Rolex Scholarship Report

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Acknowledgements

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the many people who helped me enjoy the most wonderful year of my life as the European Rolex Scholar for 2014.

My coordinators Jim Standing and Elvin Leech and the European Team Howard Painter, Jade Berman and Chloé Maréchal, for their guidance, patient and for being there for whenever I needed them,

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society for continuing year after year with this amazing project that changes so many people’s careers and lives,

The sponsors: Rolex, Fourth Element, Aqualung, Apeks and Reef Photo & Video for supporting us and providing us with all of the equipment we could ever need.

The many hosts for allowing me to stay, travel, and enjoy the wonders of the underwater world with them. I learnt so much thanks to you!

My family all over the world who were supportive and believed in me from the very beginning. Thanks to Skype, my parents and my boyfriend have been on a journey around the world with me and were there to support me whenever I needed it.

I am completely overwhelmed by the generosity shown to me and feel inspired, committed and determined to work hard in the future to achieve my dreams.

My Plan

After being told I had won the Rolex Scholarship I was in shock. My dream of travelling the world and learning more about the dive industry and sharks could now become a reality.

I had many questions about my future that needed answering and sat down with my co-ordinator to make a plan for the year. All of the things I had never really believed I would have the chance to do were now an option!

From the beginning my goal for the year was clear. I wanted to travel to as many shark diving companies around the world as possible and learn from them how to operate a successful business while helping towards shark conservation in a responsible way.

Having such a clear idea of what I wanted to do from the beginning made it easier for me to decide where to go and what to do. The difficult thing was prioritising what was most important and planning how and when to go to each place.

As is often the case with long adventures, plans inevitably changed along the way but after one year of intense travelling I sit here now amazed by everything I have discovered.

I learnt many things about my opinions and also myself as a person and expectations of others. I realised that I have definitely chosen the correct path in life and am very happy that I have had the chance to do something I love every day for the past year. I believe that if you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard to get it then anything is possible.

The scholarship worked as a catalyser for my learning process. I reinforced many of my principles and learnt many new ones. I learnt not only the theory behind my ideas but also how to put them into practice in the real world.

I also made many new friends and contacts that I hope to see again and work with in the future. The battle to save sharks and other marine life is a long and hard one and it is vital that we all work together to bring about changes in attitude and ideas.

I hope now that I have the skills and experience to move forward with my idea and really make a difference for sharks around the world.

It is now time for me to give something back in return for all of the wonderful times the ocean has given me and I am determined to use the gift of the scholarship to help make that happen.

My Experiences & Places Visited

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Shark dive companies visited

1. Basking Shark Scotland – Oban, Scotland

As a first stop of my year I had the opportunity to visit Coll, a remote, stunning Scottish island and an internationally recognized basking shark “hotspot”. The purpose of my visit was to learn how to have high quality encounters with these plankton-feeders without harming or disturbing them. Shane Wasik, the owner of Basking Shark Scotland helped me to understand why we should take care of the species while at the same time enjoying the experience. Unfortunately we did not see any basking sharks while I was there but I still had a fantastic time and learnt a lot from Shane and his team.

2. African Watersports & Michael Aw – Umkomaas, South Africa

I went to South Africa thanks to African Watersports and Michael Aw, a passionate underwater photographer and director of Ocean Geographic magazine. While there I got to see two of the most amazing species of cartilaginous fish: The sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) and the oceanic black tip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus).

The sand tiger sharks were not at all what I had been expecting. A mouth full of pointy teeth makes this species look dangerous, aggressive and scary. In reality they are calm and inquisitive around divers and I enjoyed the experience much more than I had expected.

My favourite part of the trip was swimming with the blacktips. The interactions were intense. Sardines placed in the water attract the sharks and you get to dive among them while they investigate the bait boxes. I found it fascinating to be surrounded by so many wild pelagic animals in the open ocean and yet not feel at all threatened by them. Once the food is gone, the sharks disappear as calmly and as quickly as they arrived.

