Action Asia - - SCUBA JUNKIE -

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.

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