My first shark dive

Sophie van der Stap

About a year ago I found out about Cristina @cristinazenato and her sharks. She dives with them, feeds them, pets them, puts some of them to “sleep”, and saves many of them by removing fishing hooks that got stuck in their mouths and or gills. She keeps the hooks in a box, every hook is a saved life, a life she knows. I got so fascinated by their personal language, the understanding between a girl and a shark, that I opened a new blank page and started outlining a story. 

I worked on other stories simultaneously but kept on being pulled back to this girl, who was living her life under the surface of the ocean, while I was walking the streets of New York. I wrote her an email, requested if I could come and see her, pick her brain. Here’s a tooth she found on the bottom of the ocean after feeding her sharks yesterday. I went down with her and had the incredible experience of floating and swimming above and among a dozen Caribbean reef sharks, some of them that I had gotten to know as Foggy Eye, GrandMa, Stompy and Hook through her stories, but unfortunately didn’t make it to the bottom as I had problems equalizing. I did make it to the end of my fear: open water and diving with sharks. All I felt was serenity and happiness! And pure fascination for their movements, their silhouettes, their silence. Perception is such a rotten thing. Because of it most people don’t care about the sharks existence and keep on (agreeing to, being complicit to) killing them. 

Before I went in I thought this was going to be a one time crazy thing to do, but I’m already dreaming of more. More underwater world, more fish and sharks, more serenity and peace, more Cristina. And less city bla bla. Cristina says she likes sharks because they’re straightforward. She says she likes the water because it’s peaceful and that she likes the caves because they’re timeless. Cristina Zenato is one of todays highly needed advocates for a healthy co-existence with the underwater world, its creatures, its endangered sharks. Without sharks we lose our oceans, our coral reefs, our fish.