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1 dive after another

Solomoni Biumaiono
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

AFTER years of diving in various hot spots around the world, Kim Andersen was tired of hearing about "what it used to be like".

He yearned for better diving spots where big natural predators like sharks roam and where other fishes outnumbered divers.

"After many years diving in southern California, Baja (in) Mexico, Panama, and Caribbean I was tired of hearing 'what it used to be like' and wanted to see some place that was not yet fished out," Andersen said.

He secured his scuba diving instructor certificate in 1984 after graduating from the University of California with a geology and geography degree in 1983.

He is then still very much an active diver and when Andersen went out to work, scuba diving was a major part of it. He started working for among others the University of Southern California on a dive accident management project, the National Parks Service mapping out a fish habitat and the University of California's Santa Cruz Island research facility.

Having seen, done and managed some of the most complicated diving operations in research and commercial facilities, Andersen decided it was time to look for that one pristine and fish-laden dive spot.

The California man decided to venture into the vast Pacific Ocean and his chosen destination was the atoll nation of Kiribati on the nuclear arms race relic, Christmas Island.

"Christmas Island in Kiribati is the largest coral atoll in the world and often considered one of the most remote places in world and had not had a dive operation before and no one was doing any offshore fishing. The sea and reefs were still very pristine and unspoiled."

When he was 33, Andersen married an iKiribati woman and set up a diving business on Christmas Island in 1991. In 1992 he started taking customers to some of the pristine dive spots in the world.

Over the years, however, Andersen could not turn a blind eye to the disadvantages of living on an atoll away from modern amenities and comforts.

"Over the years there were many challenges to overcome or ride out, the greatest being the continually stopping and starting of airline service to and from the island. More than nine different airlines and charter companies provided service to and from Christmas Island over the near 18 years I was there and at times there was no service for up to six months and more, then another airline would start," he said.

He had to leave when his son, James, could not continue schooling in Kiribati because of the limited opportunities for education.

"While we were in Alaska on holiday and found out that Air Pacific stopped air service to Christmas.

"I had always said I want to be out of Kiribati by time I am 50 years old.

"I still own Dive Kiribati and it still exists and runs today but now more so as a marine and atmospheric research facility. It is no longer anywhere near the pristine sea full of fish it used to be and now I am the old guy who says, 'what it used to be like'," Andersen said.

He came and got a job wi­th a diving company at Taunovo. That didn't last and he had to work as a factory manager for a while before getting wind of the Rivers Fiji general manager's post.

Rivers Fiji is a river kayaking, rafting and whitewater rafting/kayaking company offering its services to locals and tourists from the Wainikoroiluva River in Namosi and the Navua River which borders Serua and Namosi.

"Having started and run a water sports company in the Pacific for many years I was aware of the challenges were and was not concerned about 'how long I would have to hold out'. My family was here, and here is where we were going to stay."

Since taking over the helm four years ago, the company has raised its profile and improved its services as well as strengthening its relationship with the traditional landowners whose rivers and villages they use.

Apart from holding awareness programs to highlight the importance of the wetlands in the Namosi highlands, doing community work with Nakavika villagers by bringing in doctors and engineers to let villagers have safe drinking water, Rivers Fiji's higlight so far is winning the Prime Minister's Exporter of the Year Award for tourism three years ago.

"This has been very rewarding work and has brought myself and owners and staff of Rivers Fiji great satisfaction. It is very exciting as it is rewarding and challenging. There is so much that is needed in the rural areas and it in many ways is still the heart and soul of Fiji and Fijian culture.

I am very fortunate to be in Fiji at this time and have this job and be in a position to do some good for others," Andersen said.

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