3. Shark Explorers – Simonstown, South Africa

From the very beginning of my obsession with sharks the Shark Explorers website has always been one of the first places I would go to find pictures and videos of sharks online. Not only do they have amazing and beautiful images, they also inspire others to swim with and learn about sharks. They love being in the water with these animals and encourage others to do the same. I had always dreamt of visiting them one day and thanks to the Rolex Scholarship I had the chance to do it. At a time when everybody else in the world was sat at home watching sharks on the Discovery Channel, I was in the cold waters of South Africa face to face with the great white shark!

4. Prodivers Maldives – Kuredu, Maldives

Perhaps one of the most challenging times of the scholarship for me was the month I spent in the Maldives learning how to use my underwater camera and doing my Nitrox course. I was generously supplied a full set up by Reef Photo & Video so that I could capture on film all of my adventures but had no idea how to use it!

I had never been fortunate enough to own anything like it before and really needed some guidance from somebody who new what they were doing. I just could not express clearly through video some of the spectacles I was seeing underwater. This year was full of exhilarating encounters and I really wanted to share this experience with others!

Luckily the experts at Prodivers Maldives invited me and the Australasian Rolex scholar Courtney Rayes to stay on their beautiful island for one month to take part in an intensive videography course.

We learnt how to get the most from our cameras and how to tell a story using photos and video. After leaving the Maldives I felt more familiar with my camera and its functions and could not wait for my next dive with sharks to put what I had learnt into practice.

As Cousteau famously said: ”When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself”.

5. CW Azores – Pico Island, Azores

If you mention diving in the Azores, many divers will not have even heard of this stunning group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Luckily for me my good friend Jeff Trotta had visited there before and recommended that I should go if I had the chance. When he told me that there are regular sightings of Blue and Mako sharks my mind was made up. I arranged to stay and dive with CWAzores and what a cool, passionate and professional team they were!

It was incredible to swim with blue sharks, one of the most elegant and confident species I have seen. They have no fear of divers and will approach inches from the camera, making them an ideal subject to practice my new camera skills. Their blue coloration provides them with the perfect camouflage for hunting in in the open ocean and I spent many hours watching them in near perfect conditions.

I also saw and learnt about mobula rays, pilot & sperm whales and swam with dolphins! On my final day there I visited two biologists from the University of the Azores. One of them is researching the economic importance of marine-based tourism and its contribution to the regional economy. It was very interesting discuss with them the benefits of shark diving while staying with the company who first introduced it to the region. The popularity of shark diving there is thankfully helping towards the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the Azorean Sea.

6. Beqa Adventure Divers – Beqa Lagoon, Fiji

Diving with massive bull sharks is something that I had dreamt of doing for years. I’d heard about Beqa Adventure Divers and the great work they were doing with sharks in Fiji and made it a priority to visit them to learn how to build a successful shark diving business. This company is the perfect example of how to ensure that tourism is maintained for a long time without severely impacting on the marine species. They have a long running, successful shark dive that attracts huge numbers of sharks and other fish and also contribute to the local economy. They have recently managed to convince the government to make their shark reef Fijis first Marine protected area and work tirelessly to learn as much as possible about their shark population. While there I learnt how to balance the three main components of any ecotourism business: the tourists, the local community and the environment. I realized that to achieve long-term conservation, it is critical to give a high level of importance to scientific research.

“Without data you are just another person with an opinion” – W. Edwards Deming

I was lucky to have my good friend Diego Cardeñosa (founder of Alopias Project) working there as the head of the bull shark research team from Projects Abroad – Fiji!

During my stay I helped him and his team with shark-tagging and exploratory dives in partnership with the local fishermen! My stay in Fiji was definitely one oft he highlights of my trip and I would love to return one day to see all of the friends I made there and learn more from them.

7. Phantom Divers – Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen is another destination that is setting an example to the world on shark diving management! They have regular seasonal visits from large female Bull sharks and have been diving with them successfully for many years.

I had the chance to visit my friends at Phantom Divers and spend some time diving with the sharks and learning about the problems they have encountered running a shark diving business. They have faced a lot of opposition from local businesses and people but have persevered and tried to educate them about shark conservation.

