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Interview With Young Oceanographer, Shannon Switzer

By Liz Hancock

Interview With Young Oceanographer, Shannon Switzer
In celebration of World Oceans Day on 8th June 2015, we share an interview with Shannon Switzer, National Geographic Young Explorer and one of three oceanographers being supported by La Mer's Blue Heart charity.

Shannon Switzer 1 Shannon Switzer 3

For World Oceans Day 2015 (celebrated on 8th June), La Mer have released the limited-edition Crème de la Mer Blue Heart, (100ml, available from 1st June). This is in support of the brand’s year-round ocean conservation charity,Blue Heart, which has donated over $26 million since 2008.

In addition to their continued support of leading oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, in 2015 La Mer is supporting two new explorers: Dr David Gruber, National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and Shannon Switzer, National Geographic Young Explorer. Here we share an interview with Shannon Switzer, who predominantly works in marine conservation in Southeast Asia and Oceania…

How did you discover your love for the ocean?
Growing up in San Diego with a dad who loved to sail, body surf and free dive, instilled a love for the ocean before I could even walk. Sailing trips with my dad to Catalina Island on his 21-foot McGregor to explore the kelp forests, with its playful sea lions and bright orange garibaldi, were highlights of my childhood. Going to college at UCSB added another dimension of ocean enjoyment through surfing—I spent much of my four years there riding my bike to the beach with surfboard in tow and teaching myself to surf.

Do you have a favorite oceanic location?
That’s tough. The locales I just mentioned were such a sweet part of forming my bond with the sea, but I’d have to say the Seychelles Islands, where I studied whale sharks and cetaceans, hold a very special place as well. Diving there was like an underwater safari—I never knew what I was going to find. A tiger shark? Manta ray? Pod of dolphins? It was never the same, but always magic.

Why is protecting the health of the ocean so important?
Protecting the ocean is not just important—it’s crucial to our survival. We need the oxygen the ocean produces and the food it provides, but beyond the physical, it harbors some of the last great mysteries of our planet and offers a place for us to recreate and submerge ourselves in a liquid cosmos like nothing else on earth.

What do you think is the biggest impact your work has on protecting the health of the ocean? My work tries to illuminate how communities dependent on marine resources can use them sustainably so they benefit the community well into the future. It’s an easy thing to say but a hard thing to do, and communities, organizations and governments have been working for decades to figure out productive solutions. My job is to understand which projects have succeeded and why, and which have failed and why and apply these lessons elsewhere, while considering the nuanced context of each community—as no two are the same anywhere in the world! The end goal, as I envision it, is to keep the pulse of the ocean calm and steady, so it continues being able to take care of us as we take care of it.

What has been your career highlight?
Besides interacting with incredible marine life around the globe, the highlight of my career is not one specific moment, but wrapped up in the friendships I’ve made with community leaders who are working hard for their people and the environment. One particular friendship to exemplify this is with Ate Alma Bool, who works with a barangay in the Philippines, leading her community to restore their mangroves and develop a new ethics around waste and fisheries management. Last summer she was recognized as one of the top women conservationists in Southeast Asia for her tireless work. It’s friendships with incredible leaders like Ate Alma that make my work so satisfying and fun.

What does La Mer’s Blue Heart campaign mean to you?
La Mer’s Blue Heart campaign represents everything I believe in a nutshell—that it’s critical to use our ocean resources sustainably, and that doing so is at the core of healing our seas. The campaign is also about putting your proverbial money where your mouth is, which is critical for restoring our oceans and a component to successful conservation that is often lacking.

How do you share your Blue Heart?
Fortunately, loving the ocean is an easy sell. One of my favorite ways to share my blue heart with people is taking them surfing. This simple act of wave riding seems to inspire laughter and giggles no matter what. Surfing is a great way to introduce someone to the ocean who may have some hesitation or fears. It’s hard to take life too seriously when learning to surf, because one has to be willing to look and feel goofy and that usually leads to plenty of laughs. Another way is through photography. I love seeing people connect to the ocean through images I’ve taken over the years, just as I do when seeing the images of greats, like underwater photographer Brian Skerry and surfing photographer Chris Burkard.

With La Mer’s and National Geographic’s partnership and identifying you as one of the most important next generation of explorers, what’s next for you?
I plan to continue my experimental work using film and photography as a community based research tool to improve marine resource management in developing island and coastal nations. After seven years working as a photojournalist and having delved back into academia, I plan to pursue a PhD in this research beginning in fall. I’ve taken a bit of a circuitous route, but I believe all the experiences and skills I’ve gained along the way are now crucial components of the success of my work.

How has Sylvia Earle influenced your career/passion for ocean conservation?
Sylvia’s heart for adventure has always inspired me. She’s a constant reminder that the ocean is an inextricable part of our humanity, yet there’s still so much left to understand about it. She reminds us it’s for this reason we must continue pushing the scientific and exploratory boundaries to better understand ourselves.

If you could choose one wish for the future of the ocean, what would it be?
That it would continue to teem with and support life of all kinds.





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