Welcome to our "Ocean Passion Blog Series" where we are interviewing regular people doing extraordinary actions for the ocean. We at Pelagic Love want to show you that anybody can be what they imagine just by putting action to their thoughts. This week our guest is Shirley Turner and she believes Freediving gives you an insight into your own soul.
We are so excited Shirley to hear about your life with the ocean and being a Free Diver. Can you tell us about yourself and where you are in the world?
My name is Shirley, I am a 36 year old South African living in Ware, Hertfordshire, England, UK with my Polish Partner Adam Drzazga, together we are blessed with two beautiful children, Jade (15) and Tiger (4).
We own Blue Water Freediving School which allows me to not only explore the Oceans in the most peaceful and natural way but it also opens up opportunities to reach out to those who we cross paths with and create an awareness of the Ocean and how it is suffering. Once people become freedivers, it seems to open up a new perspective on the Ocean life and of course the rivers, lakes and even man made and inland water worlds. You get to see marine life in their home and when you see rubbish embedded in their corals, their rocks and tangled in seaweeds, it is heartbreaking. If we had been sailing across the surface, without seeing any of this destruction happening under the surface we may never really think of what we have done to the Ocean and how we can fix the mess we have caused.
Absolutely love the name of your company! You brought up the matter of seeing "Rubbish" in our ocean which definitely is a hot topic to us. This message is starting to get some momentum around the world now. Tell us Shirley how long have you known your passion for the ocean and can you remember what brought it to the surface?
Growing up in sunny South Africa, I was fortunate enough to have a fairly wild childhood, swimming in rivers, jumping off of waterfalls (in fact we had so many waterfalls that my town in Kwa Zulu Natal is called Waterfall), and we were also not too far from the Indian Ocean, a wild and very lively Ocean with big waves and strong currents. I love water, if it was raining, storming or if there were at least big puddles in the garden, then I was bound to be found in them. If it was too hot, my parents would take us to Kloof Gorge where we would swim in the Nkutu River. We were lucky to have parents who were interested in showing us natural life-cycles of various creatures living in and around the rivers.
On the weekends we would go to one of the many spectacular beaches on the East Coast of South Africa, this is where I realised that not all is well, there were people who fished. When I saw the beautiful coloured fish struggling in the small rock pools that the fishermen used to keep fish alive and "fresh" while they fished for more - this broke my heart. So I began my mission to sneak up to the rock pools grab a fish and throw them back to the ocean, willing the tired fish to swim swim swim. This angered many but I would just move on to the next group of fishermen. We also had an old whaling station hidden behind a huge bluff, this I learnt about later in life and that it had been shut down only 5 years before I was born.
My gran used to buy a weekly magazine and leave it with us when she was finished reading it. The magazine was called "Personality" and this is how I discovered Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd in its early days (1980's), I learnt too about The Cove in Taiji, Japan. Along with Bear bile farms, wolf hunting, Rhino and Elephant poaching and Puffin catching in the Faroes! I wanted so badly to do something but I was just a child, not even 10 years old and I was so far away from the people who were already actively doing something.
Another strong memory I have is the warning signs on the beach - warning us that sharks were common in those waters and that you swim at your own risk. I recall a young surfer walking up the beach with a wild look in his eyes and in his hands was his surf board snapped in two with a big bite off the side. I remember thinking "wow- how exciting"! I began to read more into sharks and discovered that their worst nightmare, The Kwa Zulu Natal Sharks Board. They are responsible for the death of thousands of sharks, caught up in the shark nets, selfishly placed in their home for our "protection".
I dreamt of being able to swim deep enough to go and release the sharks, dolphins, turtles, seals, birds and any other living beings that had been caught in these deadly traps.
When I was young, i saw a woman diving with whales, with out a tank - in a silver wetsuit and a big monofin - I thought "what is that? I want to do that and save the sharks from the nets!"
As part of a school trip in 1993 we went to the Sharks Board. I watched in horror as they hacked up a 6ft Tiger Shark, whist telling us how deadly they are, we were told that Sharks ate every thing, even car parts! Well there was nothing in this shark except its regular food, smaller fish. I stroked this magnificent being and just manged to hold back my tears - this confirmed to me that I had a soft spot for these majestic creatures, tears now fall from my eyes and I will never forget how moving that moment was.
