He was sweating, treading water in Thailand’s choppy seas when the sharks began to circle around him. He had already been swimming for two hours, and exhaustion was beginning to set in. In his situation most would panic, but not Bryan. Here, among the sharks, he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Often perceived as fierce, dominating and predatory, in reality, many shark species are incredibly vulnerable and subject to overfishing, bycatch and finning – the practice of brutally slicing fins and disposing of shark bodies at sea. Largely unregulated shark fishing and finning practices across the globe are killing thousands each day. In certain regions, population counts are so low that the continued existence of some shark species hovers at levels of high risk.
These apex predators are critical to our marine ecosystems, but they’re in danger. And 47-year-old Bryan Avery, a passionate ocean conservationist and scuba diver, was willing to go to great lengths to protect them. Bryan had set out on a “Finathon” swim challenge to raise funds and awareness for the protection of all shark and ray species. Proceeds would be donated to Project AWARE, a non-profit organization fighting for the protection of sharks and rays in peril across the globe.
With the hope of spreading his message far and wide, he had set an ambitious goal – to swim the perimeter of Koh Tao Island, 24 kilometers in total. The marathon swim would take approximately eight hours, and would be performed without any assistance or gear aside from trunks and goggles. His only support – food, hydration and navigational assistance – would come from a small group of friends on a boat trailing his journey.
It had been 5:01 am, still dark, when the horn had sounded and he took off. By 7:05 am, heat from the equatorial sun had just started beating down and Bryan had begun to perspire. As beams of sunlight cleared visibility in the coastal waters, curious Blacktip reef sharks began to swarm around him. In a moment like this when many might succumb to fear, Bryan was awed and overcome with gratitude. Shark sightings are often rare, with populations of numerous shark species around the world dwindling. He was lucky to have the chance to encounter sharks at all, let alone during a swim to protect them. So with respect, Bryan remained calm and tread water near the rear of his support boat, waiting for the sharks to pass. The moment only lasted a few minutes until they bid him ado on his journey.
With a positive reminder of the importance of his Finathon, Bryan was refueled and more motivated than ever to power through the remainder of his swimming challenge. Over the next six hours, he pushed through pounding heat, aching muscles and varying ocean tides and currents, all the while keeping his goal of conservation in mind. With friends, family and onlookers cheering him onward, he continued stroke after stroke, paddling around the island.
At 12:57pm, Bryan swam to the shoreline where he had started near Coral Grand Dive Resort. He exited the water, “bloody knackered,” but with high spirits. He knew his efforts had paid off – his Finathon swimming challenge not only drew awareness, but helped contribute significant funds to support Project AWARE’s fight to protect sharks and rays. He joined the large crowd that had gathered to welcome him, and together, they celebrated.
With help from supporters like Bryan, Project AWARE has secured international trade protections for eight of the world’s most vulnerable sharks and rays. But, more help is needed. To ensure the survival of sharks, we must fight for stricter, enforceable controls at national, regional and global levels. With support from you – scuba divers, ocean enthusiasts, eco-minded individuals and cultural creatives, we can achieve stronger protections for some of the world’s most threatened species.
Project AWARE Foundation, a registered non-profit organization, mobilizes the world’s divers to protect our ocean planet – one dive at a time. Join the growing movement of divers striving toward a clean, healthy and abundant ocean planet. www.projectaware.org