Snorkeling at Castaway Island, Fiji

It’s obvious from my whale shark experience at the Georgia Aquarium that I have a great fear of encounters with marine life. When I can overcome that fear, I see it as one of the most naturally beautiful events that humans can experience. Today, at Castaway Island in Fiji, I was able to see past the fear and enjoy a unique encounter.

Our guide, Jerry, took us by boat to a reef that lies about 5 minutes away from Castaway Island. I tried to relax during the ride but I was letting fear get the best of me; I considered staying on the boat.

My friends slid on their gear and prepared their GoPros with such casual ease that they made it seem natural. Jerry could tell that I was about to back out and he offered to swim with me. Still nervous, I agreed because I didn’t want to miss such an amazing opportunity.

As we swam through the water, I was timid and stayed so close that I could reach out and touch Jerry at any point. When the first school of fish approached, I was scared. I feel no shame in my fears and I try to embrace them when possible. I took comfort in his presence and when he reached out for my hand I knew I could go on. Fijians have a caring, supportive demeanor that surpasses anything I’ve witnessed in life; Jerry was a perfect example.

We watched several tropical fish weave in and out of the coral and they paid no attention to us. I was confident enough to let go of Jerry’s hand and swim on my own for a few minutes.

I was enjoying the immersion into a new world.

Then, as if to bring me back to reality and give me the ultimate gut check, a saw it… gracefully swimming below me was a shark. I froze as it moved beneath.  It wasn’t close enough to reach and it didn’t swim in my direction. When it was out of sight, I asked to return to the boat.

Without judgement, Jerry swam next to me and stayed at my side. Rather than making me feel irrational or silly, he reached for my hand again and guided me back to the boat.

Many of you might have welcomed the experience and hoped for more but for today, I’m proud got in the water in the first place and even more proud that I didn’t have a panic attack when I saw a shark in open waters.

Maybe next time I will get a little bit closer.

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57 thoughts on “Snorkeling at Castaway Island, Fiji

  1. Dude, that is one beautiful shark! Oceanic White Tip if I’m not mistaken. Mildly dangerous. Nobody one their right mind would criticize you for hopping out after seeing one of those… I would have tried to catch it, but I turn into an instant idiot in the ocean… Kinda like Steve Irwin only less knowledgable… Er, wait a sec…

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  2. Just so you know, I’m living vicariously through you during your Fiji posts :D I’ve always wanted to go there since I was a kid. For some reason it just facinates me. Definitely on my ‘bucket list’. The snorkling looks amazing!!

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    • It’s attainable for everyone. They offer a variety of accommodations and price ranges for every budget. You should seriously consider it.

      “The most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar, The Monk and the Riddle

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  3. This is great – and I don’t think most of us would blame you for wanting to get out when you did. Sharks might be beautiful creatures, but face it, they’re kind of creepy.

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  4. Next step – SCUBA certification. I promise you, for someone with your adventurous inclinations, this is something you need to do. Watching green sea turtles at a cleaning station where they get picked clean of parasites by cleaner wrasse, or watching an octopus glide down a rock face in the Mediterranean, or, well, the experiences are endless. Something to think about.

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  5. Marine life of any kind freaks me out. Having grown up on a lake you may think I’d believe otherwise but no. I applaud your bravery in doing this, fantastic!! You are a woman of great courage!

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  6. Good for you. It is very scary. I went scuba diving for the first time in Eilat and had an instructor hold my hand the entire time. There was a moment there when I almost panicked but he was great and ensured me we could surface whenever I wanted.

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  7. Been snorkeling a few times in my life but never encountered a shark… think I would probably not go back in the water after that experience…. but I know YOU will!!

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  8. Good on you! – for giving it a go, and for honouring your feeling it was time to go back. Doesn’t matter how many people say they’ve dived in open water with sharks and it’s fine… I wouldn’t want to. Or would at the very least, exercise caution and respect. Hope you’re sitting in that jacuzzi now feeling proud of yourself!

