For the genuine love of sharks

Lesley Rochat Swimming with Sharks
When I became a shark conservationist over a decade ago sharks were not in vogue as self-promoting marketing tools, nor considered to be in any real danger of extinction and therefore not worth conserving. As a freelance environmental journalist I knew differently. Not happy with my career at the time, I was on a spiritual journey, meditating daily, and opening my heart and soul to guidance for direction for my true life’s purpose. Maxine, the extraordinary ragged tooth shark living at the Two Oceans Aquarium showed me the way. The direction was clear, I was here to help save our sharks. What followed was me packing up a well paying corporate position, as well as shares in a top brokerage, and stopping my studies in finance, which would have led to my MBA. Money would have been like sunshine.

Instead, my spiritual path and belief that life is about giving back, dominated and over the past 10 years plus, by cashing in my pension fund and founding a non profit organization, AfriOceans, driving award winning campaigns such as the AfriOceans ‘Rethink the shark’ campaign, writing books and articles, public speaking, imagining a public shark centre and creating one, satellite tagging sharks for research, producing documentaries, designing public displays, lobbying, photographing, teaching children, and much more I have reached millions of people all over the world with my shark conservation messages. Not always is my name attached to my work, but it is mine.

Lesley Rochat Swimming with SharksSaving sharks and using every means possible to raise awareness about their plight, was my focus. I never promoted myself or used sharks to promote me. I was too busy trying to save them. It took me eight years to create a personal website, only done because I was pushed to do so. Any exposure I received came my way and was used as a tool to drive my message and/or help raise funds. Now a honed and well-worn shark conservationist with a long history, some very tough trials and tribulations in my fight to make a small contribution toward their survival, plus for having the ‘balls’ to make the award winning film, ‘Sharks in Deep Trouble’ and for being prepared to speak out, has earned me both supporters and enemies, and the nickname, ‘Shark Warrior’.

I have learnt that there’s no arriving on this journey along a road with no end. From my place of humble achievement I have watched in admiration other genuine conservationists work hard towards saving sharks. Many are my friends. I have also watched in calm amusement as any other man, and woman, and their dog, whether underwater photographers, freedivers, PR and marketing babes, dive operators, researchers, or someone who merely had some photos taken of themselves freediving with sharks, suddenly without any conservation cred become shark conservationists overnight. Mostly immature and insecure, they tarnish their thin motives further with their backstabbing, bickering and claims to fame in the industry.

Lesley Rochat Swimming with Sharks
The bottom line is that like remoras they latch onto sharks because sharks further these individual’s self interests, increase their public profile, their bank balance, and their drive to climb the glory ladder. I say to this, cool, no matter their personal agendas for using charismatic animals, which the media also loves to exploit, in order to boost their own egos. After all, sharks need all the help they can get to survive and the spin-off of their selfish marketing agendas is more awareness for sharks. Of further amusement is the various other ‘Warriors’ related to the oceans, which have sprouted up. I feel flattered that I have influenced these individuals to call themselves warriors and use this title as another of their marketing ploys.

To those of us, however, who have earned our stripes through much more than a quick dip in the ocean with sharks, radio and magazine interviews or TV show exposure, but have spent hours, years, unglamorously behind computers, in meetings, campaigning, working 14 hour days fighting the real shark conservation battles with little financial reward, all because we really care, don’t be afraid to let the spotlight fall where it should. When we join the bandwagon of shark opportunists and use ourselves, the true shark conservationists to promote shark conservation, we, however, do it with integrity and credibility. We still put the sharks before ourselves. We never forget why we are doing it. And our spinoff, apart from raising more awareness, will be to draw more funds to us, not for ourselves but which we desperately need to do the real hard work of saving our sharks.

Lesley Rochat Swimming with Sharks
Me with Maxine in 2001 in the Two Oceans Aquarium. My mind wonders off to the warm and beautiful ocean of the Bahamas, the sole purpose of which was to gain images for two international shark conservation campaigns I am either driving or part of. I got special permission because of my background and motives to freedive with the sharks, and in time I will share more about the reason for these shots with you (special thanks to Mike Ellis for taking these pix). I recall the first time I ever freedived with a shark and go back in my piles of newspaper clippings and find an article with a photo of me freediving with Maxine in the tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium, faded yellow with age, taken by Leon Muller of the Argus newspaper, shot on negative back in 2001. I smile.

