A FEARLESS FORMER FISHERMAN
When it comes to spotting macro critters, the skills of Afat are second to none. Afat, now 23, was a fisherman for two years before quitting to go through our divemaster internship. Fishing is a tough life, and he was spending days at a time at sea, often in beating sun or lashing rain. Now he has the balanced life he was looking for – he spends more time with his wife, and at the end of every day he gets to see his daughter (who is adorable, by the way). So it’s a win-win. He stood out right away during the divemaster training. One day, a group of four divers said they wanted to see a pygmy seahorse – they had never seen one before. We have a fan on one of our dive sites that is home to them. But they’re little bigger than the tip of your pinkie finger. Two visits to the fan yielded no result. Then they went with Afat. He found the fan – and then instantly found the pygmies. That’s four very happy divers in one go. I have no idea how Afat (below helping with a beach cleanup) became a good spotter – he just is. I guess if we knew how he did it, we would bottle it up and sell it. He is happiest when there are lots of unusual things in one area – getting as much as possible out of the dive. What does he dislike? When people attempt to touch or harass wildlife, or careless kicking of corals, or divers who do unsafe things. He’s a fierce defender of the sea. That’s why we asked him to be our Honorary Wildlife Warden. It’s a designation awarded by the Sabah Wildlife Department. Wardens undergo training in conservation issues specific to the area, such as turtle conservation. The wildlife department has to ensure the safety and conservation of Sabah’s large turtle population. The warden is a liaison between the local community and the department. For example, if a turtle is nesting, the warden will make sure the community doesn’t disturb it, and let the department know about the nest. Wardens are the only people allowed to handle turtles in Sabah, outside the department. Afat’s personality shines out – he is happy, positive, smart, passionate, and humble. He is well-respected in the community and with the Wildlife Department officials he has met so far. He never, ever stops smiling. Maybe he’s thinking about the pygmies.