I am a nature lover through and through. I grew up spending most of my time outdoors in Michigan, USA. Hiking, camping, boating, swimming – it didn’t matter. As long as I was outside, I was happy. I have always felt a passion for water, whether it is fresh or salt or in a lake, river or ocean. When I was a child our family used to travel to Florida on vacation and to visit family friends. It was on one of these trips, listening to the naturalist on a boat tour of the Everglades, that I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. When you’re eight years old and you’ve decided what you want to do with your life, sometimes you change your mind. But not for me – my decision stuck! My love for water and the ocean pulled me in.
As for the sharks – well, how can you not love working with sharks? The amazing diversity of sharks gives rise to countless questions and working with them provides a perfect platform for finding answers. The beauty, power and grace of sharks in the water and their vital role in our oceans highlight the need for the conservation and management of these animals on a global scale.
I have been fortunate to travel around the world pursuing the career that I love. From Florida and the Bahamas to the Caribbean and Australia, I have been able to learn about sharks, sea turtles, sea grass and everything in between. The one thing that I have learnt from all the work that I have done over the years is that the marine realm and the plants and animals in it are overwhelmingly connected. I am fascinated by how everything works together and how, in one way or another, all the organisms rely on one another. Everything is connected, and it is also ‘connections’ that have brought about the group I am working with: Sharks4Kids Inc.
Sharks4Kids is an educational non-profit organisation that is based in Florida but has a worldwide footprint. The international team comprises the founder and president Jillian Morris, the media manager Duncan Brake and myself, and we are working together to bring our passion for sharks to kids around the globe. We were lucky enough to connect with a very talented app developer, Mike Schmidt of Kinetic Concepts, who has developed such ground-breaking apps as ‘Find My Class’. Mike loves the ocean and jumped at the opportunity to assist Sharks4Kids in the creation of an app.
Sharks around the world face what sometimes seem like insurmountable challenges and many of their populations are crashing as a result of overharvesting, being taken as by-catch, habitat loss and pollution. Our educational curriculum has a dynamic range and we share our passion for sharks, the purpose of shark science and the need for shark conservation by means of Skype shark lessons, Google hangouts and hands-on field experience. Through education, outreach and adventure, Sharks4Kids is working to create the next generation of shark advocates.
As Sharks4Kids evolves, so too are the materials we are producing. Our knowledge of sharks expands every day and we want to translate it into fun and educational tools that we hope will inspire students to do their part to help protect these amazing animals. The students in many of the schools we connect with use iPads and we would like to take advantage of this by using technology and the media to encourage shark education and conservation. The way the world learns is changing and thus the way we teach must follow suit. We hold the world in our hands: with the tap of a button on our cell phone or computer we can be anywhere, see anything, learn anything we want to. With this technology we can employ an interactive, engaging tool to tell people about sharks.
The world of mobile apps is exploding. There’s an app for just about any topic you can think of, yet when our team searched for ‘shark’ apps we ended up wanting more! So we decided to combine the unique backgrounds and skill sets of the Sharks4Kids team –scientists, educators and underwater photographers/videographers – and use them to develop an app that is all about sharks.
The premise of this project is to explore the external anatomy of sharks and their unique senses. Using ultra high-definition videography and macro photography, we want to bring sharks into homes and classrooms around the world. With the touch of a button, we want to help people understand what makes a shark a shark – and to do it in a fun and interactive way that hasn’t been done before.
The combined media, film and photography backgrounds of Duncan Brake and Jillian Morris have created a unique resource that is able to capture the intricate details of many species of sharks. Their imagery, paired with the resources generously provided by the SOSF, will enable this programme to come to life.