Swimming With Sharks on St. Maarten: Anything for a Story

Dare devil and travel writer Daniel Reynolds Riveiro swims with the sharks off the shores of Caribbean Island, St. Maarten. Get inside Riveiro’s head as he gets up-close-and-personal with these large creatures of the sea while taking pictures at the same time!

blacktip reef shark
A blacktip reef shark in St. Maarten. Photo by Daniel Reynolds Riveiro.

Honestly, I wasn’t worried about the sharks. What I was worried about, as I let the air out of my BCD and drifted down into the deep blue waters off the coast of St. Maarten, was that I might not get back to my cruise ship in time.

Scheduled departure time? 4:00 PM. Scheduled dive time? Three hours, starting at 1:00 PM.

I dourly debated about dropping the dive, but then… I mean, diving with sharks is a story. Getting stranded on an island because you missed your cruise ship is a story. This is how I make decisions.

Ocean Explorers is the oldest dive shop on St. Maarten, a Caribbean island that’s also the smallest land mass controlled by two countries. Their shop is on the Dutch side (as opposed to the French side), in picturesque Simpson Bay. It’s built on the beach itself, some 50 feet from where the cerulean water laps the sand.

Ten of us had each paid $80 for the chance to swim cage-free and up close with sharks, a dive that is done only once a week by Ocean Explorers‘ resident shark swami, Jeferson Techera. Tall, dark and Brazilian, Techera gave us our briefing outside while islanders in suits and dresses streamed off a bus behind him to witness a baptism in the ocean. While we were giving our lives to Techera, someone was giving theirs to God.

“My biggest problems,” began Techera in thickly accented English, “are experienced divers.  They think they should not follow directions. I have easier time with beginners, believe me. But it is important to follow. First, when you are in the water, you will see a line. Go to it and follow it down.  Do not go off on your own.”

Who would go off on their own when surrounded by sharks? Well, actually, I might. If it would make a good story.

I was the first in the water. I soon saw the line and followed along its angle towards the dim, shadow-draped seabed some 60 feet below, occasionally glancing back to see if anyone was behind me. We’d somehow crammed 13 people onto Ocean Explorers’ 26-foot boat and donning gear while bobbing on the waves had required something of a choreographed dance. So while others were still strutting a tango of tanks and fins, I was all alone.

Swimming with Sharks on St. Maarten: Anything for a Story