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Shark science: graduate scores $40k for year of underwater adventures

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A University of the Sunshine Coast graduate is preparing for an extraordinary year of underwater adventures as the only Australasian recipient of a coveted research scholarship.

Keen shark conservationist Pablo Fuenzalida is one of three global winners for 2024 of the 50-year-old Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, backed by Rolex.

The $40,000 scholarship will allow him to complete 12 months of scientific scuba diving, studying the movements of sharks and other marine megafauna, and engaging in science communication.

He said he was surprised but delighted to win the scholarship.

“There were two rounds, one of which involved me flying to Sydney for an in-person interview, but I was lucky enough to get it,” said Pablo, who is a UniSC Science Honours graduate with a combined degree in Animal Ecology and Business.

“They give this scholarship to three people in the world a year and I was pretty ecstatic when it happened.

“I almost didn’t apply because I never thought I could gain such a competitive and prestigious opportunity.

“I worked three jobs in hospitality in my first year of uni and my marks suffered, but when I found my passion I ended up with a perfect seven grade-point average at UniSC. And now I’m being paid to pursue my career.”

The 24-year-old will fly to New York City next week to network with top marine researchers and officially receive his $40,000.

“There’ll be a formal ceremony at New York Yacht Club where the society will celebrate its anniversary as well as present the (previous year’s) three scholars, and they get to present a little 20-minute film about what they did throughout the year and what experiences they went through, and then they introduce the three new scholars, including me,” he said.

Pablo Fuenzalida is an Honours graduate in science.

“There will also be a bunch of other events like guest lectures from international researchers or wildlife photographers and a lot of networking in between as well.”

The first job he has lined up is scuba diving with great white sharks off South Australia for a month from June 10. His sights are then set on Antarctica, Tonga or the Galapagos Islands.

“I’ve got three broad goals that I want to tackle this year: one being get better and get experience in scientific survey diving and scuba diving; to do more science communication and get into underwater photography; and to learn some practical skills in the field on how to track marine megafauna and get tags on large animals to see where they move and why they move there,” said Pablo, who was born in Chile, raised in New Zealand and came to Australia in 2007.

“The first thing on the list of events this year for me is to go down to Port Lincoln to go see Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions where I’ll be spending a month on the boats down there going and taking tourists to go great white shark diving in both top and bottom cages as well as do some research with some academics who will be on board as well.

Pablo Fuenzalida with his scuba gear.

“Some people do it without cages but with the sharks down there I’ll feel a little more comfortable being in a cage. The sharks down there I think get up to about five to six metres.

“My Honours research involved shark movements and conservation so I can’t wait to join that expedition off Port Lincoln.”

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