SWIMMING OVER RICH CORAL GARDENS, discovering bizarre macro life, exploring deep wrecks and caves - all this has its own allure, but for me nothing compares to a big animal encounter. Such a moment concisely demonstrates the power and beauty of nature.
This is when humans get the opportunity to get close and feel the wildness. My heart is calling out for just another drop of andrenaline.
We are in South Africa, where the waters of the Indian Ocean offer an experience that is rare these days - a big tiger shark encounter.
The location is Aliwal Shoal, a coral reef running north to south five miles offshore, between the towns of Scottburgh and Umkomaas.
Water conditions are hard to predict. A moist southern wind brings clear blue water, but storms and waves as well. If a breeze from northern Mozambique blows the clouds away, it also replaces the blue water with colder green soup wrenched from the deep.
Visibility usually ranges from 8-12m, but some days it approaches 30. Divers wishes, however, usually come true at least once a week.
This particular morning a strong low tide gives our propellers a hard time as we pass through the shallow delta of the Umkomaas river. At the break point, an inexperienced skipper could easily flip the inflatable on the high waves and start the dive right there in the muddy delta.
After a 20-minute boat ride over the lumpy surface, the bait is dropped. A perforated plastic container filled with a mixture of fish oil, blood and other strong-smelling dainties is anchored and marked with an orange buoy.
As the current and wind carry the scent to sea hyenas keen to rid the sea of rotting carcasses, the divemaster explains the important rules to be followed when diving with sharks.
The water starts boiling. Dozens of blacktips are swimming around the buoy, but we are still waiting for a striped fin to show. Suddenly the buoy disappears. The tiger is here!
Mtunzi pulls out the anchor, and attaches in its place a washing-machine drum. This is filled with sardines and bigger fish and he hangs it 8m down.
The baiting system will now drift with the current as the reference point for
the divers, as well as the sharks. To concentrate the action around the drum, Mtunzi keeps throwing sardines into the water. The morsels vanish instantly. Its time to see whats going on down there.
Right after the back-roll entry, my view is completely darkened by bubbles. Thinking of how fast those sardine pieces were disappearing into sharks mouths as they hit the water makes the first few seconds beneath the surface a pure adrenaline bomb.
Sharks eyes may be attracted by flashing objects such as gauges, watches and even hands, but divers are safe if they follow the rules. Smell is the sense that determines the final attack decision.
Thanks to todays good visibility, I can read the situation quickly. Up to 20 blacktip sharks are circling the bucket like hungry dogs. Two big tiger shark females are fighting with the bait.
From time to time, the sound of tiger teeth scratching the tin bucket can be heard, until the shark succeeds in severing the fragment.
I move closer for a better view. One of the tigers, no longer interested in the bait, comes to investigate us.
My first contact kicks the adrenaline level up yet again. This majestic animal is approaching me directly but something else is stretching my nerves too. The blacktips are all around, hitting me with their tails, bumping into me and sometimes obscuring my view.

THE TIGER SHARKS FIRST TOUCH is shy. She tries to discover the weakest link in the chain by observing the preys reactions when threatened. Through the faster heart vibrations of escaping prey, she can feel its fear.
She retreats, but is soon back. Once she recognises which is a potential victims face side, she will sneak in from behind or from the side. To prevent such unwelcome attention, the divemaster is using a beeper to warn us.
Now he calls for our attention, and indicates that four tigers are around. The blacktip soup is no longer my concern.
I am focusing on the point at which the tiger sharks stand out against the blue.
Next day we head off for another tiger adventure. Despite strong wind and big waves the water looks good. The sharks show up quickly - this is going to rock!
Soon there are seven females around. The beeper is going almost continuously. It becomes difficult to frame a picture though the viewfinder.
One of the ladies decides to have a close look at my camera. Attracted by the shiny dome port, she swims directly towards me, unstoppable. In my camera eye, the view is filled with white membrane. Its not fighting but kissing - with eyes closed. Only my camera is separating me from those tiger teeth.
After several attempts to taste me and my camera, the shark gives up. A warm feeling floods through my body - that was one of the most exciting adventures I have experienced under water.
A second later, I hear a beep. I turn, but see nothing. Another beep! My second turn reveals that I am about to get another kiss. This time, Im ready. Pulling the camera backwards helps to protect me and keep the whole animal in view at the same time. Unbelievable!
On the third day we descend through rich green soup. The bottom, 24m down, is not visible. No tigers are in evidence, but imagining 3.5-4m animals emerging suddenly from the dark is exciting.
The blacktips here are in excellent condition. Lower visibility stimulates their senses to higher activity, so they approach flashing or shiny objects quickly. Hands and gauges have to be kept close to the body.
Stacked in plankton-rich water, shark bodies hitting me continuously, I feel anxious. Without tigers, I can focus on shooting blacktips - or so I think.
A large potato cod seems to fall in love with my shiny glass port. He comes closer and closer. Suddenly, I feel a strong bite on my arm. Im scared. Shark attack Will my arm be gone if I look
Im getting out of control, but its OK. It was the potato cod, trying to swallow the yellow stripe on my neoprene suit.

FOR ME, SHARKS HAVE ALWAYS been imposing animals that deserve respect and reverence. After meeting South Africas big striped ladies, that reverence grew into love. In nature sharks play an irreplaceable role as scavengers, but it is not only the oceans that would be impoverished without them. People would suffer the loss just as much.

5 ways to stay safe

  • Control your buoyancy and stay at the same depth as the bait. Anything falling, or floating at the surface, might be regarded as food and will be investigated.
  • Stay vertical, to distinguish yourself from everything that stays or moves horizontally.
  • Keep your hands on the camera or close to your body, and keep gauges attached closely.
  • Shout into your regulator if a tiger shark gets too close.
  • Be vigilant. When sharks recognise the face side, they will approach from behind, from below or from the side.
  • Martin Strmiska dived with African Watersports in Umkomaas, www.africanwatersports.co.za