Elisabeth Easther meets Glenn Edney from Ocean Spirit.
I felt my first connection with the ocean when I was about 5. We visited Waitara Beach and I have this very strong memory of standing on the beach and being awed by the power of those massive waves. There was a real sense of, "wow there's something beyond this, it's just so big".
Not long after that, I was still very young, and we got a television. The first thing I saw was a Jacques Cousteau film about sharks. It blew me away and right from that moment I thought 'I'm going to be a diver on Calypso with Jacques Cousteau'. Obviously there was a generational issue and that didn't happen, but right from the start I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I did my first dive course in South Auckland. It was actually a bit daunting because, back in those days it was all pretty macho and naval in its approach. My fantasy was all about connecting with marine life and having beautiful adventures but it was more commando, heavy-duty stuff, and that put me off for a while.
A couple of months after Kelly Tarlton died, in the mid-80s, I started working at his aquarium as a diver. What I learned there was that I was in the water with individuals and personalities. All the beings in the aquarium, all the sharks and rays and fish were having individual lives and experiences. This was profound for me and set me on the pathway to become an ecologist, a naturalist, to study behaviour and relationships. What is it like to be a fish, a shark or a whale? But I still needed to earn a living so I became a dive instructor, I got my skipper's ticket and started working on boats.
In Tonga, in 2004, we acquired a whale-watching diving base to spend time with humpback whales, with the business funding our adventures. Although I have felt nervous around some sea creatures. I've been in the water with great white sharks — but I realise the nervousness was self-generated and not coming from anything the animal was doing, it was purely my own internal dialogue. I imagined the fear.
Free diving in Tonga on a beautiful reef, this amazing female tiger shark just appeared beneath me. How can something 5m long just appear? But that can happen in the ocean. She was very curious about me and, with an entourage of pilot fish around her nose, she was this moving community, this beautiful being with so much power. We held eye contact for 200m as I swam back to the boat. I was well aware I needed to mind myself, but I felt no sense of danger. We weren't communicating, we were just two beings in the ocean checking each other out. Their level of intelligence is so underestimated.
Most of the really cool and clever stuff that we have ascribed to ourselves has been going on in the ocean for millions and millions of years and that's part of the draw of going back to the ocean. Plus it feels fantastic. Taking people out on a daily basis, almost every day, I'll have a conversation with someone about how wonderful it feels to immerse yourself in ocean.
I'm lucky enough to have the islands of The Poor Knights — Tawhiti Rahi — as my workplace and my spiritual home. Working with Yukon Dive, skippering their boats, I have the best office in the universe. Part of my job is to facilitate a deeper connection, and the marine ecosystem around Poor Knights is one of the most sacred parts of the ocean — and people feel it. But it's also one very tiny piece, and we need more than a couple of special places we protect, to go to and have a nice time in.
The rest of the ocean can't just be the food basket, the dumping ground, the resource bank, we need to move beyond that and change our relationship with coastal waters and the ocean in general. If there's one message I like to share with people, celebrate that you live on this amazing ocean planet. Fall in love with the ocean, because when you're in love you'll do everything you can to keep your lover healthy.
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