My first three weeks in Fiji were spent participating in the ‘Marine Conservation’ project on Beqa island; a ruggedly beautiful landscape of cascading palm trees, draped mangroves and sun-drenched sand; lazily scattered amongst other islands in the azure depths of the Pacific Ocean. My time here was spent gaining ‘Open Water’ and ‘Advanced Open Water’ PADI qualifications in scuba-diving, starting from scratch.
The moment I met my diving instructor, any fears I harboured about diving subsided due to his entirely relaxed nature. With ease he showed us how to fit together our BCD’s and air tanks, explained in detail how everything worked and how each person learning to dive, would succeed at their own pace no matter how slow or fast that may be. ‘There are no judgements here’ he iterated, explaining how he had taught people to swim and complete the ‘Open Water’ qualification from scratch in just one month before and doing so was a pleasure, not a chore.
The team of beginners I was with would start the ‘Open Water’ training with ‘Confined Diving’ to get us used to breathing underwater. Ensconced in the translucence of the sea (still able to touch the bottom); we were taught to breathe through a regulator and complete skills such as: what to do when our goggles fill with salt water. Such skills were repeated over the next few days in deeper waters as we became more comfortable. We were also provided regular lectures and tests on the science of diving; buoyancy, equalisation and general safety, ensuring we felt calm throughout the entirety of the course.
The ‘Advanced Open Water’ qualification saw us completing day to day underwater activities with a buddy and enhanced our skills to a level from which we could dive independently from an instructor, to complete fish surveying for the project. This course included using a compass underwater and practicing hand signals signifying danger. As our competence grew, we simultaneously enjoyed such activities as swimming in to an abandoned ship-wreck to practice buoyancy and exploring the different scuba spots, each one littered with an underwater metropolis of towering corals and spiralling shoals of multi-coloured fish; revealing a kaleidoscope of fascinating colours.
Furthermore, throughout the project we were wholly immersed in acts of marine conservation. Those who could dive competently surveyed fish and coral with a ‘diving buddy’ and daily lectures were ran by the staff to enable competent speciation. Varied related community projects were also held such as: the weekly running of lessons at ‘Raviravi Primary School’, teaching the benefits of preserving the ocean and beach cleans to rid the shores of plastic and other such intoxicants harmful to marine life. The Fiji-marine project works to conserve aquatic life in multitudinous ways, creating an eye-opening and inspirational experience for the volunteers within it.