Embracing the shadows
By Cristina Zenato
We asked seven inspirational divers, environmentalists, and ocean advocates to act as Fin Collection ‘shark ambassadors’, celebrating their work and their special connection with sharks and with the ocean. Cristina represents the Reef Shark.
The shadows cast by their bodies under the Bahamian sunlight glide over the gold sand, the same light dancing on their backs as they swim chased by colorful rainbows.
Their shape is designed to effortlessly move their bodies through the water, their calm presence a sign of a healthy environment. Circling around them and with them schools of jacks, groupers, yellow tale snappers and other fish, testimony of the balance that nature knows how to create and maintain.
I enter this world daily and I never stop admiring the beauty surrounding me. I have been here for the last twenty-five years and every day feels like a new discovery and a new world.
The ocean is their home, my presence a mere tick of the clock in the length of the day. Sharks are one of the most feared creatures on this planet and yet one of the most tolerant and accepting of our presence. I reach out as one of my regular girls swims towards me, a good morning of sorts, a simple “how are you? I am so happy to see you here”. Every day I am excited when it’s time to enter the water with them, every day I am worried about whom I am going to find and whom is missing.
I work with Caribbean Reef sharks in the wild and I know them by sight, by physical appearance, shape and colours but I also know them by personality.
They come and go as they please and sometimes they are not on the site for several days, then they come back. They say that if you love someone you should set them free. It is one of the hardest truth about love I have ever experienced in my life. I love my sharks, I love being with them, I work to protect them and to show them in a different light and it comes with a huge worry about their future. These sharks are fortunate, in 2011 I started a campaign to promote the protection of sharks in the Bahamas, thanks to the support of close friends who helped with distributing information it gained national momentum and was later embraced by the Bahamas National Trust and the PEW organization. In the end the people of the Bahamas voted to protect their sharks, to create a shark sanctuary in our entire Country, to prohibit import and export of sharks and related sharks products and to forbid even the landing of a dead shark.
A victory supported by one simple factor: shark tourism. People consider the Bahamas a shark diving paradise and come from all over the world for guided encounters with Tiger, Bull, Lemon, Oceanic White Tip, Caribbean Reef and many more. This shark tourism, at times frowned upon by many, has created a self-sustaining industry allowing the local people to work daily with sharks and noticing that it’s a renewable income resource rather than one that lasts one day with a killed shark. It has changed the opinions of people about sharks, it has opened the chance of survival to a higher rate and it has allowed this message to spill over the boundaries of our Country to move into the world.
There is nothing more rewarding than watching the transformation of a person from before one dive to after the same dive. The trepidation and fear caused by misinformation and hyped up false truths washed over and turned into bright smiles and comments of appreciation, wonder and desire to discover and understand more.
I love being with my sharks, I love feeling them swirling around me, so close, no fear of me and what I am, in a balanced understanding of our presence. I love watching their shadows in the sand and knowing that they require a body to be created. Each shadow the symbol of a live, present shark. I love when one of my girls settles into my lap and relaxes on my body, her weight and full abandonment telling me in her own language: I trust you. I love feeling her “breathing” with a gentle movement of her jaw pumping water through her gills (buccal pumping) and knowing that with each breath she is sending out a visual message to others about sharks, about our need to know them, connect with them, protect them.
A professional diver since 1994, Cristina is an ocean and cave explorer, a shark expert, a speaker, writer and conservationist. Among her qualifications, Cristina is a PADI Course Director, NSS-CDS Advanced Cave Diving Instructor and a TDI mixed gas instructor and she specialises in the Shark Handling courses and interactive dives.
Her biggest passion is teaching and sharing with the new and younger generations, offering support, training and mentorship.
Cristina has been inducted in the Women Divers Hall of Fame, the Explorers Club, the Ocean Artists Society and she is a Platinum Pro 5000 recipient.
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