Janet Buckley, March 2013, Ireland

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“The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) is a registered charity that exists to conduct whale shark research and to foster ‘grass-roots’ conservation initiatives within the Maldives and throughout the Indian Ocean…. Get involved….”

I never even contemplated that you could volunteer and swim with the sharks. My swimming was also a tad questionable, I liked to know where the bottom was. So I spent the winter of 2012 attempting to up my swimming game, I invested in my snorkel & mask… in no time I was doing over 1km, my muscles ached but the dream was on track.

There is no describing the natural beauty of the Maldives, pictures don’t need photo-shop or enhancements, the islands truly are perfect! And flying over them in a sea-plane confirms this.

Once on the reef, it’s everyone on the top of the boat, finding your sea-legs is fun. Eyes peeled, polarised sunnies are a must. Nothing can prepare you for the first sighting, the excitement of the main team & the crew, it’s like it’s their first shark too. Everyone scrambles into fins and masks then it’s into the sea.

You head towards the lead swimmer as they are first on the shark but due to the vastness of the sea you are still unsure where the shark actually is! Without warning, it appears along side you – grey & glistening, moving gracefully without a care in the world. It is like looking at a galaxy of stars spread over the top of this magnificent creature. This IS the biggest fish in the sea. And its beauty is as big as its size.

And so the day continues, lucky for me, some days we had up to 6 encounters. It’s a long hot day on the reef, temperatures in excess of 30 degrees. That doesn’t cross your mind as you are consumed waiting for the next spotting. One of the days we swam with one shark (Fernando) for over an hour…. it was off the charts exciting.

If you ever thought of doing something different, are interested in the protection of marine life and don’t mind working while you holiday then volunteering with this programme will bring rewards you usually only get to dream of. It’s not really work; it’s an experience that you’ll never forget, it humbles you and makes you realise that life is fragile and beautiful.

Every one should swim with a whale shark once in their lifetime!”