I love art and have done a couple of oils myself, travelled to galleries in Europe and soaked up my favorite artists work such as Van Gogh. So when Andrew Cooper, well-known artist of Red! The Gallery, owned by Dave Endean, approached me to do a series of paintings of me freediving with sharks I was delighted. Combining two of my passions, art and sharks, and helping me raise awareness in this unique way is really exciting and so ART FOR SHARK CONSERVATION was initiated.
Little did I know that the well-known TV show TOP BILLING that is viewed by up to 2 million South Africans every week would pick up on the story. Next thing I’m in Durban with much-adored presenter Jonathan Boynton-Lee, also a very talented filmmaker. I’m promising to take him for a dive of a lifetime, a dive with tiger sharks and blacktip reef sharks in the Aliwal Shoal. I sense that he’s not totally convinced by the whole idea that ‘you’ve got nothing to worry about…’ despite my calm reassurance. It’s a stunning morning at Umkomaaz and we head out with the film crew and Walter Bernardis of African Watersports to the dive site. Once down we are greeted by around 40 oceanic blacktip sharks and one tiger shark, which sadly doesn’t stay long.
Sharks are all around us, sometimes accidentally bumping into my camera. I’m use to it but notice that Jonathan seems to be lagging behind me, a little apprehensive clearly. Soon enough, however, he gives me a smile so big and swims a little away from me and I know that any fear he might have felt has totally dissolved. Forty minutes of bliss and we ascend.
After the dive Jonathan is elated – he doesn’t stop telling me what an awesome experience he just had, and how he now knows that sharks are definitely not what the media have made them out to be. Being the excellent presenter he is, he has done a lot of research on my work with sharks and already is aware of the serious problems facing the future survival of many species. We talk about him coming back to Cape Town and joining me on more shark dives, going with me to the Bahamas and Tiger Beach, and other possible exciting trips. With his new found passion and love for sharks, we talk about how he can help me reach more people with my conservation message. And so he decides to become a Shark Warrior Ambassador, a wonderful addition to our other carefully selected Shark Warrior Ambassadors. I am over the moon because I know that it is people like Jonathan and our other ambassadors that are going to help me reach the masses. Time is running out for our sharks and Jonathan, a calm, kind, and clearly concerned individual has become another person who cares enough to make a difference – thank you for joining the fight Jonathan, for the Sharks!
(Posted by The Shark Warrior, Lesley Rochat)