin. As he hovered 10 metres above the Arena, the sharks become less interested in the divers and more in Fabiano. Surrounded by a dense cloud of reef fish, Fabiano checked the shark’s behaviour and, after being given the all-clear signal from the divemasters, the wheelie bin was inverted and the lid was partially opened. Slowly, several football-sized tuna fish heads tumbled gently into Arena and the languid sharks gave a display of just how fast and manoeuverable they can be as they all rushed to be the first to reach the food. With great busts of competitive acceleration, but without bumping into each other, and in an almost orderly fashion, within moments the food was consumed. The sharks were now a little bit excited and were swimming around more quickly. Fabiano allowed a minute or so for the sharks to regroup and settle.
Constantly monitoring their behaviour and communicating with the divemasters, he dictated the momentum of the feed, ensuring that it was conducted responsibly. As the feeding resumed, Gape, a pregnant, two-and-a-half-metre bull shark shot up vertically to grab the bait first and as the group followed her she snatched one of the fish heads and suddenly changed her course, swimming parallel to the line of spectators with her large mouth open displaying her prize for all to see.
Twenty fish heads later, the dive leader signalled that it was time to ascend to the next stage. We headed for shallower water, the divemasters following, guiding everyone safely to the next vantage point.
Getting there: The international airport is Nadi in the northwest of the main island Viti Levu. From there it is a 2.5-hour transfer by cab to Pacific Harbour on the Southern coast where Beqa Adventure Divers are based. Other local transportation is not recommended.
Best time to dive: All year round. Summer is from November to May and the weather is hot and humid with little wind, warm water and acceptable viz. In winter from June to October it is cool and dry, windy, and the visibility is excellent. The bull sharks leave from October to mid-December to give birth and mate.
Don’t dive without: A 3mm in the summer, 5mm in the winter. For the shark dive a dark, full-body wetsuit and dark gloves.
Essential training: Open water
On arrival: Nationals of most countries can get a four-month permit to stay in Fiji on arrival. Check with your local embassy or consulate.
For more information: www.fijisharkdive.com
Currency: 1 FJD: 0.5 USD
Time zone: GMT +12/13
Languages: English, Hindustani, Fijian