Staring out at the ocean, with his feet in the sand, excitement filled the then-five-year-old Shamier Magmoet. Going to the beach for the first time was a rite of passage not many kids from his neighbourhood experienced at his age. It’s a day he recalls quite vividly. “I remember how excited I was too see this ‘big swimming pool’,” he laughs. “I also remember being very fearful, because I saw a man drown that same day.”
Despite witnessing such a tragic event, Shamier kept going back to the beach. “It was such a peaceful and safe place,” he explains. “We would often go to escape the busy and sometimes scary scenes of our homes on the Cape Flats.”
Years later, when he resigned from his job at a structural engineering firm, Shamier returned to the one place he always felt at peace – the sea. “I liked my job, and I liked the people I worked with,” he explains. “[But] I left because I felt that I needed to spend more time with family, and experience life.”
For seven years he’d worked seven days a week. His unforgiving schedule left him with no time to pursue the things he was passionate about. Giving up his job left him with the freedom to brave the unknown and discover new parts of himself.
TESTING THE WATER
Once you experience something, you want to learn more about it. Once you learn more about it, you start to love it. And once you love something, you want to protect it with every fibre in your body. That’s exactly what happened to Shamier when he went freediving for the first time. For years he’d watched the videos the Cape Town Freediving group posted on Facebook. Now that he was unemployed, he had the time to give it a try.
“The first time I got into the ocean, I was so afraid of what I would see; but once I relaxed and saw the amazing life, it felt like time stood still. It was such a magical moment,” explains Shamier.
From that first dive, he was hooked. He started freediving on a regular basis. “Everyone I came into contact with, especially the divers from Trail Freedivers, were extremely kind, and their willingness to help this ‘outsider’ was captivating,” says Shamier. Sharon Lee Martin from Trail Freedivers took him under her wing, and eventually became his mentor. Finally, he’d found what he’d been missing in life.
With a heart as the big as the ocean he fell in love with, Shamier realised he couldn’t keep his newfound passion to himself. He started taking his nieces with him, to introduce them to this world he had discovered. “My nieces love the ocean, and they love to swim. I wanted them to see what I see – not only on the surface, but from below,” he explains.
His efforts to teach his nieces and their friends about the importance of saving the ocean soon caught the attention of Daniela and John Daines, who owned Cape Town Freediving. The pair allowed him to take their freediving course at no cost. By the end of the course he was a certified diver, and had the necessary rescue training. “It was such an amazing gift from incredible people,” says Shamier. “Another incredible woman, Elaine from Coral Wetsuits, gave me a custom-made suit, which I’m so grateful for.”
Armed with these gifts, Shamier was able to make the most of his freediving experiences – experiences that filled him with awe. The only thing that concerned him was the sheer amount of plastic he saw. “I kept wondering if it was real! It couldn’t be good for the life in the ocean, or for us. What if our marine life and its ecosystems die out as a result of this pollution?” Concerned with the effect the plastic had on marine life, Shamier vowed to make a difference in the world. He made it his mission to help save the oceans.
He contacted various organisations, offering up his time as a volunteer. That way, he could continue learning, and give back at the same time. But the first few places all turned him down. “Everyone just told me they were overstaffed, and had no need for help.”
Shamier didn’t let that stop him. He was determined to clean up the oceans, and make the environment a better place for the marine life that inhabited it.
A few months later he met Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall at the tidal pools in St. James. The pair had started the I Am Water Ocean Conservation foundation, which educates children from underprivileged communities about the importance of ocean conservation. These children live in coastal areas, but lack the resources to dive beneath the surface and observe what’s lurking there.
The work the foundation was doing resonated with Shamier. He was elated when they asked him to join them. Here he learned how to teach children about the ocean, while making them interested in saving the environment. “I will forever be grateful for the brief time I was able to work with them. I hope I can make them proud one day.”
IN THE SWIM OF THINGS
After a few months, Shamier received news that one of his job applications had been successful. He could no longer work for the foundation. While he worked full-time as a handyman during the week, he spent his weekends taking the children from his neighbourhood to the beach and getting them involved with his mission to save the oceans.
His continued efforts to clean up the coastal areas impressed freedivers Natasha and Chris Krauss. The couple wanted to start their own organisation that would give back to their communities while fighting marine pollution, and asked Shamier to join them. Together, the couple, Shamier and Ben Wiid registered an NPC called #SEATHEBIGGERPICTURE.
The NPC focuses on three aspects: youth education, beach clean-ups, and sustain-ability. “We give talks at schools to spread awareness about plastic and ocean conservation and biodiversity,” explains Shamier. To date they’ve spoken to over a thousand kids from different schools throughout Cape Town. “We also have our Defenders of the Blue programme, for which children write a motivational essay about why they want to enrol in the programme, and what they love most about the ocean.” Successful applicants are taken through a course introducing them to the ocean. The second set of courses teaches kids about the importance and protection of Marine Protected areas, the identification of common species, and improving their snorkelling abilities. The third set of courses provides the kids with a more detailed understanding of marine life and ecosystems. The kids are also taken on beach cleans, to witness first-hand the effect pollution has on marine life and why it’s important to help save the oceans.
Shamier loves being able to share his knowledge. Growing up on the Cape Flats, opportunities like this weren’t even heard of. “Even today, most schools – including their teachers – do not know of workshops like these, which is the reason why we go to schools to give our talks. The response we get from the children is magical.”
Inhaling his last few breaths, Shamier Magmoet’s heartbeat begins to slow. As the sounds of the world around him fade away, he takes one final breath before diving under the water. Submerged in the depths of the ocean, he gazes at the plant and animal life around him. “I always think, if these creatures are so beautiful, then how beautiful must be the One who created them?”
This beauty is what Shamier fights so hard to protect. He’s roped in his family to help with him save the oceans. They’ve attended almost every single beach clean-up he’s been part of. Even his 71-year-old father participates. “I’m blessed to have such an understanding, loving and supporting family. They all know that I am trying to clean up the ocean so that my nieces can enjoy the magic and the beauty of it as we do,” he says. When Shamier first started taking his nieces to the beach, his family told him other kids needed the opportunity to see life beyond the Cape Flats. It’s what initially inspired him to take kids from his community to the beach.
Now that his community is involved, Shamier wants to make the organisation a global initiative. “Our plans are to continue educating, so we can remove social and mental barriers and contribute towards job creation. We also want to provide a safe haven – a home away from home for those who need it,” he explains. Right now, the only thing standing in their way is a lack of funding. Along with transporting the kids to the beach, the organisation provides them with the necessary equipment, as well as a meal.
Working for the NPC has taught Shamier that everything he does in life matters. That regardless of how big or small that action is, it will make a difference. “I’ve also learnt to never judge someone. Just like the ocean, things might seem beautiful on the surface, but once you go under the water you will see the problems they face.” Just like the organisation he helped create, he has learnt to see the bigger picture.