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  9. Walt and I snorkled with stingray in Grand Cayman…..we actually held one up. Shortly there after Steve Irwin died from a stingray sting and we were shocked. I am in awe of your journey, would love to go again and what’s ironic is that Walt, who is the more adventurous one, has said he will probably never snorkle again. Glad you faced your fears, Walt and I both enjoyed this post!

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  10. I too found snorkelling one of the best experiences of my life (we did in the the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). It would take a very brave (or insane) person not to be scared of swimming so close to a shark. Well done you for not panicking!

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  11. Reading your post made me remember doing a swim with sharks thing back in 86 on Bora Bora. Remember, you don’t have to out swim the sharks. You only have to out swim the slowest person. I’d say do it again and you might be more comfortable the second time. My experience had at least 10 people and we all were in the water in a circle as numerous sharks swam all around us. Bumping us too. The key was not to try and pet one :-) I’m missing several fingers on both hands and one of my stories I tell people when asked what happened, is my visit to a shark petting zoo :-) Kids love it.

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  12. The first time I ever went swimming in the ocean and put my head underwater (with mask and snorkel), I hyperventilated like crazy. I think it was the “how am I going to breathe” thing. And the rocking motion of the waves didn’t help. It left me feeling very vulnerable—the ocean had me in its power. How things have changed. Now I love being in the ocean, snorkeling with colorful fish and around corals, and, yes, even with sharks. Having co-authored a book about them (and their cousins, the rays), I think they are amazing animals. I’m so glad you had this experience and are willing to go back. You have entered a brave new world :)

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  13. You surprised me with this post of your fears! I always see you as fearless since you do things I have been too afraid to try like bungee jumping and jumping from planes, so seeing you acknowledge a fear makes me admire you even more. Thank you for your honesty here and for being the kind of person who gave it a try and stepped out of your comfort. Bravo, brave lady in so many ways!

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  14. I remember reading your post on going to the Georgia Aquarium and thinking I need to go there. I think you are an inspiration. I too would be scared to be in open waters with a shark. I love reading your blogs because I feel like I am there with you. I can’t wait to read the next one. I just wanted to let you know that I think what you are doing is amazing. :) –AD

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  15. I admire you for getting in and facing your fears, and for not being ashamed of them! That’s a true challenge! I would be afraid too – sharks are one of those animals that I fear completely irrationally. Not so much that I avoid the ocean, but enough that I would probably panic if I saw one. Beautiful post and beautiful photos! Good luck with future marine adventures!

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  16. This post is so timely for me as I just returned from a trip in Turks & Caicos. My friends went snorkeling and I was too scared so I stayed behind. It was the fear of coming so close to a shark that held me back. And you had the fear too, and you were so close to the shark…and you took a photo! How did it feel immediately after? Exhilarating? Crazed? Panicked? I’ll never know because I stayed out of the water. I am so uncomfortable in the ocean (I was able to satisfy my thrills on the banana boat instead!)

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    • It was a little bit of everything. When I first saw it, I felt panicked and I wanted out of the water immediately. I swam to the boat and stayed there while my friends explored more, but the sharks didn’t even acknowledge us. I honestly think that most shark attacks are a mistake. Regardless, I’m ready to experience more and let the fear go but it will take time. This was a step in the right direction.

      Fear of sharks is not unjustifiable though. There are shark attacks and people do die, but people die doing everything, right? There is just so much to explore in the ocean that I don’t want to limit my life because of fear.

      I’m actually considering adding PADI certification to my 2013 Bucket List. We’ll see how things go ;)

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  17. Way cool! How did I miss out on swimming with the whale sharks at the aquarium? I’m jealous!

    Despite having the last name Swim, I, too, am uneasy when snorkeling. It doesn’t stop me from doing it, however. I’ve swam with sharks and stringrays before… although your sharks look more hardcore than mine were #BulaFijiAirways

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