The owner of Phantom has also set up a non-governmental organization called Save Our Sharks to help conduct valuable research into their shark population. Their goal is to protect the resource and guarantee a sustainable long-term future for the shark diving in this charming Mexican town.

There are now nearly 40 companies offering dives with the sharks in Playa and they do not all agree on the best way to conduct the dives. I participated in meetings between the various organisations, trying to help them all come to an agreement to make the interactions as safe and as standardized as possible.

It was very interesting for me to see the political side of shark diving!

After almost two years of discussions, meetings and a lot of effort, they have finally agreed on a Manual of Best Practices for the Bull Shark Dives that now sets the standards for all those who want to promote the activity with this species!

8. Jupiter Dive Center – Jupiter, Florida, USA

Thanks to my friends Jeff & Missy Trotta I was able to spend some time diving the deep reefs around Jupiter in Florida. Perhaps the most famous fish in these waters is the Goliath Grouper. I was extremely lucky to experience an aggregation of these huge fish and it was a jaw-dropping experience! They really are massive! Way bigger than I had expected. Too bad I couldn’t get a picture of one of them next to a diver to really demonstrate their size.

I never imagined Florida had such an abundance of different species! Turtles, sharks and rays were everywhere! I had a fantastic time there and learnt a lot from my wonderful hosts Jeff and Missy.

9. Stuart Cove’s – Nassau, The Bahamas

I have never seen a more successful marine tourism business than Stuart Cove’s dive centre in Nassau. It really changed my perspective of how tourism can be managed. Although I the diving in the area wasn’t mind blowing, the impact of this company on The Bahamas is immense.

They have been working with the same species of sharks for over 35 years! During this time they have taken more than one million people diving with them!

By making sharks one of the main attractions of the Bahamas they have undoubtedly helped towards their wellbeing. Over the past 20 years, shark-related tourism has contributed more than US$800 million dollars to the Bahamian economy. In recognition of this, the Bahamian government banned all commercial shark fishing in the approximately 630,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) of the country’s waters in July 2011.

It was amazing to see such a well-run operation and how it has helped a nation become one huge shark sanctuary.

10. Cristina Zenato, Unexso – Freeport, The Bahamas

Cristina is the reason that I first started diving with sharks. I saw her on TV diving with her sharks and was so impressed with what she was doing that I decided to write to her and ask her how I could do the same thing! Although I never expected an answer it wasn’t long before she had replied and her letter changed my life.

She invited me to visit her and dive with her sharks! I could not believe it!

After that very first dive 5 years ago I knew I wanted to work with sharks in the future.

Visiting her again during my scholarship year was awesome. This time she even tried to teach me how to feed sharks! I had the chance to wear a chain mail suit for the first time and found the feeding way harder than I had expected. Trying to do what Cristina does made me realise how hard it actually is to be a shark feeder and gave me a new appreciation for her and all the other cool people I met who do this as a job on a daily basis.

11. Epic Diving – Tiger Beach, The Bahamas

Tiger Beach is my favourite place in the world! In only 15 feet of water one can spend hours completely surrounded by sharks. Having the chance to go there was a dream come true. To have up to five different tiger sharks swimming peacefully around divers is an indescribable experience. They come so close that sometimes it is necessary to gently guide them away with one hand. They are powerful and magnificent creatures but show no aggression to divers at all. Large numbers of lemon and Caribbean reef sharks also frequent the area competing for attention and food.

It was incredible to meet Debra and Vincent Canabal, my hosts from Epic Diving. The way they feed the tiger sharks was very impressive to watch. I have never seen something similar. They say the sharks can recognise the feeders and even have favourites. This trip made me fall in love more with sharks and the Bahamas. I am inspired by the positive interactions there, to do something similar in other destinations around the world.

12. Under Sea Hunter Group (Argo Vessel) – Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Cocos Island is a dream destination for any diver, offering the chance to see huge schools of hammerheads and other fish. Being over 500 km from the mainland of Costa Rica the islands act as a stop off point for many pelagic species and one never knows what might show up on a dive there. When I was interviewed as part of my application process I was asked where would I most like to go and Cocos was top of the list.

