Shark diving at UNEXSO, Grand Bahama Island
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas, September 9, 2020….. The runaway success of The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” has led to a newfound love, respect, and admiration for these majestic creatures of the deep blue. “Shark Week” has been described as “Discovery’s Super Bowl” since it brings in an expansive audience globally, and it is one of the highest-rated weeks for the Discovery Channel and for the industry. Now in its 32nd edition, the season premiere “Tyson vs Jaws: Rumble on the Reef” garnered almost 2 Million US viewers, according to Nielsen ratings, and featured the boxer diving with sharks near Grand Bahama Island (GBI) in order to overcome his fears.
The resonant image of sharks stems from the man-eater portrayal that was perpetuated by the iconic movie “Jaws”. However, along with the advent of technology and social media, “Shark Week” deserves credit for dispelling the misconceptions about this maligned creature and recognizing its critical role in balancing ecosystems and the ocean’s health. These are vulnerable animals that are nowhere near the threat to humans that they have been perceived to be, but rather, are themselves at risk due to over-fishing, coastal destruction, and pollution.
Diving with sharks was pioneered by UNEXSO on GBI and they are considered to be the leader in this field. These thrilling dives are guided by staff who are experts in shark behavior and conservation. Participants receive briefings with accurate information about shark behavior and highlights of interesting facts about these misunderstood creatures. At UNEXSO’s Shark Junction, the dive features experienced staff feeding and interacting with sharks of all sizes. The main objective of the dive is for guests to gain a new appreciation of these magnificent and beautiful animals and understand the need for increased conservation measures.
Cristina Zenato, a diver affiliated with UNEXSO, has been diving and living in the Bahamas for 25 years. She has personally created a more meaningful and deeper interaction and understanding of sharks. On a dive, she encountered a shark with a hook attached to its mouth and she couldn’t refrain from helping the creature out, so she inserted her hand in its mouth to remove the hook. The shark returned to her side and became docile. Shortly after, she noticed other sharks showing up with hooks in their mouths for removal. So far, she has removed over 300 hooks and she is convinced that the sharks communicate and show up for her help. According to Cristina, her parents told her “There are no monsters in the sea, only the ones we make up in our heads”.
Cristina also founded People of the Water (POW), which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing people’s relationship with our aquatic world through exploration, education and conservation. A major project they conducted involved surveying and mapping the underwater systems of Ben’s Cave on GBI. The survey was done with modern tools and they created an easily accessible digital map. They also added 3,000 more feet of diving guide line, extending the total to 34,000 feet. In the process, they also added two new entrances in the mangrove area. She also submitted a proposal to the Bahamas National Trust to expand the boundaries of the Lucayan National park on GBI to include a full extension of the cave, the land forest and the mangrove area.
The work on GBI by both UNEXSO and POW highlights the progressive actions of those organizations to widen the conduction and training, education, research and studies relating to water, ocean and environmental issues, affecting both the people and animals of those environments.