Sunday, June 28, 2009


I’m honestly of two minds about this.

It concerns how we should react to this post by Fijigirl on Wetpixel concerning the recent Discovery shoot in Fiji. I was really gonna follow the advice of a friend to just let it go and wait until Deadly Waters would air, after which the truth would be known anyway.
But our staff are very angry indeed and have asked me not to let this go unanswered.

So there:

The way I read that document, it basically claims that Brandon did this and that, loves Sharks, was unaware of the contents of the show, did nothing untoward and finally got "tricked" by us who just wanted to rubbish him.

Cleverly worded, it however contains a lot of factual "errors".
Some are well within the scope of the usual Aqua-Trek "mythology" but surprisingly, some is pretty brazen - actually, very unlike the Fijigirl who is Aqua-Treks consummate spinmaster!
Which begs the question, is she been lied to - too?

Anyway, the facts are this – and I’ll keep is as short as I can.

“Aqua-Trek” is a conglomerate of dive shops in Fiji with varying histories and shareholders.

Brandon worked for Aqua-Trek Beqa (ATB), did set up a Shark feed on Shark Reef in 1999 and resigned from ATB in 2002 to go and work for Aqua-Trek Management (ATM) in Garden Island Resort on the island of Taveuni. As is customary, a reef fee was paid to a village but the site was not protected and fishing continued there until 2004.

Shark Reef was formally protected on 8.4.2004.
A lot of people spent considerable time, money and effort to achieve this – but it had nothing whatsoever to do with either Brandon or Aqua-Trek who never assisted in that effort.

Beqa Adventure Divers (the “other Shark dive company”) was created by James Beazeley and ATBs senior staff in order to manage the reserve as ATB had breached some of its obligations and the villages wanted them out. The protocols for the Shark dive within Shark Reef Marine Reserve were developed by BAD in collaboration with scientists and Industry professionals and are very different from what Brandon was doing back then in ’99.

The “Ultimate Shark Encounter” on Lake Reef was established by the then manager of ATB, Petero Niurou, who negotiated with the village who controlled that reef, and who set up the dive with the other staff of ATB. Brandon was not there.
Brandon only returned to Pacific Harbour in 2006 when ATM acquired ATB.

Thus, ATB and Brandon can rightfully claim to be the pioneers of Shark diving in Pacific Harbour and ATB also developed a Shark dive and set up a marine reserve on Lake Reef.

That's all pretty awesome and very honorable - and way more than what most other operators in the Shark Diving Industry have done.
No need to re-write history and to claim credit for other people’s hard work!

But back to the matter at hand, Deadly Waters.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, I was away and upon coming back to Fiji, I've been busy doing the post mortem on this unfortunate matter. As Drew suggests, we’ll all see it when the episode airs – or better, hopefully not!
The show is currently being edited so let’s not pre-empt anything, shall we.

But Fiji is very small indeed and people always talk.
When it comes to Fijigirl’s fairy tale, what I can say with absolute certainty is this.
  • Brandon knew of the contents and intents of the show.
  • He willingly and knowingly completely surrendered his site and its Sharks to the crew of Gurney, to the point that his own staff was relegated to the role of mere spectators.
  • ATB delivered chum and bait to the Fiji Peter Hughes vessel that the production company were using as their base and that vessel remained on site for several days during which the film crew conducted multiple dives with and without ATB.
  • A chumsicle was deployed in total breach of established procedures.
  • They conducted night dives in baited conditions, again a total breach of protocol.
  • Clients were taken to Lake Reef to witness the film crew flailing around bait in the attempt to excite the Sharks – in total breach of protocol and the most basic safety procedures (one guest witness was so upset by what he saw that he demanded a refund and was given a free dive on the next day).
You be the judge of whether "They came and filmed our dive as we run it everyday. They conducted no experiments. The filming was about Les with a scientist swimming amongst large sharks. We only show sharks in a normal state of feeding, no chumsicle feeds. All very calm" is an adequate description of the above.
As I said, pretty brazen!

As to our despicable role in this fiasco... we did indeed not call ATB directly.
Brandon and his bosses have historically made it abundantly clear that they do not seek dialogue and co-operation with BAD and it would have been an exercise in futility. As it turns out, he knew everything anyway.

Plus, before Les Stroud turned up in our dive shop, Aqua-Trek was simply not on our radar.
We were working on keeping Gurney out of the country and were completely focused on talking to the relevant authorities and to the folks of Peter Hughes in Fiji and the USA. But as soon as Les left our office, we called and informed the Dive Commission which is the competent authority in such matters. They are part of Fiji Island Hotel and Tourism Association (of which we and ATB are members) and FIHTA did inform Brandon (who already knew) - precisely as per what I wrote in my original post.

We and many others are now trying to sort out Brandon's mess, as it's not about Brandon or Aqua-Trek. In the big scheme of things, they are frankly of no importance - and nor are we!
To us, this is about the Sharks, the reputation of Fiji and how the Shark Diving Industry needs to handle the media.

Please wish us luck in making this "go away".

No comments: