Walter Bernardis in the water

This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with Walter Bernardis from The SharkWise Project

Name: Walter Bernardis

Role: Co-founder of SharkWise Project Marine Internship and owner of African Watersports dive center

Company: SharkWise Project Marine Internship and African Watersports

Top Tip: Just put yourself out there and learn not to get discouraged by all the negative things that are happening out there.

Quick Fire Questions

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation? 

Being involved in with the ocean all my life and seeing a steady decline in our shark population lead to me wanting to get involved to try and protect sharks.

2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?

Trying to introduce as many people as I can to our sharks and the Aliwal Shoal area. Because we only protect what we love, we only love what we understand, and we only understand what we are taught. Usually, we are only taught fear when it comes to sharks, so it has been a process for the past 30 years to try and get people in the water with the sharks and to get them to see the sharks as the beautiful creatures that they are.

3. How did you obtain your current position? 

I started my own business and kept it going through marketing and advertising.

4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

Seeing the attitude change in the people that have dived with sharks. I get comments from clients such as, “this was the greatest dive of my life!” and “I hope one day I can bring my children here and show them the same thing. I hope that you can keep it going so that the next generation can share it as well”.

5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

With all the longlining and dual netting happening along our coastline, sometimes it becomes difficult to stay motivated. But in the end, if you change the attitude of one person, it is a start.

6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

African Watersports pioneered apex predator diving in this region, and we had to go through many learning curves to work out how to do these kinds of dives and how to keep the divers safe. So, if I started with all that knowledge straight away, it would have been a lot easier.

7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

People skills. Talking to people in public and being asked to speak at functions has always been difficult for me.

8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Just put yourself out there and learn not to get discouraged by all the negative things that are happening out there. Always tell it like it is and never sell yourselves to the TV programs!

9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?

It’s got to be the tiger shark. It has such a fearsome and bad reputation, and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a beautiful shark. It’s shy and cautious, has got lovely big eyes and beautiful patterns on its skin.

10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?

We were on a dive, and I was floating in mid-water at about 10m deep, and I heard this huge blast come out of nowhere! It sounded like a massive foghorn the size of the wall in your house, and it made every part of my body vibrate! It was a humpback whale that was announcing itself, coming past me.

“In the end, if you change the attitude of one person, it is a start.”

Walter Bernardis

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