I woke early this morning, so I could hit the hospital in time to catch my mother’s doctors. She’s been in for a week. Amidst the worry and observations, the deep love I have for her and the energy and focus required, an unsavoury – and unnecessary – if rather spitefully driven – drama has emerged from the mouths and minds of people who ironically claim love and mad passion for the ocean and its inhabitants, but appear hard pressed to find it in themselves to extend that courtesy – or knowledge – to human beings.

How did this begin? With an interview on Prime Time Morning last week for my new adventure travel show “Stressbuster” during which, in a segment about my recent shark diving experience for the show, I commented on the “man eating” and predatory aspects of great whites. The context of the interview is far wider. My sincere effort was to ensure the public know that shark diving is NOT a casual sport, but an awe-inspiring experience that requires much respect for great whites – yet a huge level of caution and care. This is fairly obvious in the clip.

An attack seems to have immediately been launched by a lady named Evonne Ong, who took the two words – “man eater”- entirely out of context and sought to use this as a pivot to blatantly – and frankly, cowardly – begin a rampant thread designed to discredit me as a presenter.

I would have let it pass.

The immediate braying of a community out for blood – of a TV presenter no less, a non diver, and a first time shark diver who conquered every single fear associated with the sport and the activity in a single afternoon – smacked to me of inner circle superiority, and a kind of misplaced fervor and zealousness.

I am also well acquainted with criticism. I live and breathe media, and most of it is par for the course. However, when a witch hunt in engineered and a community joins in to collectively – locally and from overseas – make a mockery of the work I do in an attempt to further a cause, that is where I draw the line.

The dangers of over zealousness, of self-appointed mouth pieces and representatives sneering in contempt, is a well documented global phenomenon. One only has to watch the FOX network, or walk into the sermons of lesser scholastic, political, religious or other spirits to see the results of insidious or obvious smear campaigns. Preach the narrowest of opinions to the easily converted and watch what happens.

It is a true disappointment that parts of the diving community here in Singapore and across the world – I say parts because just as many folk have come forward to contact me and place themselves apart from the rantings of Ms Ong and her crew – is so deeply entrenched in its own world as to not see further than, well, their own dive masks.

My experience with sharks and shark diving with the Rodney Fox crew is one I will never ever forget. They took a dive virgin into the ocean on an exceptionally rough, stomach churning day, gently led me step by step, and opened my eyes to the possibilities. That they did it with grace, elegance, insight and such meaning made my shark diving experience a most pivotal moment in my life.

Was I afraid? Damn straight. Should I have been? Suited up to within an inch of any ordinary sensorial stimuli, weighed down, and with a regulator stuck in my mouth in a metal cage, underwater for the first time in my life, as great whites silently swam around me – hell yes. But it was an unexpected, leg shaking thrill, its dangers balanced by the beautiful expertise and deep respect for sharks of Andrew Fox and Jennifer Taylor. With non other than the great Rodney Fox watching over the edge of the boat, I was awed, exhilarated, overwhelmed, and pee in my pants scared.

In the boat with us that day were noted researchers, students, shark enthusiasts, divers, first timers, a journalist, a photographer, and more. The gorgeousness of the experience was underlined by their support from the boat’s stern, gently egging me on into the water and beyond, acknowledging my fears, yet guiding me forward with kind enthusiasm.

No overblown egos, no heroics, no snobbery, no bravado. No comments. No narcissistic posturing. Just a carefully considered moment, filled with fun, safely executed and, frankly, out of this world.

Reactions to a single uttering of the word “man eater” takes non of that exceptional moment away from me.

What it does underline however, is the massively lost opportunity here for the Singapore dive community to positively connect with myself, and the world at large, to communicate their understanding and educate with their intelligence.

Passion is one thing. A pervasive, insidious attempt at taking me down for an innocently uttered comment in a collective knee jerk smacks of petty shenanigans, but also of a deeper issue within a community that is clearly divided between the self-appointed warriors and goddesses of the oceans loud hailing their interests, and those who get on with the work of educating the world about the beauty – and dangers – of the ocean, peacefully, progressively and pertinently.

The ocean is in as much danger from the abundance of arrogant dive zealots, as it is from the arrogance of man.

Watch the episode, it airs on Saturday, 22 January 2011. Then tell me what you really think.

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