How is it possible to go from one extreme to the other? To completely love something you were once totally indifferent to? A thing which I never thought I would do, I have done. I’ve learnt to dive. That in itself is a big deal, if you knew me you’d know why: I don’t like the cold or the wet. I’m not frightened of water; I just choose not to go in it. Or chose, I should say.
I wrote in a previous column about being invited to take a diving course, with the carrot dangling of a ‘secret marine conservation mission’ well, how could I turn it down? I love a good surprise, and there was something about the people who were asking me: Brad and Bea from Ondine Escape, I found their professionalism and glowing enthusiasm irresistible.
I’ve discovered that you don’t have to be cold when you are in the sea if you’ve got the right gear on. I’ve been challenged to do things that my brain told me not to. I’ve made new friends and belatedly found something (my dad tried for years to get me to learn to dive) which is amazingly relaxing.
I wasn’t really prepared for the other things that happened.
From day one we were filmed. At Reads Hotel (who generously allowed us access to their pool) there were cameras in and out of the water. It became normal to be followed around by the filmmaker, David, and cameraman Liam.
Of course all of us, Brad’s ‘young grasshoppers’, speculated about what it was that we might be doing. Could it be picking up rubbish from the seabed, or counting jellyfish, or some sort of protest, or…? At home my little girl, La Gidg, was fascinated with what I was doing, and wanted to talk about the ocean and her imaginary life as a mermaid. I realised that she knew and cared a lot more about the sea than I did. One of her favourite places to go is the Palma Aquarium to look at turtles and seahorses and marvel at The Big Blue, a huge 8 metre deep tank of fish from Mediterranean waters. The memory of the tank stirred a suspicion in me… surely not? Wouldn’t going in that huge tank be frightening and dangerous? Especially knowing what lives in there. How crazy to be in the tank and waving at La Gidg watching? The thought tickled me, but no, that couldn’t be it. Could it? From the beginning we had been told we would be visiting the Aquarium for a tour with Education Director Debora Morrison, and then be travelling onwards to our dive site to take part in the conservation project. Knowing that La Gidg would be miffed if she didn’t get to go Brad had said she could come as well. She talked about it for days before.
The day of the secret mission dawned, the rendezvous 8am outside of the Aquarium. Debora and head guide Manon talked us through the different zones, giving us a fascinating insight into life underwater. Then there was a surreal ‘You’ve been framed’ moment when we arrived in front of THE tank in the Aquarium – The Big Blue, you know, the one with the s.h.a.r.k.s. in it.
Our wildest speculation was the right one. David, who I now noticed had an armful of shark tattoos, solemnly told us that we were all going in. I jumped with glee. How much can a person change in three weeks?
Getting in the tank is like trying to join the M25 at the Heathrow exit there are so many fish. But soon we were in, and under. How lucky was I to be 8 metres down holding hands with Brad whilst a 2 metre long Sand Tiger shark powered elegantly past my nose? It wasn’t even the tiniest bit frightening; the sharks (pointy teeth, beady eyes) ignored us: they had swimming to do. And then, I got to fulfil my crazy dream waving at my little girl watching, thrilled to see her mummy diving.
Afterwards we debriefed (i.e. had a beer) and Brad and David’s eyes started shining as they explained what we’d been involved in. David revealed who he is, an underwater filmmaker who with Liam and Brad is making a movie about Mallorca and its endangered shark population. The film is the conservation project: aiming to show sharks in a different light, showing normal people having encounters with them, and dispelling those ‘Man Eater’ myths.
They tell us the reason why these animals are endangered: Shark fin soup. Sharks are caught and slaughtered for their fins, their bodies are discarded back into the sea. Experts put the yearly death toll between 43 and 73 million sharks a year. In the developed world Spain is the biggest supplier of shark fins to the Asian food industry. It’s a shock, and an appalling thing to learn.
And just like that, I do care. Visit http://www.sharksavers.org
Have a secret mission? Contact http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod
(first published April 21st 2011 Euro Weekly Newspaper)