I love the ocean & fight really hard for it. Proud @NatGeo Explorer. Shark researcher. Marine conservationist. Traveler & Storyteller. Happy human.
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Cue happy dance. I just confirmed another trip to one of my absolute favorite places on the planet, #Niue. Niue is the country that borders the Cook Islands to the west. The #island itself is four times the size of Rarotonga, but with only 10% of the number of people (about 1,600) that are in the Cooks! It's a raised coral #atoll, which means that there are very few beaches, but incredibly unique limestone caves - and coastal views like this. This will be my 5th or 6th trip there working on a marine conservation project with a team of rockstars from Tofia Niue, Government of Niue, Oceans 5, and @natgeopristineseas. Even though I've visited the island several times, I still feel giddy when I book another trip. Photo by the incredibly talented @kirbymorejohn.
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This is also shark conservation. Especially when discussing pelagic #sharks. For the past week, I've been sitting in the scientific committee meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). I'm on the Cook Islands delegation, which sits between China and the EU. This Commission manages the tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and comprises the ocean real estate of 16 Pacific Island Countries, plus the high seas. 60% of the world's tuna is caught in the Pacific.
All countries that exist in this region and those that fish in this region, such as the USA, Japan, China, EU, Taiwan, Korea, are here talking about how the populations of tuna, sharks, turtles and other species are faring based on the best available data.
Many pelagic sharks are caught (both as bycatch and targeted) on vessels that fish for tuna. Therefore, if we want to have a voice for how they are managed in these fisheries, then we have to participate in this process.
It is not fun. It is frustrating and slow. There is incredible scientific debate that ensures we have the highest quality assessments. But also, countries with a vested interest make stupid comments to refute science for political reasons (which they shouldn't), masked as scientific reasons. Conservation moves very very slowly. But, being here is still important because you have a chance to learn, to interact and, on occasion, to interject.
This particular meeting is discussing blue sharks, shortfin mako sharks, bigeye thresher sharks, porbeagle sharks and the safe release of rays.
Throughout the two weeks, the data is presented. And, we make recommendations for another meeting in December, where conservation and management decisions are made.
This is the unsexy, boring, frustrating, long, tedious but important part of my work. But I still love what I do. And, I'm able to build relationships and little by little, try to make a difference.
Shark Quiz! But first, a bit of background. While most social media platforms portray shark scientists as people who spend their days underwater petting #sharks, the truth is that very little #sharkscience is done that way. In fact, there are myriad ways to study sharks and to engage in meaningful #conservation without ever #diving with the animals.
One popular research technique used to study sharks is to set baited remote underwater video systems on the bottom (BRUVS, for short). Basically, a #GoPro camera is mounted to a frame to capture what swims past. Extending out in front of the camera sits a canister of bait (crushed #fish). The bait (hopefully) draws in any sharks. Those sharks that swim into view are recorded on the camera. When playing back the footage, the idea is to pause the video when you see a shark (or the highest density of sharks) and count the number you see in that frame. You don't have to be able to see the entire shark's body for it to count. That number helps you determine the relative abundance of sharks in the area. As you can imagine, you get all sorts of other species data too!
Here is a paused frame from my data from #Niue, where I was on expedition with @natgeopristineseas. We worked alongside Niuean scientists to gather data on their marine ecosystem so their Government can make informed decisions on management and conservation.
QUIZ: How many sharks do you see in this frame?! And do you know which species we have in this frame? #math! #science! #research#marinescience
Show me your sand tiger shark smile! It's the #summerofsharks@natgeo and I was thrilled to participate. In DC last week at the Nat Geo headquarters, I gave three different talks in five days to award-winning teachers, to a fun D.C. Nat Geo Nights crowd and to an auditorium full of curious kids and their supportive parents at NG Family Day. My favorite question from one little boy was "If sharks are in trouble because they travel all that way, why don't you just ask the Presidents to help you?" Kids get it. Why the hell do we adults make things so complicated. Lol. I felt really loved and inspired by the time I got on the airplane to come home to the Cooks. The events, the dinners with friends and family, the world-saving, dream-building side conversations over coffee; they all made the jet lag and travel delays more than worth it.
