Sydney Harned - 2012 Program Participant

A giant Bull Shark in Fiji

A common view on Fiji Shark Studies: a giant Bull Shark chomping down on a fish head (She promises it wasn’t scary, it was awesome!)

Your program in Fiji was your second time joining a Broadreach program. What made you decide to go on another Broadreach program? Why Fiji? 

After my first experience, I couldn’t get enough of Broadreach and was dying to do another trip. I chose Fiji because I wanted to do a trip that incorporated scuba diving, and who wouldn’t want to dive with sharks in the South Pacific?!

What was a typical day like for you in Fiji? 

We usually woke up around 8 a.m. to get ready, eat a quick bowl of cereal, and walk over to the dive shop. We did two shark dives each day at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, where divemasters from the dive shop would conduct shark feedings that attracted dozens of Bull Sharks, Black Tip Reef Sharks, White Tip Reef Sharks, and Gray Reef Sharks. It’s hard to put into words how cool it was to be so up close to such amazing animals.

After the dives, we would head back to the villa we were staying in and have lunch that a few of the divemasters’ wives would cook for us, which was always traditional and never disappointing. We usually had free time after that; some of us would swim or lay out by the pool, read, or play cards with the group. The evenings were for lecture and dinner. It was up to the students to cook and clean up after dinner, which was a ton of fun and always included music and dancing. Our days in Fiji were jampacked, so by the end of the day we were all ready to get to bed early and get the next day started. 

Volunteer with local children in Rukua

A few of the many friends Sydney made during our stay in Rukua. That’s paint on her nose!

What was your favorite part of your time in Fiji? 

The homestay was definitely one of the most incredible parts of this trip for me. I’ve never met anyone as welcoming and kind as the Fijians we stayed with in the village of Rukua. We spent our days playing soccer and other games with the kids, and our homestay parents would cook us delicious Fijian food, which included a lot of pumpkin and taro.

The atmosphere in a Fijian village is so different from the United States; everyone leaves their doors open, the kids are always running around and playing, and no one is worried about anything bad happening because everyone in the village is a big family. Everyone is relaxed and happy all the time. I specifically remember sitting on a tree overlooking the ocean late at night eating bananas with my group and a few of the villagers, just hanging out and talking. To this day, that’s one of my favorite moments. 

What experiences from Fiji will stick with you forever?

Well, the shark diving was obviously extremely memorable. It’s not often you are surrounded by 40 massive, hungry Bull Sharks. It sounds scary, but it really wasn’t. I was completely in awe the entire time, watching the way the sharks gracefully moved through the water, and seeing their jaws snap up the fish heads the divemasters were feeding them. This sounds crazy, but I promise, the dives were perfectly safe! We were far enough away to be out of danger, but close enough to see all the action. To be completely honest, I don’t think the sharks cared that we were there in the slightest.


The group taking the day off from shark diving with some “funyaking” through waterfalls and rock formations.

We probably dove the Shark Reef Marine Reserve about 20 times, and I never once got bored of it. Each experience was different, and each dive had something new to discover. I think my favorite part of the shark diving was when our fat Tawny Nurse Shark friend (the most unintimidating shark ever) would show up and beg the divemasters for food like a dog. It was adorable and hilarious.

What was your favorite part about studying sharks in Fiji?

I think the best part about studying sharks was learning just how magnificent these creatures are. Sharks haven’t evolved for millions of years, and are evolutionarily perfect. Their only real predator is humans. It was bittersweet for me to learn about how endangered sharks are becoming due to human harvesting and shark fin soup, but it definitely had a huge positive impact on me. My friends on the trip, who I still keep in touch with, and I all become determined to stop shark finning and save one of the most important animals on earth. This trip is what influenced me to pursue shark conservation, which is something I’m planning on pursuing during my time in college.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

I would have loved to have done a service project that helped educate Fijian children about the importance of sharks and the danger that they are in. Education is the most important part of making a difference in any situation, so I think both the Broadreach students and kids would have benefited from it. 

Underwater pyramid in Thailand

An underwater pyramid picture in Thailand, which took lots of choreographing and a few tries to get just right!

What advice would you give to other students who are interested in this program?

DO IT! Don’t hold back, don’t be afraid, just jump in and go for it. You won’t regret a thing, and you’ll learn more than you could ever imagine. 

How have you been able to apply skills from your program to your Marine Sciences and Biology degree at the University of Miami? 

I think this program was what really fostered in me a desire to conserve and protect the ocean. Seeing firsthand the incredible animals that we are losing due to human impact made me feel like I needed to make a difference. My classes at Miami aren’t easy, but this determination to make a change that I gained from Fiji Shark Studies and my other Broadreach trips has helped me put 100% effort into everything I do here in Miami. My Broadreach trips taught me how important, unique, and beautiful the ocean is; the love for the ocean that I gained on my trips is the backbone for all of my success in college.