Oh my, what a fabulous journey that brought your passion to the surface. So many things have come into your life to direct you to the ocean. Loved hearing about your youth years and waterfalls in South Africa as well. You have shown us in a brilliant story how passionate you are for the ocean and its inhabitants, so please tell us what action do you do to give back or help the ocean?
As mentioned before, one of my regular opportunities is that fact that I meet new people so often and I can share my passion for the Oceans and make them aware of how we can so easily to be responsible as an individual, by refusing to use or buy extra plastic, recycle, use metal or bamboo straws, have a get together and do a river or beach clean up and of course underwater cleans ups, there are so many easy ways to make a difference.
There are many organisations that already do cleanups, you could join them if you didn't want to do it alone. I joined Thames21 which teaches people to run river cleans ups along the tributaries to the Thames and the Thames River itself, which leads directly to the Ocean. I do not live near the Ocean, this was the most effective option for me. On my first Thames River clean up we picked up 4 tons of plastic (mostly bags) in two days!
I have attended protest after protest, standing up and being a voice for the voiceless. Signed petition after petition and of course donated directly to people and groups that are doing a specific campaign in order to save the Oceans.
In 2009 I joined Sea Shepherd Global, in 2013 we took part in a 16000ft Skydive to raise funds for the repair of Sea Shepherd ships. And in 2014 we volunteered for a campaign in the Faroe Islands, this campaign was called GrindStop and even though the fight continues, I can see how much exposure we got from that and it has opened up many hearts, who had no idea these atrocities happen so close to our home.
I am currently working on some Ocean themed products that I will sell through Blue water Freediving school's website, where a percentage of the profits from these will go to the amazing Ric O'Barry Dolphin Project. My first creation is the Ocean Star mermaid monofin.
You and your family are just incredible! You are consistent on your desires to change the minds and actions on this planet. Your children are going to have wonderful protecting values for this planet! Let's dig a bit further and ask you how has your passion for the ocean changed your thinking and your life?
I grew up rescuing animals of all kinds, I have a soft heart and see the life and personality in all things but when you see the fear and pain, this changes you for life.
I always wanted to make a difference, to quietly do something amazing, there were so many people in my country and in Africa, doing amazing things for wildlife but it seemed to me that the Ocean was cursed. The Ocean just never got good media or the help it so desperately needed. I saw a woman diving with whales, wearing a monofin, I had no idea what it was called but I thought - that is it!! I could do that, and swim to the depths of the shark nets and release what marine wildlife I could find alive - that was all I wanted to do.
At 18 I contacted the Sharks Board to find out what they did to the marine life that was still living but caught in the nets. The answer I received was not one that I agreed with, they were more concerned about the state of the nets than the lives that were lost. All sharks were taken on-board for research. Turtle shells were retrieved for selling and the rest was left to sink to the Ocean floor. I asked if they would allow me to join them to see for myself and to see if there were alternatives but I was abruptly cut off and told how ridiculous I was for even asking. Being the shy and reserved person that I am, I gave up trying with the Sharks Board but I know now that they are not to be trusted. I still dream of what I now know is freediving with sharks in a means to take data, protect and educate about them, I see Madison Stewart and it is as if she is the example of my childhood dream, the sad thing is that no one should have to be doing the work she does.
After watching Sharkwater and seeing the atrocities that Rob Stewart exposed, I felt compelled to keep my dream alive and train harder in freediving, in preparation for a future opportunity. We also bought several Sharkwater dvds to pass on to people, as a means to speak up for the sharks.
"Freediving gives you an insight into your own soul" - you have to fight for the results and the only thing that stops you achieving, is your willingness not to give up on yourself - this mirrors how I feel about the Ocean, it is a huge battle but it is up to me to do my part and take action in order for us to achieve the results we need, we are all responsible for our own part, we can not give up or we will not get results.
Shirley you are truly an insightful spirit! We are in awe of this statement "Freediving gives you an insight into your own soul". What a great message to give to our readers that goes to the depths of what a freediver thinks. Tell us what brought out strength or confidence that would have been a fear otherwise with all of these tireless actions for the ocean?
I grew up in a generation where children were to respect their elders and that we didn't know as much as an adult. So I found it hard to find my voice in life until now, as an adult I created a place where I can do just that, and of course my children join me, speaking out for the Oceans.
I was taught to respect water, I always loved it but I always had a great fear of still water; Freediving cured this and opened up many avenues to allow me to speak my mind, I get to share with my fellow divers exactly what I think and although some may disagree I hope that a seed will be planted and either a new perspective will be looked at or an old passion for the Oceans will be revived.
