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Kim Hildebrandt's January Photo Journal: An Our World Underwater Rolex Scholar Journey

This month, I returned to the roots of my passion for scuba diving: New Zealand.

 

Here, while spending a year abroad at the Mercury Bay Area School, I got my PADI Open Water, Advanced, and Rescue Diver certifications in a remarkable school program called the “Marine Academy”. This program allows young high school students to get scuba certified and by doing so, introduces them to and teaches them about the local marine environment. So when I popped in to DiveZone Whitianga, through which the Marine Academy is still running, to say “Hi”, they invited me to come for some dives the next day! It was so good to be back in New Zealand´s waters. I also went out with my host family on their boat for another dive day in the Te-Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, in which the abundance of snappers was just mindblowing, mirroring the effectiveness of the reserve.  

I then traveled further north to Tutukaka, where I wanted to gain more experience diving in twinsets with the generous support of Jamie and Mel Obern from Techdive New Zealand. Dive! Tutukaka invited me on their boats for a few days, to show me the stunning diving around the Poor Knights Islands, which were rated as 1 of the Top 10 dive sites of the world by Jacques Cousteau. And I could not disagree at all! Bursting with colors and diversity of life, with their impressive underwater archways and caves, these Islands mesmerized me immediately. Nudibranchs, Stingrays, schools of blue and pink mao mao and kingfish – so much to see and take photos of!

 

 

After having practiced some of the drills, which I learned while my Global Underwater Explorers Fundamentals course last May with John Kendall, I then asked the GUE instructor Jamie Obern to look over my skills in the pool on the last day, and luckily, he could award the technical pass for me, so that there now is nothing in the way anymore for further courses in Cave and Technical Diving with GUE.

Fittingly, I also got to know the 2020 GUE NextGen Scholar, Annika Andresen, in Tutukaka, and we managed to dive together at the Mokohinau Islands and Little Barrier Island, with the Auckland University Underwater Club, as well.

In Auckland, I was able to meet with Dr. Simon Mitchell, who is a world-renowned Hyperbaric and Dive Doctor, as well as the Head of the Department of Anaesthesiology at the Auckland City Hospital, so I got to speak a lot of “Medicine” with him while accompanying 2 surgeries in which he led the Anaesthesia.

I also got to go for my first ever dive in a hyperbaric chamber, at the Slark Hyperbaric Unit in Devonport, with routine patients who were treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen to help their wound healing. Dr. Chris Sames taught me a lot about the physiological effects of breathing oxygen under pressure, and how it can not only help divers with decompression sickness to recover but also patients with badly healing wounds due to, e.g., radiotherapy against cancer.

Also in Auckland, at the SeaLife Kelly Tarlton´s Aquarium, I accompanied a veterinary examination including biopsy sampling and blood draw from a broadnose sevengill shark, as well as my first ever shark necropsy!

Lastly, I flew over to Fiji to dive with Beqa Adventure Divers on their world-famous shark dive in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, which was established by B.A.D. themselves, promoting both the conservation of the resident shark species, as well as the local Fijian community, by a levy which every diver has to pay to them. And what an incredible experience the shark dive was! It is hard to describe the feelings I got being up close to and encircled by 40+ bull sharks, plus 5 other Shark species, including grey reef sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, tawny nurse sharks, black and white tip reef sharks. Most impressive, though, was that the Crew of B.A.D. recognized almost every individual by name through identifying markings on their body! I also learned that each shark has their very own character, which mirrors in their behavior towards other sharks within the hierarchy, as well as towards us divers. Additionally, I was lucky enough to be with B.A.D. at the same time as their resident Researchers, Dr. Juerg Brunnschweiler, and Dr. Kerstin Glaus, who told me about the results of their research on the Fijian bull shark population. Did you know, for example, that bull sharks give birth in a freshwater environment? More exactly rivers, which is where the juveniles supposedly spent the first 2-3 years of their lives! Through catching and tagging of juvenile bull sharks, and followingly the signal reception of receivers at the river mouths, the movements of the juveniles could be tracked, and will be tracked for the coming years.