Why I Joined The Gili Shark Conservation Project – Twice!

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around a lot of the world for both business and pleasure but rarely do I ever return to the same place. I figure there are so many new places to visit in the world, why would I ever return to somewhere? But this year I did exactly that!

Last year I had been working for the same insurance company in London for 13 years and had recently gone through a separation so I wanted some extended time away to relax and refocus. My company was nice enough to allow me to take 6 weeks holiday in one go and I decided I wanted to do something meaningful with my time and do some voluntary work. 

Shark Warrior Louise

My Opinion About Suba diving: Once, Never Again!

I’m a bit of a water baby – always happiest when I’m in water – and I love animals so I decided I wanted to spend my time doing marine conservation. After some research, though I discovered that most of the projects I was interested in involved scuba diving, something I had done when I was 14 and was of the opinion that “I’d done it once, I never needed to do it again!” My experience at 14 wasn’t great, I had trouble equalizing, ran low on air and generally didn’t feel safe. Since then I’ve stuck to snorkeling and had some amazing experiences; snorkeling with manatees in Belize, whale sharks in Mexico, dolphins in Turkey and Sharks and Eagle Rays in the Galapagos. So it never crossed my mind to consider scuba diving again. But it looked like if I was going to do marine conservation I wouldn’t have a choice!

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico
Snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico

And So The Story Begins…

I signed up to two different projects, Gili Shark Conservation in Gili Air, Indonesia and All Out Africa Marine Conservation in Tofo, Mozambique. I would spend three weeks in each, completing my open water certification on Gili Air and my advanced open water in Tofo. 

Tofo was amazing I would recommend anyone to visit, especially for diving! I was lucky enough to see humpback whales, dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and many other beautiful marine animals! The town is lovely and the sunsets are beautiful, there’s a reason everyone raves about African sunsets! But it was Gili Air and the research team of the Gili Shark Conservation Project that had my heart….

Doing Volunteer work On The Gili Islands
Gili Air – My favorite paradise island

“The Thought Of Being 10+ Meters Below The Surface Scared The Hell Out Of Me”

As I mentioned before I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be scuba diving and if I’m honest with you the thought of being 10+ meters below the surface scared the hell out of me so I was incredibly nervous when I started my open water. Gili Shark Conservation is collaborating with Oceans5 Dive Resort, I have dived with four different instructors at Oceans 5 since my PADI open water course and every single one of them has been professional, friendly, patient and hilarious!

On my first dive, I again had trouble equalizing and I really started thinking that perhaps scuba diving isn’t for me! But my instructor convinced me to try again, to be patient and take my time. I surfaced after my second dive and started crying. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, we descended by a reef and we were immediately surrounded by fish, it was like being submerged in a giant fish tank. 

Why hadn’t I given scuba diving a second chance before? Years wasted! So much time to make up! Sorry work but you know that time you gave me to refocus? Well, I’ve come back focused on something else….diving! So I handed in my notice and started planning where to complete my PADI rescue course and PADI divemaster.

PADI Instructor On The Gili Islands
Instructor team of Oceans5 Dive Resort

What Would Be The Best Place To Complete My Divemaster Training?

There are so many amazing places around the world to dive. My first thought was Central America, they have the 2nd biggest barrier reef after Australia and get a lot of the big marine life. But there was a part of me that wanted to go back to Indonesia so I started looking at the Komodo Islands at the same time. I was so torn, both looked like amazing places to dive but were both very different. The decision kept me up at night and then one day I got an email from Rose, one of the co-founders of the Gili Shark Conservation Project; “Hi Louise, we’d love to have you back as part of the Shark team again” ~ decision made, I would go back and work with the Shark team for two weeks completing my PADI rescue course and then move on to the Komodo Islands to complete my divemaster training with Wicked Diving!  

Finding a way to volunteer or intern will give you necessary experience to find a real job with marine conservation

But why go back to Gili Air and the Shark Conservation team when my mantra has always been to travel to new places?

Firstly; Gili Air. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this 5km round island! Everyone is so friendly, it’s the right mix of chill and nightlife, beers at sunset, and amazing local food from ‘Nasi Lady’, there are no cars so everyone gets around by bike, especially hilarious when you’ve had one too many Bintangs and you misjudge how deep the sand you’re cycling over is! The resilience of this island and its inhabitants is unbelievable! I left Gili Air just before the earthquake in August 2018, I’ve returned in May 2019 and nothing has changed! Of course, some of the buildings have gone and some are being rebuilt but the spirit of the island and the people is the same. When I got the boat over from Lombok the captain asked me how long I’m staying, I said ‘two weeks’ ‘two weeks?!’ Was the shocked and bemused response I got, why would I want to stay for two weeks? I don’t, I want to stay forever!

Secondly; Oceans 5, Gili Shark Conservation’s dive partner. The place I learned to dive and learned to love diving. An incredibly professional dive center but don’t confuse that with being boring. Diving with Ocean’s 5 is a constant laugh, the dive center is like a family after the day of diving everyone hangs out by the shop’s bar and drinks a beer or two together to discuss the day’s diving and chill out together. 

Thirdly and most importantly; the people of the Gili Shark Conservation Project. Another non-related family on the island. A family of people that share the same passion, marine conservation, diving and also teaching others. Gili Shark Conservation is a well-organized and award-winning conservation project, run by friendly and very knowledgable people. They organize beach cleanups, dive against debris (picking up rubbish from the ocean floor during a dive), upcycling workshops as well as teaching in local schools. They have a clear aim and work very hard to achieve it.

The combination of these three things has people coming back again and again, since my return a week ago five other people associated with the Gili Shark Conservation Project and Oceans5 have returned from when I was here last! Surely that’s testament enough that I made the right decision this time in returning to a place I’ve been before and why I’ll be returning again!

Why everyone should do volunteer work once in their life