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A LONG WEEKEND WITH FIJI’S WONDERFUL SHARKS

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

We love a diving long weekend. Most of these trips we jump in the car and drive two, three or four hours to a destination in either Queensland or New South Wales for a couple of days of great diving. But for something completely different we recently jumped on a plane for a diving long weekend in Fiji.

 

We have been to Fiji a number of times and love the fabulous diving found around this South Pacific nation. But the idea for a Fiji long weekend came about because of a book project called Diving With Sharks. The book, co-authored with shark diving fanatic Andy Murch, showcases the best shark dives in the world and also details all the shark species divers can encounter, and will be available by the end of the year. While we had done some brilliant shark dives in Fiji before, we hadn’t dived the site where Fiji got its reputation as a great shark diving destination, a site called The Bistro.

 

After a morning flight from Brisbane, we arrived in Nadi in the afternoon. Waiting for us was a driver to take us two hours south to our weekend destination – Pacific Harbour. Located on the edge of the magic Beqa Lagoon, Pacific Harbour is a small town with a good range of accommodation. We were booked into Club Oceanus, a small resort with basic, but comfortable rooms. It was a good base for a long weekend, with a nice restaurant and pool, but more importantly it was where Aqua Trek are based.

 

Aqua Trek is one of the most professional and experienced dive operations in Fiji, and have been in operation since 1985. They have a fleet of dive boats and take divers out daily to explore the magnificent dive sites in Beqa Lagoon. On previous trips we have explored the wonderful reefs and shipwrecks scattered around Beqa Lagoon, but with only two days of diving available we wanted to focus on sharks.

 

In 1997, the staff from Aqua Trek tried an experiment when they regularly dumped fish scraps on a site at Lake Reef that had been affected by coral bleaching. The process worked far better than they imagined, as they not only attracted reef sharks, but also bull sharks. Today the dive site is known as The Bistro, and with up to eight species of sharks seen it is one of the best shark dives in the world.

 

The next morning we were keen to see some sharks. The weather was calm, though cloudy, and after a thorough dive briefing we headed out to dive The Bistro. Located only ten minutes from the dive shop, we didn’t waste any time and got straight into the water.

 

The sloping reef at The Bistro leads to a rock wall, built by the Aqua Trek staff, at 18m. This amphitheatre is where the shark feed takes place. Arriving at the wall we could already see several dozen sharks cruising about in the 15m visibility – tawny nurse sharks, grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, silvertip sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks and numerous bull sharks. Mixing with the sharks was countless numbers of fish – trevally, fusiliers, snappers, red bass and a couple of Queensland gropers.

 

While most of the divers were excited to see the large bull sharks, and hoping for a guest appearance from a tiger shark, we were keen to photograph a species that had eluded our cameras for years – the sicklefin lemon shark. The last time we did a shark feed in Fiji we had been promised lemon sharks, but didn’t see one. So we were very happy to see around five of these very distinctive looking sharks cruising around.

 

With all the divers in place the shark feed commenced with two feeders giving out fish pieces to the hungry sharks. While the shark feed is spectacular, the best part of this experience is being able to get close to shark species that would generally avoid divers completely. The lemon sharks, which are normally very shy, would swimming right passed our faces, while the bull sharks would zoom close by after taking a piece of fish. Our closest encounters were with the silvertips, with these hyperactive sharks speeding around the site, snapping up food and zipping over our heads. Sometimes these silvertips got a little too close, which was great for photos and video. If they got too friendly the very attentive Aqua Trek staff would push them away with their rods.

 

After thirty minutes the food was all gone and it was time to ascend into the shallows. Usually we would be able to explore the reef and shipwreck scuttled at the site, but a strong surface current made this impossible. So we instead enjoyed an extra long safety stop as we watched the sharks cruising around the reef top.

 

Talking about the amazing shark action seemed to make the surface interval fly by and we were soon back in the water for the second part of the shark feed. By now the silvertip sharks had departed (the staff informed us that they only hang around for the first feed), but the bull and lemon sharks were still hungry. The action was just as good the second time around and the numerous tawny nurse sharks were even pushing in to get their fair share of food. The only sharks that seem to miss out on a feed were the smaller and shier grey reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks. There were plenty of these reef sharks cruising around, but they spent most of their time patrolling the reef slope behind us. It was hard to tell how many sharks were at the feed, but it could have been anywhere from fifty to one hundred.

 

Day two and we were just as keen for more shark action. We also had our fingers crossed that a tiger shark would make an appearance. Aqua Trek do the shark feed at The Bistro four times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and tiger sharks are seen on roughly half of these feeds. While our odds were good, unfortunately the tiger didn’t make an appearance. We weren’t that concerned as the action with the bull sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks and silvertip sharks was incredible, and these sharks were not small, ranging in size from 2.5m to 3.5m in length. We even saw a blacktip reef shark sneaking around the shallows, making seven shark species in just two days. There is nowhere else in the world where you can see that many species of sharks at one dive site in only two days.

 

The next morning we headed home after two days of incredible shark diving. I had got the information and images I needed for the shark book and we also had a fabulous long weekend in Fiji.

 

 

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