Watch my space!

NOTE: 25th March 2011:re the comments left on this blog below: Soon after the negative comments below were left both individuals, when realising that there was either a misunderstanding and/or certain things they were unaware of, have apologised to me. I would like to thank them for extending their communication to me so that this understanding could have been reached. I thank those of you who felt the need to defend me, this was very kind of you and just warms my heart more knowing there are special people like you out there that support me, thank you for your kind words. Lesley

  1. linda paganellilinda paganelli03-23-2011

    wow, it is interesting to see somebody getting so worked up because of a dive in the aquarium. it's just a tank, not the everest.
    since i have the impression that you are referring to the article about me and jacques freediving there a few days ago, i'd like to point out that we had never talked to the press and that they took their info from the press release that the aquarium released.
    i'm happy to know you have snorkeled there 10 years ago, and i don't really need to boost my 5 meters freedives in a tank to prove myself and my credentials. i'm not a conservationist and i wanted to dive there to get footage for our youtube channel, that's all. very chilled out.

    linda paganelli, italian record holder for all the depth disciplines (and that's deeper than 5 meters)

  2. OliviaOlivia03-23-2011

    Hi Lesley
    You really should stick to writing about your trips and conservation issues. This is not your finest post as you are indirectly and directly attacking a host of others – not least of which are world champion freedivers. It really just comes across as a rant from someone that is feeling insecure or jealous.

    I have seen you do some great work for sharks but please do not think that others have necessarily modelled themselves off you. The more people that are protecting sharks the better – no matter how they choose to do it because no one owns sharks.

    The fact that you are the quickest to list your own achievements and display images of yourself in a bikini with sharks is also surprising coming from someone that claims to be humble there is nothing humble about your posts. No issue that you (or others) have ever taken up has gone by un-noticed and un-claimed in your newsletters.

    There are a lot of people and other women involved in the fight to save sharks and yet you are the only one that consistently has something negative to say about everyone else. You seem to feel that it is you vs the world and that is not the case, a lot of others have tried to work with you before.

    Please re-read what you have written with fresh eyes. It is a throw-away piece all about you being disloyal, poisonous and unflattering about other people that (technically) are on the same team as you are.

    Please keep up the good work by creating awareness about issues facing our oceans and what each of us can do to help.

  3. Lesley RochatLesley Rochat03-23-2011

    Hi Linda
    Actually I was not referring to an article about either you or anyone else freediving in the tank as I am not aware of either your dive or the article you are referring to. It seems there is misunderstanding. I have never professed to be a freediver just as you, I'm sure, have never professed to be a shark conservationist. In fact I would love to learn to hold my breath longer than I can to improve my mediocre attempts of freediving i.e. used in reference to diving without SCUBA kit and snorkeling as you put it. My blog is not about freediving in the tank or anywhere else but rather about shark conservationists versus shark opportunists. I'm impressed by your records by the way.

  4. My2centsMy2cents03-23-2011

    Ladies, if I were a conservationist I would never associate myself with a tiny tank in an aquarium that is a sad home for a number of large sharks, turtles and half-eaten fish. In fact I'd be outside, placard in hand, trying to close it down. If people want to see sharks they should don a wetsuit (or hot bikini) and jump in the water with them in the wild.

  5. Dream DiverDream Diver03-23-2011

    Hey Folks, Lesley is not attacking anyone specifically, she is merely highlighting the fact that opportunistic people, will do anything that's flavour of the day – in this case, latching onto sharks to promote themselves. She is pointing out that there are a lot of folk that have laboured for many years, to fight for the plight of sharks. Lesley is just lucky that she happens to be a diver, underwater photographer, successful shark conservationist, beautiful woman and takes good pix. She looks so stunning in her pix! Lesley don't worry about these comments……you are fantastic. I have been following you for years, understand what you have achieved against a lot of odds and I admire you! Dream Diver