I spent a month staying on the remote island with the Costa Rican park rangers, something that very few people have had the privilege to do, and totally fell in love with the island and its fauna.

I was kindly transported to the island by the Argo Vessel of the Under Sea Hunter Group and dived with them during my stay. It was the perfect way to end my amazing year as a Rolex scholar.

Shark research individuals / stations

1. Meaghen McCord Gray, South African Shark Conservancy – South Africa

The South African Shark Conservancy are a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the conservation & sustainable use of marine resources through research, education & awareness.

I had the opportunity to join them and help with their daily data collection! I was responsible for the catching, tagging and releasing process of a pyjama sharks (Poroderma africanum). They have a fully operational marine laboratory equipped with experimental tanks housing captive sharks and a “touch tank” for educational purposes! This was all thanks to one of my old friends from the Bimini shark lab Katie Gledhill.

2. University of the Azores, Department of Marine Tourism Impact – Portugal

While I was diving with CW Azores I visited the university and met two biologists from the University of the Azores. One of them is currently working on a research paper about the economic importance of marine-based tourism and its contribution to the regional economy. I cannot wait to read her results.

3. Diego Cardeñosa, Projects Abroad – Fiji

I spent three weeks in Fiji staying with the team of Projects Abroad. They kindly received me and let me stay in the staff house. I met Diego, the Principal Investigator of the project a few years ago in a conference about elasmobranchs in Colombia. He was also a researcher at the lab during my time in Bimini. He, his girlfriend and his team are very committed to shark research and conservation. It was amazing to see how they motivated the volunteers.

Many of them were younger than 20 years old and after being there for few days they were sure they wanted to work with sharks in the future. Spending time with them inspired me to continue the hard work to involve future generations into the field of scientific research of sharks!

4. Luis Lombardo, Saving Our Sharks – Mexico

While in Mexico with the Save our Sharks Organization I had the chance to join them to discuss the future of shark diving in the area.

There are now nearly 40 companies offering dives with the sharks in Playa Del Carmen and they do not all agree on the best way to conduct the dives. I participated in meetings between the various organisations, trying to help them all come to an agreement to make the interactions as safe and as standardized as possible.

It was very interesting for me to see the political side of shark diving!

After almost two years of discussions, meetings and a lot of effort, they have finally agreed on a Manual of Best Practices for the Bull Shark Dives that now sets the standards for all those who want to promote the activity with this species!

5. Neil Hammerschlag, University of Miami – USA

After reading and learning a lot from his scientific papers I decided to visit Neil Hammerschlag at the University of Miami. Talking to him was very interesting and useful for my future. He gave me lots of encouragement and was excited about my plans to start a shark diving business somewhere in the world that is strictly linked to the scientific method. He told me there are practically no places in the world where data has been collected before the feeding of sharks began. He said that if I plan to do something like that then I have his full support. I am very happy that somebody so well respected agrees with my method and plans and hope to work with Neil some time in the future.

Paper: Shark diving tourism is a burgeoning, global industry. The growing perception that sharks can be worth more alive for tourism than dead in a fish market has become one of the leading contemporary arguments for shark conservation. However, there still exists concern that many aspects of shark-related tourism (e.g., provisioning) may alter natural behaviours and foraging areas, as well as pose a threat to humans by associating people with food. These concerns are largely driven by the previously limited scientific knowledge regarding the effects of shark diving tourism on shark biology, the marine environment and human interactions. To assist the development of future research, we provide a set of research questions. Taken together, we conclude that under the right conditions and if done in a precautionary, responsible manner, shark diving can provide a net conservation benefit (i.e., garnering of protective measures, raising awareness, instilling a conservation ethic) for a handful of species.

