FREE-DIVING is an activity enjoyed by those that like to enjoy the pristine marine ecosystem without having to worry about heavy diving equipment weighing them down.
But it can also prove to be dangerous and maybe even fatal as one New Zealand free diver came to find out while free-diving off the coast of Musket Cove Island in the Mamanuca Group earlier this year.
Although the incident occurred more than six months ago, 37-year-old Scott Banks still remembers the day like it was yesterday.
The day, as Mr Banks recalls, was March 18 where the Kiwi along with five other people from the resort, including tourists and diving instructors, rode off to sample one of the most beautiful pieces of ocean floor called The Pinnacle.
With its vast array of corals and marine animals, it is hard to believe this blue slice of heaven could have been Mr Banks' final resting place.
However, as Mr Banks recounts, it was because of the quick thinking of 23-year-old divemaster Julius Tiuhea, that he was able to see another day.
The operations manager for Subsurface Fiji, Jon Piepkorn, said the group headed out to the dive and snorkelling site known as Plantation Pinnacle just off the southeast-end of Malolo Lailai Island.
"Julius had begun his ascent to do a three-minute safety stop at five metres before surfacing and then boarding the boat. As Julius was ascending he was enjoying watching Scott free-diving down to about 12 metres to observe the marine life at the top of The Pinnacle.
"As the safety stop was just nearing the end of their three minutes Julius noticed Scott just near the top of The Pinnacle and he thought something was wrong as he seemed to be floating and not swimming as he had been earlier.
"At that time Scott started to float upside down while sinking and gently settled onto the coral on the top of The Pinnacle.
"Julius knew immediately from his dive, first aid and rescue training that Scott must be suffering from shallow water blackout, a phenomenon that can happen to anyone, at any time who participates in breath hold diving," said Mr Piepkorn.
With the assistance of another diver, Sunia Raisua, Mr Tiuhea was able to get Mr Banks to safety. He was airlifted to the Lautoka Hospital to receive medical attention.
Shallow water blackout is caused by hypocapnia. This is extremely relevant as many locals free-dive, or breath-hold-dive on a regular basis while spear fishing, collecting food for their families, or for their village.
Shallow water blackout is caused by lack of oxygen being delivered to the blood supply, starving the body for oxygen. Those who experience shallow water blackout are subject to drowning, but it can also damage nerve tissue and have long-lasting effects.
It is particularly important when free-diving to always free-dive with a friend or group of friends, and only one person should dive at a time. The friend or group can then observe the diver to make sure no problems occur. Then take turns diving down to allow the body time to equalise the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body.
"Scott was admitted in the emergency ward, and was later transferred to a recovery ward where he was monitored for three days. He then checked out of the hospital and remained in the Nadi area and went back to the hospital for several follow-up checks."
After more than six months, Mr Piepkorn says that Mr Banks is back in the water doing breath-hold-diving and he still enjoys it, but he is aware of this silent danger and never goes free-diving alone.
The two men that prevented a near fatal outcome — Mr Raisua and Mr Tiuhea — were presented with certificates of appreciation for outstanding CPR and first aid skill and professional conduct during an emergency in 2012.
Stuart Gow, chairman of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association dive committee, acknowledged that awards and recognition should be more prevalent when such an event occurs that could have had a much worse outcome than it did.