  6. Anton BAnton B03-23-2011

    Well, well, this one got them going! Talk about bitchy, bitchy! I am a great fan of your blogs and have this to say in response to both your entry and comments thrown at you:
    1.It is about time someone said what you have – it is so true there are just so many people using sharks to promote themselves.
    2.You are right it doesn’t matter because sharks get more exposure but a pity they can’t be honest about it!
    3.Because you don’t do much self-promoting I love this blog and that is what a blog is all about – to share what a blogger wants – didn’t know your background details quite like this so thanks for sharing – even more inspiring.
    4.I actually know someone who you have inspired to such an extent that she has chosen to become a shark researcher. I am sure there are many more people your passion has positively touch.
    5.I love your ability to speak out as most people only think what you write and it takes courage to do so. People are bound to attack people like you. Attacking like they do is easy.
    6.You always promote others and what their talents and what they do for sharks in your blogs with links to their work and often all you do is blow other people’s trumpets.
    7.You are one in a million and I love your work!

    PS: If I had the guts and a figure like that I would also dive in a bikini with sharks – awesome shots!! (Could there be just a hint of jealousy?) Hope we get to see more and I look forward to finding out what they are for………….:-) 🙂

  7. linda paganellilinda paganelli03-23-2011

    hi lesley, somebody told me you made a point out of being the first one diving there, so it's obvious that i think you are taking a shot at me.
    honestly, i really don't care about anything else than diving and having fun in doing so.
    i'm not on a mission to save the oceans and the sharks, i just want to have a good time and of course i respect the ones who are on their personal mission, whatever that is. i'm not getting in their way and i'm not judging them, and i expect the same treatment back.
    i'm all for live and let live.
    that said, i'm sorry if i misunderstood your intentions:-)

    linda
    http://www.freediveinternational.com

  8. Lesley RochatLesley Rochat03-23-2011

    Hi Linda, thanks for apology, I appreciate and no worries. If anything I am defending all of those that are true to their beliefs and areas of expertise. Just like you, to achieve what we have in our respective fields it has taken a shit load of hard work, sacrifices, pure passion and sweat. When people come along claiming to be shark conservationists overnight but have done squat for sharks except use them to promote themselves, I feel it necessary to just say: "I am aware of what you are doing, and by the way…” Like I said, I still think it is cool because of the awareness they raise. As someone who has fought this battle for so long and with some achievements I believe I am in a position to have an opinion. Regards, Lesley

    In South Africa, and spreading abroad, unfortunately there are two camps in the shark conservation world and the ‘other’ camp spew loads of negativity about me. I expected the other comment (which I could delete but choose not to).

    Anton, Dream Diver and 2Cents worth, thanks too for your support, it really is great to know I have the support I do, which I know far outweighs the handful that slate me. I have chosen the path I travel and with that the bumps, boulders and hairpin bends I must negotiate. If I wanted to be a fence sitter I would have reincarnated as a chicken! Regards, Lesley

  9. OliviaOlivia03-23-2011

    Hi Lesley

    Just out of interest, do you work closely with any other conservation groups e.g. Shark Life/ Shark Savers/ FLOW (For Love of Water who inspired the title of this blog)? I have only read your blogs, tweets and other posts where you bad mouth SOSF and other groups. I am curious to find out: which organisations and other "shark activists" do you approve of (especially in South Africa) because this blog implies that anyone else that loves sharks must have some sort of hidden agenda?!

    Personally, I think that it is awesome to see more and more people diving with sharks, getting their photos taken, whatever it takes to convert them to our way of thinking. It would be worse if people dived with them and then still didn't "rethink sharks". So many of my surfing friends have seen the light and fallen in love with sharks (and had their photos taken) and then been outspoken about removing shark nets in KZN and I really can't see how this could be a bad thing?

    I'm also keen to find out who these people are that are making money out of pretending to love sharks? I have met some inspiring local and international divers/ conservationists that I have profiled in the media and I have to say that not one of them appears to be finding protecting sharks particularly lucrative.

    I can appreciate that you must have accumulated some fans over the decade that you have been working with sharks but I find it strange that none of these people post their email addresses. I have posted mine if you or anyone else would prefer to respond to me directly.