6. Samuel Gruber, Bimini Biological Field Station – The Bahamas

To say Dr. Samuel H. Gruber (“Doc”), the founder and director of the Bimini shark lab is a unique individual is an understatement. He’s a bit of a renaissance man, a pilot, former ballet dancer, and one of the world’s leading authorities on shark research. I had the opportunity of working for him during my time at the Bimini Shark Lab four years ago and it was fantastic to catch up with him again this year. He was really proud of me for having won the scholarship and even brought to the dinner his old Rolex! It was fun to see him again, meet his wife and discuss marine research and conservation initiatives in other parts of the world.

7. Juan Posada, Fundación MarViva – Panama

I was very much looking forward to seeing my ex-professor Juan Posada. He is now the Science Manager of the MarViva Foundation who actively works with the PEW Environmental Group in Panama. I learnt from them that were should focus on sustainability instead of prohibition. What they do is to offer alternatives to consumers by preparing popular seafood dishes with species that are not vulnerable to fishing pressures. I was also interviewed by numerous newspapers and magazines and had the opportunity to give a talk with more than 100 attendants! Also I appeared on national Television and radio and even arranged an event to discuss sharks with children! It was wonderful to see how receptive the nation was towards the shark conservation topic. This is definitely a place I would like to come back to and work to save sharks in the future!

8. Randall Arauz, PRETOMA – Costa Rica

Randall is a legendary activist that has been leading the charge against shark finning in Costa Rican waters for years. Together with PRETOMA, a Costa Rican non-profit organization, he has been battling the shark fin trade and has implemented many international campaigns. I met him on way to Cocos Island on-board the Argo Vessel and learnt many important things from him during the long journey. While there I helped him to place the receivers that track shark movements around the island. Randall is the first Costa Rican and second Latin American to win the Gothenburg Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize, considered to be the Noble Prize for the environment and I was honoured to spend time with him to discuss conservation issues.

Other Dive Activities and Inspiring People

1. Dry suit training & diving, Beyond Diving – Walchensee, Germany

Diving in lakes, although not very appealing to many due to its low visibility, low temperatures and limited aquatic life, is a very common activity in southern Germany. Walchensee is the deepest lake in Germany, reaching 192 meters at its deepest point! I had the opportunity to dive in Walchensee with a small group of friends: Ben Spaeh, Sttefi Schörner and Reinhard Mantei, an SSI instructor trainer with a broad experience and expertise on diving in the Alpine States lakes. For the first time, I tried my brand new Whites Fusion FIT with a Thermal under suit from Fourth Element and it was extremely comfortable.

2. Sardine Run, Michael Aw & African Watersports – Mbotyi, South Africa

I went to South Africa hoping to see the Sardine run, an amazing natural event where hundreds of sharks, dolphins and birds gather to feast on millions of sardines that migrate from the south to the north east coast of Africa. Unfortunately the huge feeding aggregations never materialized but I did get to see a species 800 times bigger than I had expected! Coming face to face with a humpback whale was one of the most thrilling things that I have ever done!

It all happened thanks to Michael Aw & Walter Bernardis who invited me to join them and Jayne Jenkins in the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal.

Seeing humpbacks swimming next to the boat was an emotional experience. They are fast, elusive and sometimes playful. They are on the way to Mozambique to give birth and pay little attention to the boat or the swimmers; sometimes jumping so high that their entire body leaves the water!

Seeing humpbacks for the first time more than made up for the disappointment of missing out on the Sardine Run.

3. Free-diving Training, I am Water Conservation Trust – Durban, South Africa

I enjoy scuba diving immensely but sometimes all of the equipment needed can feel a bit restrictive. I have always loved to snorkel too. There is something about descending into the ocean on one breath of air that gives me a total feeling of freedom. I had always been quite good at holding my breath and got to increase my skills further by training with a wonderful group of people from the I Am Water Ocean Conservation Trust. Their mission is to help people connect with the ocean by teaching them how to free dive. I spent a few incredible days with Beth Neale and her awesome shark scientist friends, Clare and Ryan Daly. A couple of weeks later I went to Simonstown where I met the founder of the I Am Water Ocean Conservation Trust, Hanli Prinslo. She is a truly inspiration for those who want to start a career related to the water. It was a pleasure to meet like-minded people from all over the world.

