Shark Week: Meet Shark Advocate Paul de Gelder
IMPROVISE – ADAPT - OVERCOME.
Image Credit: The Perfect World Foundation
These three words – a mantra Paul learnt in the Australian Army as a young Paratrooper – resonated with him the first time he heard them. In 2009 Paul lost his arm and his leg to a bull shark in Sydney Harbour. Instead of avoiding the ocean and sharks, Paul has become a motivational speaker and advocate for the conservation of sharks. Thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak with us. Make sure to check him out on SHARK WEEK ( last year) and upcoming 2018 shows!
INSTAGRAM 1. What is your favorite shark?
I really don't have a favorite shark. I love different aspects of different types. The shear size and ferocity of the great white shark, the speed and aggressive features of the mako, the curiosity and interaction possible with tiger sharks and the peaceful nature of the Whale shark. To me they are all beautiful and amazing in their own way.
2. What is one species of shark you would like to see in the wild? I've seen a lot of sharks in the wild and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with them but I think the most amazing visually is the Great Hammerhead, which I had the chance to hand feed.
3. You were badly injured by a shark, so why do you to teach people about them and to protect them? I work to teach people about sharks for a few reasons. One is because I don't want people to think that all sharks are better better off dead so we can be safe, which is what I used to think. I'd like people to better understand how important they are to the health of the oceans so that they will want to protect sharks, the oceans and the whole planet. I also don't want people to live in fear of sharks so that they can enjoy our amazing oceans without thinking that they might be eaten at any second.
4. What do you think people can learn from your story? There are many aspects to my story that I share that don't have anything to do with sharks. Things like making very poor choices as a teenager and a young man, lessons I learnt in the Army as a soldier and then as a Clearance Diver in the Navy and then of course lessons I learnt during my recovery after nearly being killed. I'm grateful that I have the opportunity to talk about all of these experiences to try and help people to be mentally, emotionally and physically resilient.
5. Why is shark education and conservation important for you? Shark education is important to me because we all have a duty to protect this wonderful home of ours and I've found myself in a position where I have a voice that people listen to. Sharks are quite misunderstood and have been given a terrible name by the media that they don't deserve. I've learnt so much about them and spent a lot of time underwater with them and it makes me so sad to think of a world without sharks. It would be very neglectful of me to not try to make a change for the better in this world having been given the ability. I love our planet and I'm especially fond of the underwater world but unfortunately there are people and governments and corporations that do not care and will destroy it for money given the chance so we need to be the voice to stand up for the planet and fight to protect it.
Founder Jillian Morris with Paul in Bimini Credit: Duncan Brake
6. Your story is inspiring; what words of advice would you give to kids who are facing challenges?
We often forget as adults how hard it can be to be a kid. You're learning everything for the first time and it can be very confusing but the thing to remember is that it always gets better, especially if you actually try to make it better. I made the mistake of making it harder. I didn't listen to my parents, I fought with them, I was lazy and I did lots of bad things even though they were just trying to teach me to be a good person. The great thing is that you can always say sorry for making mistakes, you can always do better next time and the world is so full of amazing adventures and possibilities that you should never, ever think that you can't do something. All of the incredible people we hear about around the world started with a dream and then worked on that dream until they made it real and that's what every one of us can do too.
7. What is one of the coolest shark dives you've gotten to do? The coolest shark dive I ever did was in Fiji when I was surrounded by 7 different types of sharks and so many fish you could hardly see the water. On that dive I got to feed 6 bull sharks by hand, I saw my first Tiger Shark and I got to pat an eel.