Thanks for a great week @dellavolla@anastasiacronin@neilgelinas@thomaspeschak@swimcyclerundog@danpmyers@camrinbraun@adjanycosta@earthheiress@cjaskolski and of course @kirbymorejohn@warrenslady and many more. Love you all and appreciate your brains, hearts and the time we spent together. And now, back to writing about shark laws!
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I found #fossil shark teeth today! I've always wanted to do this - no, I'm not talking about crouching down on a #beach. After visiting a close friend in Northern VA, we drove 200 miles, then walked four miles in flip flops and spent the early evening hunting for wave-exposed Miocene fossil shark teeth. Totally worth it. We found teeth of several extinct shark and ray species (8-12 million years old), such as the extinct tiger shark tooth that is shown in the second photo in my hand. The tiger #shark fossil tooth is on the bottom, snaggletooth shark on the top. Scroll through these photos and nerd out with me 🤓. The third photo includes a few gems from our day.
Yesterday was pretty special. Kirb and I went over the reef at a spot called Blackrock because he was keen to find some wahoo for dinner. Translated, that meant that I had the camera. And I blew it. We were probably 300m (980ft) offshore in about 60-80m (195-260ft) of water. It was so clear that the sun rays bouncing off of the water column were disorienting. I dived down to try to get a shot of Kirby, who was already on a deep dive over the dropoff. Somewhere around 10m (33ft), I decided to turn around and look behind me. There she was, apparently just as curious as me. She wasn't the grey reef shark that we are used to seeing here. But a freaking larger-than-me scalloped hammerhead! These #sharks are like unicorns for us divers here on #rarotonga. They come through, but you have to be so lucky to see them. There is no hammerhead 'spot'. Yet in this seemingly random place on the calm side of the island, there I was, having a staring match with a large hammerhead at a distance of maybe 6m (20ft) apart. She was alone. And I forgot about the camera in my hand. I was so stunned that she came that close to me and so filled with excitement that I did nothing except stare back - and then turn to try to get Kirby's attention (who was wholly focused on the bait #fish below). By the time I'd come to my senses, she'd sunk back into the blue and I was left with a memory that still feels like a dream. So with that said, here's a pic I got of @kirbymorejohn on our way back to shore. Feeling really lucky to live in a place where these moments are even possible.
It's a bit hard to describe the week I just had, surrounded by people pushing themselves for the planet, for species in trouble, for science, for art and for their dreams. But, most importantly, for someone or something bigger than themselves. And I had the entire week to soak it all in, to connect with people I barely know yet feel so close to that I actually miss them already. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the @natgeo family. To top it off, I had the opportunity to present a little bit of my story as an introduction for the deserving recipient of the Explorer of the Year award, @brianskerry. Although I was freaking nervous at first (!), it was SO much fun. I'm still completely sleep deprived but buzzing from the week. If it's taught me anything, it's to accept failures and then fight like hell for what you want in life. I promise, it's worth it.
This week at National Geographic is nothing short of magnificent. So many bold, passionate and dedicated humans coming together to share stories and ideas. This guy is a prime example and someone I am definitely excited to know and whose brain I want to pick, often! Today, I got a personal tour around the @natgeomuseum's new #sharks exhibit by the man himself, photographer and conservationist, @brianskerry. Brian's new book, SHARKS, also dropped today! Grab a copy you shark lovers! Thanks for all you do, mate. Now hurry up and get to the Cooks so we can go #diving!
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It turns out this is my last dive for a bit! En route to the Nat Geo Explorer's Festival in Washington, DC to get inspired (my fellow explorers are basically super humans). This will be one of the best weeks of my year. What's better is that this year, all the talks will be broadcast online LIVE! If you have the internet, you will not regret it. Check out the line-up on nationalgeographic.org. @kirbymorejohn#freediving#cookislands
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I took this photo at the request of the UN. But, it was timely motivation for making a change. This is not a post to tell you what you should be doing today (and everyday) to save our oceans. I'm going to use #worldoceansday to confess what I can do better for the oceans because there is no time to wait. As you can see, it starts NOW, and, quite frankly, I’m pissed AF and ready to be better. Yes, I work in marine conservation and I'm proud of that. I also carry reusable bags, coffee mugs and my dented water bottle everywhere I go (even if it consistently slips out of my backpack, making loud bangs in airports, subsequently instilling fright into fellow travelers b/c apparently my crashing water bottle sounds like a b0mb has just exploded; thank you, double-walled stainless steel).
