We're very excited to share our interview with the talented and passionate Zakia Rashid- @ihijinx on her life, her diving, and of course- sharks! Let's dive in and get to know this incredible force for conservation and OneOcean Ambassador.
Tell us about yourself, when/how did your shark and ocean love begin?
I’m Zakia, mum of two boys - my inspiration and motivation. I have a regular day job running my own design and marketing business here in the UK. I’m looking to make a difference in the world of conservation because I feel that I can and that it’s necessary for me to do it. I’ve always lived in the Midlands which is as far from the ocean as you can be in England. Growing up as a second generation immigrant to the UK, I never imagined the opportunities waiting for me.
Back then, the ocean was something you crossed on your way to somewhere else.
My shark fascination began like most divers, with an underwater encounter. Reef sharks and black tips would spot us and swim away - they weren’t interested… WHAT?! My search for answers began as I realised we have been fed a steady stream of misinformation for years.
If you woke up as a shark tomorrow, which species would you be and why?
For sure a Sphyrna! I love all wildlife especially marine animals but sharks, and in particular, the sphyrna genus take the top spot. My fascination began with documentaries as a child - I had never seen such an odd looking creature and the way they move is absolutely captivating. I encountered several great hammerheads (sphyrna mokarran) in Bimini, Bahamas.
I was intensely aware that they were watching us as much as we were watching them. A truly beautiful experience. For me this genus is the most perfectly evolved creature on the planet with that distinctive and uniquely shaped head.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to study sharks or want to take part in conservation activities?
Depending on your situation and how much time you have to put into study you can get involved in a small way or really get stuck in! Get in touch with people who know - I started using Instagram to show my dive pictures and video but now have a wonderful connection to marine scientists, divers and conservationists around the world. These people are passionate about their work and are open to answering questions.
There is only so much you can learn from a book so I say, dive, dive, dive! Whether you’re going in free or with scuba, stick your face in the water and look around. There are many reputable dive companies with experienced dive masters who can help you.
Conservation starts with you so take time to fill in online petitions. Pick up 5 pieces of trash before you leave the beach or park and dispose of them correctly. Educate yourself on fishing practices and make better choices. Learn the names for shark meat sold in the supermarket and make sustainable shopping choices for your own health and the health of the ocean. Finally, spread the word. There’s nothing like sharing your enthusiasm with friends and family.
What actions or conservation milestones are you working toward? What’s an ultimate goal for you and your work?
After my divorce, I logged 85 dives in just over a year. I felt I owed the ocean a debt. After applying to Ocean Ramsey’s organisation I became a One Ocean Global Ambassador with the help of my good friend Vincent Joseph Moran Silo aka Vince Maestro. I use the iHijinx account to share positive dive experiences and raise awareness for the ocean but something told me I needed to do more.
I’m really excited for my new project, MotherOceanBlue - education for ocean conservation, which will be launched early in 2020. Training the next generation on how to be future custodians of our oceans. Change can be awkward and scary for some but with the right guidance and support we can all make a difference. My ultimate goal is to make MotherOceanBlue into an organisation that elicits social change.
What struggles or lessons have you taken away from your amazing experiences?
I’m a shark advocate and will talk about them to anyone. I’ve converted many friends,acquaintances, business colleagues, even an Uber driver! Am I in danger of being a shark bore? Probably, but that’s not going to stop me.
After a dive in Cabo Verde, I saw a nurse shark on the dock among other catch. It was still alive. I thought I’d convinced the fisherman to let me release the shark back to the sea but my joy was short lived. As I carried the shark to the water he stopped me and gestured to his mouth. He thought I wanted a picture with his catch. I walked away in tears feeling utterly defeated that day. Personal struggles will always be the hardest to overcome.
In your opinion what makes sharks so successful in their environments?
Nature is always true to itself. The success of sharks is natures answer to a problem, nothing is ever wasted and there are no redundant species. Every creature has its place in the great ocean organism and any missing pieces are felt hard. It’s frustrating to see sharks portrayed as maniacal killers. They play such a crucial, often pivotal role in their ecosystems. In very simple terms they work on population control, they remove the diseased and dying and their predation helps spread species across reefs which encourages biodiversity. They truly are ocean guardians.
Working with other people/groups that you want to bring awareness to?
While I can’t help on a scientific level, I can help with design and marketing projects, causes and organisations. I believe that if you’re passionate about a subject you can find a way to make it your job.