    I really feel that this blog post just comes across as sour grapes and doesn't add anything positive to sharks or shark lovers. It would be great if you could be embracing like-minded people, not criticising and alienating them – they are not a threat to you or to sharks, in fact so much more would be achieved if everyone put their egos aside, focussed on their strengths and worked together.

    I look forward to one of your conservation inspired posts and images from your next trip.

  10. TerryTerry03-24-2011

    Hi Guys, I have worked side by side with Lesley for the last year and a half, first at Save our Seas Shark Centre as Head of Education and at AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, since February last year. I have had a 25 yr career in marine conservation myself. I can say with all honesty that she is undoubtedly the hardest working marine conservationist, shark activist and photo journalist in this country, if not internationally. 14 hr days 7 days a week. It's true. Yes, she has earned her stripes the way that none of us would even dare emulate – on a shark vessel, filming sharks being pulled from a blue ocean to be slaughtered in front of her. Its shockingly brutal. Watch Lesley's film 'Sharks in Deep Trouble' and then say you are not convinced. This beautiful , highly spiritual person demonstrates living sustainably in every aspect of her life, from her vegetarian diet to her three bags of recycling to one shopping bag of rubbish. She walks the talk. What she preaches she lives. We went to one of the roughest parts of Cape Town recently, to teach over 700 kids about water pollution in the highly polluted Kuils River, which flows into the Ocean at Macassar. There she was in this filthy mud, filming our AfriOceans Warriors picking up 100 bags of disgusting waste. She inspires them. They love her message. Let's not lose that focus. She challenges our thinking. ReThink. Yes Lesley does look incredible in her bikinis, but its all about the sharks. She loves sharks. She is crazy about sharks. She dreams sharks. Rethink the shark reached 100 million viewers. Rethink the Shark and Sharks in Deep Trouble have changed perceptions 180 degrees amongst many, many people. Her internationally recognised levels of innovation and creativity should be celebrated, not knocked. Read her blog carefully. She is not directing it at anyone in particular but is instead questioning all of our real motives for being involved in diving with sharks and shark conservation. Sharks are not fashion accessories. They are living dinosaurs, presently there over 500 species, disappearing to the tune of 70-100 million a year. Awareness is never going to be enough to save them and our oceans. We have to actively stop the slaughter or there will be no sharks left in the Oceans.Without the sharks, our Oceans die. It's that simple. It's happening already. Let's rather work together, pool our strengths and celebrate our true shark conservation icons like Lesley Rochat.

    Knock them out at the UK Dive Show, Shark Warrior.
    Terry Corr, AfriOceans

  11. Wolfgang LeanderWolfgang Leander05-05-2011

    When I dived with Lesley she wore a wet suit – she looked quite cool
    in it but I have to admit that a bikini suits her even better!! 🙂

    I fully agree with what Lesley wrote; should I say: unfortunately?

    There is simply way too much hypocrisy and back-stabbing in the shark
    world, especially in South Africa, involving people whose primary
    motivation is being in the news, being photographed with what they
    believe are "celebrities" in fund-raising events, being featured in
    documentaries of dubious quality, calling themselves shark lovers –
    all in the name of "Shark Conservation" and having as ulterior motive
    one thing: Feeding their undernourished egos and/or keeping their profit
    machinery well lubricated.

    Thus, I find it refreshing to see someone
    ranting about these phoneys publicly without resorting to what the
    phoneys are good at: bad-mouthing others, like for
    instance……………………………., etc.

    Olivia has a point in saying that all shark lovers, the genuine ones
    and the self-professed ones, should unite to help the cause of shark
    conservation. That would be possible in an ideal world. However, ours
    is not an ideal world. Therefore, I believe it is not at all
    counterproductive or insidious to expose the hypocrites. Quite the
    contrary: Public exposure could induce them to get their act together
    and make them try to work with others even if they might not get all
    the recognition they think should be due to them alone.

    So, Lesley – keep up your incredible work, much admired by most, and
    let the others who are jealous of your well deserved fame as a shark
    warrior (and apparently of your youthful body!! 🙂 bitch about
    you.

    Sharks need the help of tough minded warriors that are for real!

    You just go your way, the Lesley way.