4. Meeting the fishermen, Afro Fishing – Mosselbay, South Africa

Thanks to Expert Tours I was able to join a fishing vessel in Mosselbay! I saw for myself the process of sardine fishing and hoped to discover if the rapid decline of sardines since 2002 can be attributed to the sardine fishermen.

Spending time with the guys on the boat made me realise that they are just normal people trying to make a living like everybody else. It may sound a bit naive but before the scholarship I used to demonise fishermen. For me they were just insensitive people who were destroying the marine ecosystem. After talking with them for hours I realized that they are not evil people. They are just doing their job. Thanks to this lesson I now emphasise with fishermen and want to involve them realistically into the tourism industry or help them to focus on a sustainable fishing. Trying to stop them ineffectively will achieve absolutely nothing.

5. Aerial Photography of Wildlife, Jean Tresfton – Cape Town, South Africa

What is the best way of discovering a city? From the air! This is the view I had of Cape Town thanks to Jean Tresfon. Jean took me up in his plane on a beautiful morning to see this stunning city from another perspective. It was scintillating. We saw whales, seals, surfers and many other animals from the sky! Even from the air, the socioeconomic contrast between rich and poor is evident. There is a lot to fix in this world!

A part from being a hedonistic experience, flying is also a useful tool for biologists. It allows them to study the spatial distribution of large organisms, species and ecosystems from above. Jean is a professional wildlife photographer who specializes in conservation of the marine environment.

6. Sardines Research, Dep. Agriculture and Fisheries – Cape Town, South Africa

After my trip out with the fishermen I could not stop thinking about the sardines. Was overfishing really responsible for the huge decline in numbers in the last decade? I did some research online and found many interesting articles. Most included the name “Dr. Carl van der Lingen”. I wrote to him hoping that we could meet up and talk about the problem. He responded and was happy to discuss the subject with me. It turns out that Carl is the man responsible for making catch level recommendations to the fisheries managers, ensuring they don’t over fish the sardine population.

I went to his office in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cape Town, and sat down for around two hours with him and his colleague, Janet Coetzee. They’ve held their positions for more than 20 years. They explained to me many important results of their research during that time. I was really surprised. Their data shows that although fishing does have an impact on the sardine populations, the rapid decline in sardines cannot be attributed entirely, or even to any large extent, to the fishery industry. It was very interesting to hear another perspective and made me realize again that data is critical when looking to assess the state of our oceans and make plans for its conservation in the future.

7. Aerial Photography, Animal Ocean – Simonstown, South Africa

When I was in South Africa many people told me I to visit Steve Benjamin from Animal Ocean, a company specialising in seal tours! Every time I found some time to do it the weather did not co-operate and so I never got to go out on one of his famous tours. I still wanted to meet Steve though and so when one day he invited me to join him and a photographer take Ariel photographs of surfers, I happily went along. It turned out that the photographer was Eric Cheng, a guy who’s pictures I had admired for many years. It was so nice to meet him and talk about our adventures! We spent the afternoon filming with his drone and I learnt a lot from him about Ariel photography. Hopefully I can get one of these amazing tools for myself one day!

8. Macrophotography & Ecotourism, Tulamben Wreck Divers, Indonesia

While waiting to join an expedition I had planned leaving from Bali, I had the chance to visit Tulamben Wreck Divers, a famous dive spot on the north coast of the island. The area is actually famous for two things, a huge wreck that sits just meters from the shore and also macro diving.

Being a lover of sharks and big animals, looking for small things in the sand has never really been my thing but there were some interesting encounters to be had on the wreck. A resident school of Bump head parrotfish can be seen every day and a large school of jacks and a big barracuda kept me entertained while my dive buddy Jayne Jenkins spent her time photographing the little things. The coolest macro critter I found was the cleaner shrimp! It was hilarious to take out my regulator and let them come in and clean my teeth! This made for an interesting photograph to send to my family!