However, I am increasingly frustrated with myself for not speaking up more on multiple platforms - for not being more proactive with my voice. Social media isn't so easy for me. I often feel it leads to a lot of talk and not a lot of action. I tell myself I'm more comfortable shutting up, rolling up my sleeves and trying to solve problems where I am; face to face with people.
But, that's not good enough. In today's political climate, I need to do more. I need to find a way to be both politically savvy (resourceful, calculated and sometimes, yes, quiet), while at the same time, shouting from the freaking rooftops - and better utilizing social platforms to both learn and to be heard. Because, people are listening. People making decisions are listening. It seems those that want to do harm are quite effective with their voice. How, then, can I be better, smarter and more strategic with mine?
This is my pledge to try harder to utilize my voice, my brain, the fire in my guts, and, this tool at the ends of my fingertips to fight harder for our planet, and, for all of us who depend on it.
This was actually the we-just-finished-work stroll. I'll take it! What you can't see in this photo are the bruises, salt crusted sunnies, ears and eyelashes, and the dried fish guts that were stuck to our clothing. Oh yeah, and the huge smiles! We set the 80th and final camera drop of the trip and I'm happy to report that we didn't lose any gear -and- more importantly, we didn't lose any students! Our last week of #research has been a challenge because of bumpy seas. Luckily, it was finally safe enough the take the boat through the short cut (small passage) back to the harbor. This means that for the first time this trip, we got to cruise through Aitutaki's giant turquoise lagoon! It's crazy that we spend so much time in a beautiful place, but barely have time to soak it in. It's time to celebrate a successful trip. More photos soon! This one by @kirbymorejohn.
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Today went a little like this: I gave three presentations today; one high school, one primary school, one community meeting, and after one of them, received one very large, very unexpected, very endearing bear hug. I would have called today a success if we made an impact on just one. My heart is full.
This photo means a lot to me. Today, these two young women saw their island from a perspective they never had before - and they LOVED it. I'm not talking about #science here! After only a little encouragement, they agreed to follow me off the back of the boat, into the deep blue, to snorkel in the ocean (outside the reef) for the first time. This was such a cool experience to be able to share with them, especially because they grew up on this island. It's easy to take my comfort in the water for granted - but I make an effort to remind myself how it felt to snorkel in deep water for the first time. It was creepy (!) which is why their courage blew my mind! We were towed behind the boat at first, over the steepest dropoff (reef ledge) that I've ever seen. It went from 100ft straight into the abyss. Nothing but blue. Then, as you can see here, I asked our captain to stop the boat. The girls were having so much fun looking around that they agreed to swim a bit without the rope. This was probably the first time I sincerely hoped a #shark didn't come up from the depths to check us out. (This place was sharky, but we opted not to mention it at first lol) I was worried it would ruin their comfort and they wouldn't soon venture out again with me! But, when we got back on the boat, both girls were asking me when they could see the #sharks! Ha! These kids are awesome. And this is also why I love having the opportunities to take students out to assist with my #research. #cookislands#womeninSTEM#marinescience#sharks#diving#grateful
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We didn't have a boat today, so in between gear maintenance and data analyses, we explored the mud flats, which are towered by densely packed palm trees. A truly wild, tropical sight. It was hard to get a spot where I wasn't directly under a coconut (luckily, none fell on me)! I also managed to catch my first tupa #crab and held onto him just long enough for photographic evidence. These little forays into the bush are always exciting. You never know what you'll find or who you're going to meet. Thanks for the pic @kirbymorejohn#science! #explorer#catchandrelease#Aitutaki#cookislands
Every time I walk the #beach, I pick up an #operculum and rub it with my thumb as I slowly make my way down the sand. There is something soothing about this crazy routine of mine. Many people know these as "cat's eyes". One day, I'll make jewelry out of my collection of them. Operculum means "little lid" - they're used as protective doors to close shells of marine snails. And...I love them! #cookislands#Aitutaki#marinescience#beachcomber