From a desk job to snorkelling, sea kayaking and scuba diving with sharks – a lucky St Annes woman is living the dream on the island of Fiji.
Sophie Harrison, 29, a former pupil of Lytham St Annes High Technology College, has taken a three-month sabbatical from her job at BAE Systems.
Sophie stumbled upon a shark conservation project in Fiji, and has not looked back since.
She said: “I don’t have a scientific background, and until now have never had any particular interest in marine conservation, but on reading the words ‘scuba diving’, ‘Fiji’, and admittedly with some trepidation, ‘sharks’, I was sold. My office desk feels more than a million miles away.”
The project is based in Pacific Harbour, on the south coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, and Sophie said she had an urge to travel at some point in her life.
She said: “I spent 15 months travelling when I finished university, but never quite got rid of the bug.
“I knew that I could apply for a three-month sabbatical from work, but wanted to do something constructive with my time, so I started looking into voluntary projects.”
After spending her first week on a dive course completing various scuba diving qualifications, Sophie spent three weeks taking part in survey dives, tagging trips and community work.
She said: “On survey dives we collected data for scientific research by monitoring for sharks, turtles, rays and various species of fish.
“On the tagging trip we set lines to catch sharks so they can be electronically tagged, and monitored.”
But working with the community has been the most rewarding for Sophie. She added: “It was a humbling experience spending time with the villagers, and being made to feel a part of the community as we shared their food, and the chief invited us to drink local drink kava in a traditional Fijian ceremony.”
Sophie has aspirations to continue her conservation work after the trip. She said: “I’ve learned so much about the importance of shark conservation since I’ve been here, it would be impossible to turn my back on them now.
“I have a full-time job to go back to, but intend to stay involved as much as possible.
“The experience has been incredibly rewarding, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people in a beautiful place, which I will never forget.”