9. Lindblad Expeditions, Bali, Indonesia to Great Barrier Reef, Australia

This was a dream trip. Jayne and I went on an epic three-week expedition to discover Indonesia’s rich tapestry of cultures and lush tropical remote islands on board the National Geographic Orion. We visited the island where Komodo dragons live and snorkelled and dived at pristine coral reefs from the Moluccas to West Papua! It was a voyage of discovery and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We did many workshops with National Geographic photographers and I learnt a lot of new things!

There were many people aboard the National Geographic boat and the way the trip was managed was very impressive. It changed my perspective of the mass tourism industry. After seeing the catastrophic effects this type of tourism has had on other places in the world, I thought that such a large amount of people visiting such wild and remote places was a bad idea. Lots of people are equal to lots of trash and an inevitable damage to the environment. However on this trip I learnt that the problem is not the amount of people but the way these people are managed. There were more than 100 passengers and crewmembers walking around small islands and the crew made sure that we were considerate and had as little impact on the local communities and the wildlife as possible. All the details were well planned and the rules were clear and strict.

It was amazing to spend three weeks in such luxurious conditions while still learning so much about the areas we visited and exploring new and uncharted dive sites.

10. Manatee Encounters – Scuba Diver Life – Crystal River, USA

Seeing manatees was not in my bucket list, but it was for sure one of the most intimate experiences I had this year! I went with Nadia Aly, the owner of Scuba Diver Life, Daniel Norwood, an underwater photographer and Richard H. Stewart editor of Ocean Realm magazine. The manatees are funny creatures that definitely like to cuddle! Everybody told me not to touch them so I did not initiate any contact. Interestingly one particularly friendly Manatee had other ideas and decided he wanted a hug

Many people laughed and took photographs as I was harassed and followed around the spring! Everybody joked that it must have been an excited male Manatee! It was the funniest thing that happened this year.

11. BOOT Messe – Düsseldorf, Germany

Meeting so many people in the biggest dive show in Europe (the Boot – Düsseldorf) was an exhausting experience. I must admit that at by the end of the show I couldn’t remember half oft he people I had met. I think I had reached a point in the year that although I did not feel physically tired, my brain most definitely was!

I still had a lot of fun anyway, telling young Germans about the scholarship! I hope in the future I inspire one of these German people to become the next Rolex Scholar.

12. Coco Island National Park – Costa Rica

After diving with the Argo Vessel for a few days, I went to the island to work side by side with its guardians. The park rangers allowed me to stay and work with them for almost a month. I was in charge of the data collection and analysis of the sustainable tourism program on the island. The goal of this program is to assess the impact of tourism on the marine ecosystem. I learnt all the techniques that I would need to use whenever I want to introduce tourism to another place. Unfortunately I also saw the rangers struggling everyday to stop illegal fishermen from catching sharks in the protected waters. The sad reality is that they just don’t have the resources to protect the place. This enforced my belief that there is another solution to the problem of overfishing other than prohibition by force. People are only going to stop fishing sharks when offered an alternative. I was surprised when Randall Araus (a famous turtle and shark conservationist) told me that he doesn’t want to fight to implement a shark sanctuary in Costa Rica. He feels that doing this without the resources to protect it doesn’t makes sense. Of course laws are important but they are useless if the enforcement is not effective.

Hopefully in the future my friends in Cocos will have help to stop the plundering of their waters. Who knows maybe one day the fishermen might even think differently and actually realize that sharks need to be saved not slaughtered. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to stay on the island and I fell in love with the place. I will most definitely return one day to continue my fight to save Cocos sharks.

13. BBC Oceans – Bristol, UK

I had the chance to visit the BBC Oceans team while in the UK and work on my final video alongside two past Rolex-scholars Yolly Bosinger and Joe Stevens. They are both now working on exciting new projects for the BBC. Spending time with them dramatically improved my understanding of how to use the media as a tool to help achieve shark conservation.

14. Visiting PADI Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA)

I was invited by Richard Somerset, another Rolex ex-scholar and current Manager, Training and Quality Management at PADI Europe to visit their headquarters while in Bristol. He was very nice to me and we had a great time sharing stories about our time in the scholarship year!

Meeting past scholars and seeing how successful they have become inspires me to make use of this wonderful gift I have been given and to do something useful in the future.

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