When I joined Sea Shepherd in 2009, the highly dedicated Darren Collis (founder of Sea Shepherd UK) really encouraged me to be more self confident, I was relied on to set up and run stalls, and got to speak to many well know celebrities about our campaigns and missions to defend the Oceans. The best part was that I very seldom recognised who these celebs were, so I spoke confidently from the heart and that is far more effective in my eyes.
In 2011 I worked on the Steve Irwin whilst it was docked in London for a fundraising effort, I worked alongside just a few volunteers, selling merchandise and others lead tours around the ship informing people of the great efforts the crew have done to protect our Oceans. I had to handle all the merch and cash flow, which is not my strong point but despite losing my voice from talking endlessly to hundreds of curious people, I found that because the cause mattered I was able to to step out my comfort zone and take on more than what I thought I could do.
I also joined a local Hunt Sab group that Darren introduced me to, this was something that also tested me physically and I found a huge amount of hidden determination and confidence with in me.
Now that is what we're talking about! How passion for something deep within you drives energy from sources you didn't know you had! Love it! We have seen you mention a few incredible organizations already so tell us what ocean organization is your favorite and why?
I will have to say The Dolphin Project, because I used to occasionally see Flipper on TV at my friends house and I remember thinking that the dolphins were free to go if they wanted too. I thought how wonderful to live there and swim and "talk" with dolphins every day... I was captivated by the idea. However when I was a child, I was also taken to see a dolphin show, just meters from the beach, I was very young and wondered why the dolphins were living there and not in the Ocean, didn't they want to go back, how did they get into the tanks, how were they caught?
Then in the Personality magazine I saw photos of the brutal capture and murder of dolphins in Taiji, - later I watched The Cove and was moved by Ric O'Barry's honesty and continued determination to change the way things are now. When I first met Ric, I smiled for a photo with my children but as soon as I walked away I wept. I have never met such a sincere man, I felt honoured. His sincerity and honesty is what makes me want to support him and his life's mission to stop the slaughter of dolphins across the globe. I thought Dolphin Project is something I believe is worth supporting.
We agree completely that Ric O'Barry is an incredibly kind, sincere, and humble man. Thank you for sharing your words on the Dolphin Project. Tell us in your own words what would you like people to know that was a great lesson you have learned because of your passion?
I have learnt that you should not fall into the trap that general society teaches us. We are not at the top of the hierarchy, our ego is but our beings are not. We were taught that we are more intelligent than other living creatures, we are not. If we were we would be living in harmony WITH all other life forms, but we are proving on a daily basis that we are self centred and greedy beings and that alone is leading us rapidly down a dangerous path. I find that some people simply do not want to know the horrible truth because it upsets them. So why then are they contributing to another life's misery? Why do they buy a ticket to a circus, dolphin or Orca show? Why do they throw their plastic cutlery in the general waste? Why are they so determined to close their eyes and not see the truth?
Those are questions we are all looking for the answers. We believe there is momentum with this change and the new generation like your children will create a new caring path. After all that you have learned from this beautiful path you have been on what would you have done differently to get you to where you are now that may help someone else get further into helping the ocean?
I looked for approval and permission to follow my dreams - DON'T, just do it, no matter how young or old you are, if your heart is prompting you to get involved in something, then that is your calling for this time in life - do not hesitate! If you want to learn to freedive, I can help you or guide you to your nearest club. If you want to clear the local park because its a mess, do it because who else will? Do not look for a "go -ahead" sign, this is the life you get, make it one you are proud of. If you are fearful of being rejected, don't be, there are many of us who have been rejected for our passion and we are still standing up and following our callings.
Awesome Shirley! "Do not look for a "go -ahead" sign, this is the life you get, make it one you are proud of." That is what passion does to oneself. It draws out a mission from the soul and its so strong you have displaced the wandering mind that would try and bring in worry and fear. Thank you so much Shirley for sharing this wonderful life of yours! We have learned so much and feel very empowered by your actions and guidance! Keep up the great work.
Our next guest on the Ocean Passion Blog Series will be a man named Robert Hii from Toronto - Canada. Robert is an asian decent and felt a deep feeling to stand up to his culture and speak on behalf of shark protection. Remember every Wednesday we'll have a new inspiring journey from a person as unique as us.
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