I have worked with WSORC - Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre - an organisation close to my heart. They work from the little island of Utila, Honduras and run a very successful marine internship programme. I’ve had some great dives there and my boys got their Open Water qualifications at the Utila Dive Centre.
I was fortunate to dive the Galapagos with Jonathan Green from Blue Planet in August. He heads up The Galapagos Whale Shark Project. They encourage citizen science and are super passionate about their research subjects. Some of the work they do is changing the way other marine scientists gather data. I had the best dives of my life in the Galapagos while contributing to their project and marine science. I hope to assist them with their marketing in the hope that they can reach a wider and more engaged audience with their valuable work.
There are many great teams and organisations who I’d love to collaborate with such as, Steve Backshall’s BiteBack, Dr. Tristan Guttridges Silent Hunter, Brendon and Liz Sings Shark Guardian - many great people doing great work and able to inspire others by example. I would love to hear from scientists around the world and highlight their work through MotherOceanBlue.
Do you have a shark hero, who do you admire for their actions in conservation, or
someone you'd want to work with in the future and why?
Sir David Attenborough is my absolute hero since I was a child. A gentle, yet powerful human being with a voice that inspires people around the world. Blue Planet helped sow the seeds for MotherOceanBlue.
I also love the sheer grit and determination of my lovely friend Jim Abernethy. I haven’t had the opportunity to go to Tiger Beach with him yet but he has been a huge positive influence on my shark advocate journey and always gives great advice and support. A great mentor.
Finally, the original mermaid herself, Dr. Sylvia Earle. Scientist, explorer, record holder and founder of Mission Blue. She is truly an awesome inspiration and role model for all.
How long have you been diving? What keeps you going back into the water?
I got my open water qualification in 2003 while honeymooning in the Maldives but logged only 15 dives until 2017. I now try to keep my gills wet as often as possible.
My boys are, 12 and 14 years old and are both Open Water Divers. On our first dive together we saw a turtle, free swimming moray and nurse shark. I was super proud to dive with them for my 100th dive in Utila, Honduras. They are as passionate about diving and the ocean as I am.
The reason I keep going back is because every dive is different. Diving is my meditation and mindfulness. It’s the biggest and best gift I can give to myself and is a remedy for any stress. Each dive is a blessing, a humbling experience, an alien environment so enticing I always want more. I am truly addicted.
How do you try to impact shark/ocean conservation in your community?
Anyone who knows me knows I love sharks. I am always available to provide talks at schools and love seeing kids faces when I tell them I’m a shark diving Mama! The lesson plans I have put together for MotherOceanBlue will initially be delivered locally. I’ve also been invited to speak at a Pecha Kucha talk where I plan to convert my whole town into shark fans.
Have you found success in handling people that don’t understand or agree with
conservation efforts? Have you found a way to get through to people/communities that may not care about sharks/the environment?
Passion and commitment are key in any successful role. Conservation comes with a lot of heartache. My background in marketing and design is a great help, communication is key. I am always calm, polite and factual when responding to controversial people on social media. Some people get quite aggressive which can be pretty upsetting but change is difficult for some. I thank anyone who listens even if they don’t change. Not everyone will be converted but when faced with factual information it’s pretty hard to argue. For every few knock backs there will be a positive outcome.
What’s your ultimate shark or diving dream? Do you have a life sharky goal?
I think I’ve done a lot in a short space of time - great hammers in Bimini, tigers, bulls and lemons in Florida, shoaling hammerheads and the size of whale sharks in the Galapagos blew my mind. I would love to go to Tiger beach with Jim and meet his sharky friend Emma. The manta night dive in Hawaii and Mafia Island with Simon Pierce are on my list as well as the sardine run, killer whales in Norway, thresher sharks, whites, leopard… so many it’s hard to pick just one! Although it’s more pleasant to dive in warmer climates, I would like to dive around the UK and bring awareness to my home waters.
My sharky goal is to change the import laws around shark fin in the UK. Currently, anyone can import 20kg of shark fin into the UK. This law has to be changed along with the banning of shark finning in UK waters.
Anything else you want to add?
I would encourage anyone in the UK or beyond to get in touch to start positive conversations around the world. We have a challenging time ahead of us, we all know there is a better way. I feel truly blessed in my life now because of the changes I allowed myself. I’m an ordinary person, a mother, with an ordinary job. Motherhood and the ocean have changed my life forever and in such a wonderful positive way I sometimes have to pinch myself.