My biggest fear

By: Wynona Barbera, high school alumna Middle School, High School Study Abroad, Marine Biology, Wildlife Biology

In my 10th grade Biology class we were asked to make a list of our biggest fears, and why we thought we were so scared of them. My top three were anacondas, sharks, and darkness. In my evaluation, I concluded that I was afraid of these three things because of a sense of vulnerability, not knowing what to do if I was attacked. That was the reason I tried to avoid facing those fears as much as possible.

However I discovered something else in 10th grade, something that meant a lot more to me than any of those fears. I discovered my passion for marine life. That year I took a 3-week college level marine biology course in Belize, studying dolphins. It was a big step for me, because we went scuba diving every other day, and the thought of what lurked in the open ocean frightened me. It turned out to be almost the greatest experience of my life. It opened my eyes to the beauty of the ocean and all that inhabit it. It introduced me to all the concerns and threats that marine life face every day. It inspired me to help out as much as I can. It did not however, involve any encounters with sharks. An amazing man named Ric O’Barry once said, “Dolphins are cursed with the appearance of always smiling so that we cannot detect their inner pain.” He had dedicated his life to exposing the cruelty dolphins were subjected to in Taiji, Japan, which is why he is one of my greatest inspirations.

When I read this, I realized that maybe sharks were victims of this façade as well. Maybe they were not the cold-blooded killers everyone said they were. It was time for me to face my fear. I now viewed it as an impetus to exceed, rather than a reason to hide. The next day, I signed myself up for a course in Fiji similar to the one in Belize; however, this one focused solely on sharks.

It was a hot summer day in Fiji. The water was clear enough that you could see the dozens of sharks prowling beneath my still feet on the dive boat. My breath was sporadic and harsh as I gasped with every shark arrival. I quivered with every step towards the edge. My cheeks were as red as the blood I imagined shooting out of my bitten-off leg. As I reached the exit of the boat, it was as if everything had frozen, except for the taunting dorsal fins of my biggest fear. I took what I thought would be my final breath, and jumped into my real-life nightmare.

As I descended into the feeding frenzy of bull sharks, I could not wipe the smile off my face. These misunderstood creatures swam with such vigor and beauty, words I never would have used to describe a shark’s behavior. I could watch these powerful yet serene animals swim for hours. My air tank, however, was rapidly running out. 45 minutes later, using my four intact limbs, I climbed back onto the dive boat. Eager to make sure I was okay, my dive master rushed to my side and asked how I was. I replied, “Sharks are my new favorite animal” and then walked away feeling prouder than ever. My fear was gone, and replaced with an immense desire to protect these animals and help change their horrid reputation.

The next three weeks were filled with the most enjoyable academic experiences. I had conquered my fear, and broke past the barriers that were preventing me from expanding my options as a future marine biologist. I learned all about sharks and became fascinated with them. I’ve learned how to find beauty where others may not seek it, and to help expose it’s true magnificence to the world. Sharks, along with most marine life, are in trouble and in need of help. I know that I want to dedicate my life saving the marine world, and I am looking forward to preparing myself in college greatly.