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Smiles without pay

Shayal Devi
Friday, April 26, 2013

Nothing in this life can be predicted with certainty. Yet sometimes the most unexpected or undesirable events can lead to some of life's most joyous and incredible moments.

Such was the case with Arthur Sokimi, a Lami native working as a field representative for the Coral Reef Alliance. He was present at a recent dive fiesta at Plantation Island Resort where The Fiji Times met him.

It had been a life-long dream to become a boat captain which for Sokimi, would mean following in the footsteps of his father.

Sadly, his dream came to an end when his father, William, a fishermen, sent him to university to pursue a degree in marine studies instead of maritime school.

"This was so because the job of being a boat captain meant travelling a lot and being away from your family," he says. "My father didn't want me to do that, so he told me to study at university."

Through everything, he notes that the early intervention of his father completely changed the course of his life.

With his father being a fisherman, Sokimi lived most of his life learning about the ocean, natural resources and the different creatures of the sea.

"After graduating from university, I worked as a volunteer for nearly a year," he says. "This mainly had to do with environmental awareness with different groups. I was also part of the initial voyaging society of Fiji."

The 28-year-old then joined Beqa Adventure Divers, where he worked for three years as a shark research officer.

"Growing up, I had become acquainted with the ocean and so, I had learnt about conservation at an early age.

"My siblings and I used to hear stories about sharks from our father and we learnt quite a bit about them, which led me to harbour quite good sentiments about sharks."

Sokimi says sharks play a vital role in the ocean.

"I have been swimming for a long time, but my first dive complete with breathing apparatus and swimming outfit came when I was around 20.

"I was very amazed. It is a completely different environment and it's very serene and peaceful. You see the small things in the ocean and you see the big fishes like sharks that make you feel extremely insignificant. It is like a different world altogether."

After working for Beqa Adventure Divers, Sokimi moved on to the Coral Reef Alliance last year.

He says he has come across people who have inspired him to live up to the dreams and expectations required of him.

"Through diving, I encounter a lot of researchers and people who deal with sharks and so I've had the chance to see things from every angle.

"One of the most amazing things I've come across was going to Kubulau district in Bua.

"People in this area work closely with us and protect marine reserves. When I saw them working without any pay and still being able to work with a smile on their faces really motivated me and gave me a push to do my best as well.

"That was one of the moments in life that really changed me for the better."

As he recalls the memories of days gone by, Sokimi adds diving has been much more than a sport to him.

"Being a diver has led me to see and experience for myself the beauty of the pristine underwater life.

"It has also made me see how fragile the ecosystem is and how easily it can be damaged.

"Many people wonder what it's like to see sharks. They are magnificent creatures and I have seen so many sharks in my time as a diver than most people would see in their entire lifetime."

Part of the job description for Sokimi is getting familiar with sharks.

"I named quite a few of them. So when I went for dives, I used to look for everyone — all the sharks.

"During diving, we have to remember we are in the territory of the sharks, so if they feel threatened, they will attack like any normal animal."

The journey has been wonderful for Sokimi, and he acknowledges his father for some wonderful words of inspiration.

"I remember something my father used to say all the time. He always told me to work hard.

"My dad once told me, 'If you have something, it is your responsibility to take care of it'.

"With the resources we have been given, it is there for us to use and I believe we have the responsibility to use these resources sustainably."

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