As a 12-year-old on a family snorkeling trip, Fabiana Fregonesi was surrounded by fish when the boat owner threw food into the water. “All the fish came at me and they were in such a frenzy that I was terrified. After that I was so afraid that I couldn’t swim without having someone holding my hand,” she says.
Today, Fabiana is the Head of Digital Agency for Google Customer Solutions in the Sao Paulo office. During the weekends and holidays, though, she’s an underwater photographer—and a prestigious one at that: Fabiana has photographed marine life all over the world, in places like the Bahamas and the Galapagos.
While her underwater adventures had a rocky start, years later as an adult, a friend convinced her to take a scuba diving lesson for a trip. That’s when she fell in love with the ocean. Now, she scuba dives once a month and travels at least three times a year to swim among sharks and photograph them. “It’s the little things I discover underwater that make me connect with nature,” Fabiana says. She shares her photos with her massive social media following as well as with Divemag, where she’s a featured photographer. Some of her work has even been shared by National Geographic.
“I think that images have a lot of power. Everytime I post a photograph, I also try to give information about marine life,” she says. “I share how they need us to protect them.” Her favorite underwater creature to advocate for is the shark. “I was on a trip in Australia when I first dove with sharks,” she says. “I was very afraid at the beginning, but then I realized that we’re afraid of sharks because we don’t know enough about them.”
“It’s the most powerful experience somebody can have. It’s a relationship of respect, admiration and curiosity,” says Fabiana, who’s swam with two of the world’s three most aggressive sharks: the Tiger Shark and the Bull Shark. She hopes to add the third, the Great White, to her list someday, but only when she can do so without a cage so she can get better photos. “Once you swim with sharks, it seems like a whole new world just opens for you.”
Fabiana also spends her free time studying sharks and debunking popular myths about them. “If people gave themselves a chance to dive with these animals they would be surprised to see that they aren’t aggressive. They are very shy, even loving, and they’re actually afraid of humans.”
A few months ago, Fabiana and a group of scuba divers started contacting restaurants in Brazil that sold shark fin as food to explain how fins are acquired, which is a very cruel process. “We’ve started seeing some results. In Sao Paulo there’s still one or two who officially still sell it, and we’re trying to change that,” she says. “I believe I have the obligation to protect nature and the ocean. Someone has to speak on its behalf.”
Fabiana hopes to publish a book featuring her photos that focuses on the protection of sharks and other marine life. She plans to visit places where their habitat has been destroyed, some that are recovering and others where shark finning is still happening to share the complete story of what’s going on at sea. At the moment, her plans to travel have stalled—though she sometimes uses the Augmented Reality feature on her Android to cast 3D sharks into her living room and recreate the bottom of the ocean in her home.
And she also knows there is a silver lining to this delay. “This is a moment for nature to breathe again and have some space to recover. We’re not that conscious about how we can protect nature, so we should embrace this time to respect it while we stay home.”
Lead image by Carlos Grillo.