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Thresher Shark Numbers Increase


Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase around the Philippines Island of Malapascua

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

The tiny island of Malapascua in the Philippines is fringed with picture-perfect white sand beaches, palm trees, and blue waters, but is most famous for it's population of thresher sharks.  Malapascua is the only place in the world where they can reliably be seen every day, and in normal times, divers flock from all around the world to dive with these majestic creatures. Of course, Covid put that all on hold, and the island once bustling with tourists, has been   deserted in recent times. 

Thresher Shark Divers (TSD) is the premier PADI Dive Center on Malapascua and the only Career Development Centre.  When TSD first opened nearly 20 years ago, they would see 1-2 sharks in the morning, with about a 50% chance. But now, they often see ten or more and they are much more reliable. It is wonderful in these days of shark over-fishing to hear stories of shark numbers increasing, rather than the opposite. 

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

Thresher Shark Divers reopened as soon as it was allowed, to cater to the odd diver passing through.  Ironically, but understandably, with few divers on the island, the shark dives have been incredible; with fewer divers in the water and less bubbles, they are less shy, and come in larger numbers and come much closer. For the last few months divers have even been granted visits from something we had only ever heard from fishermens' tales – tiger sharks!

Toni Plaza is TSD's Spanish PADI Course Director and he has been teaching for the last 10 years all over the world until finally making his home in the Philippines. From a young age, he dreamed of becoming a scuba diver and remembers watching documentaries about sharks on TV and falling in love with them. He dreamed that one day he would dive and interact with them. 

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

So one of the reasons he choose to work with Thresher Shark Divers was the opportunity to dive every day with these beautiful thresher sharks. Toni has now done many hundreds of dives on Monad Shoal with them – “Every time I see them it is like my first time, and the whoops and hollers and massive smiles of my divers seeing them for the first time is just an incredible feeling.”

Teaching is one of his passions, and he's “lucky enough not to think of my job as work”. Even after ten years, he is equally happy teaching any kind of course from Open Water to Instructor, but finds the Professional Divemaster and Instructor Courses are the most challenging. Toni says, “You want to help them learn and become the best dive professional they can be and if you don´t do your job well, they will not do well either.

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

In the dive industry is very important to follow all the standards of each course and focus on safety as well as fun. Here at Thresher Shark Divers our DM Program is one of the most complete that you can find. We have candidates from very different countries and cultures. Working every day with them for 4 weeks, I form a special relationship that them, one that neither of us will ever forget. I have empathy for my students, we have a lot of fun and laugh at the end of the day talking about everything and nothing at the same time. “

During the pandemic, there was only a small amount of work available for TSD's staff and most of them had to go out fishing every day to survive and feed their families. This situation was heart-breaking, and Andrea, the owner of TSD pitched in to help with food and extra money, but there was only so much she could do for so many staff. They were  very worried about how the staff would manage. But somehow they made it through, and as always with Filipinos, with lots of smiling and laughter along the way.

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

Toni and Andrea decided to do something more to help the local staff, and together with PADI, sponsored a scholarship program: they took some of their most promising members of staff, and trained them up  from beginner to PADI Divemaster. When Toni first brought them in to propose the idea, it came as a complete surprise, and their faces lit up like a child on Christmas day.

Growing up on such a tiny island,  they have been in the water all their lives, and to become a DM is the ultimate dream of many locals; not only for the prestige and the fun job, but if they get a good position in a shop like Thresher Shark Divers it is very well paid, and they will be sure to improve the lives of their families  immeasurably.

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

Little wonder it is the goal of many, but way out of financial reach for most of them. But Thresher Shark Divers has trained up a good number of staff on their scholarship program, and it can work very well. Most of their staff are made up of DMs who came up through the ranks at TSD and are familiar faces to many customers having been around for many years. 

Once training started, given all of our previous local trainees had taken to diving instantly, it came as no surprise that they were naturals in the water. They absolutely loved the diving, and it made Toni's job very easy. As well as mastering the skills instantly, they seem to have innate skills for creature spotting, and quickly learned to find even the most camouflaged critter with their laser-eyes. 

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

However, the book-work was another matter! The studying was extremely challenging; partly language difficulties, partly educational barriers and partly fear of exams, but they struggled through and worked hard and finally achieved their goal to get that elusive DM rating. It was immensely satisfying for Toni to see them all complete their courses. He gave his time for free as he genuinely cares for them, and wanted to help them and their families have better lives. 

As part of the Divemaster course, Thresher Shark Divers always integrates strong messages on conservation, and they have always been involved in local projects. Andrea began speadheading projects to protect the sharks not long after she first arrived on Malapascua in 2003. She wrote guidelines for diving with the sharks to minimise diver interference and worked with the other dive shops to implement them among all their divers.

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

These rules are now displayed prominently all around the island and followed by all of the dive shops. She also introduced the idea of charging a small fee to divers to dive at Monad Shoal with the sharks, and using it to fund protection of the area. Over the years, this has evolved and the island dive association now runs a patrol boat to protect the dive site from fishermen. 

Andrea also write the PADI “Thresher Shark Diver Specialty Course,” only available at Thresher Shark Divers , and as well as teaching students about sharks, it has a strong focus on conservation. They have taught hundreds of students over the years and it comes free with every DM course. The course has grown in breadth and content as we have learned more and various instructor have left their mark on it, and so it's now a course not to be missed! 

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

Toni and Thresher Shark Divers have also been involved in local conservation projects during lockdown – and these were a great way to teach out DM trainees about conservation in a more hands-on way. They continued to regular projects, such as Crown of Thorns Removal and Dive Against Debris cleanup dives and beach cleanups.

The eager students loved doing these dives, and after many years of tourism and education on the island, the local population in general is very aware of the importance of keeping the island the ocean clean. The coral is very healthy in many places which is a very good sign, and the dive shops work together to maintain the mooring buoys at the different spots around the island to make sure any boat anchor and destroy the reefs.

Thresher Shark Numbers Increase

But teaching the local Divemasters about conservation is key to the never-ending struggle to conserve our waters on several levels: they take out the majority of divers who come to Malapascua – and good diving practices that don't damage the local flora and fauna need to be enforced by Divemasters – and also they are very highly looked upon in the local community and can help immensely with education – for example by teaching local fishermen to fish more sustainably, or to teach locals to dispose of trash properly, not to use single use plastics etc.

So Thresher Shark Divers feel it's especially imperative to start drilling this into their local trainees from the start. And now Thresher Shark Divers will be taking them on as Divemasters and you will be able to see Ronnie, Gerard, Jerome and Joseph in action should you visit TSD!

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Picture of Adrian Stacey
Adrian Stacey
Scuba Diver ANZ Editor, Adrian Stacey, first learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef over 24 years ago. Since then he has worked as a dive instructor and underwater photographer in various locations around the world including, Egypt, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and Saba. He has now settled in Australia, back to where his love of diving first began.
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