What is there to say about Inka Cresswell? We feel like you don't need much of an introduction to such a powerhouse of a person, yet many people still haven't met the bubbly diver and ocean lover. Her fascination with the ocean started young and blossomed as she aged despite struggling with science as a subject. She found a way to not only be immersed under the waves but capture it in a way that captivates audiences on social media to learn not only about the animals behind her lens but what can be done to help them out. The Fins United Initiative is excited to have Inka Cresswell here to talk about her life and journey so far...
The Fins United Initiative: Thanks for being here with us today, Inka. We are thrilled to have you as one of the many marine scientists in Europe today! First off - what got you interested in marine biology?
Inka Cresswell: I grew up by the sea in Brighton so rock pooling and swimming in the sea on weekends was a regular occurrence so it's no surprise that a career revolving around the ocean is something I have aspired to my entire life. I admit at first I just wanted to work with dolphins like most 6 year olds but it was my dad that really encouraged my passion and taught me to snorkel from a young age.
TFUI: When did you know you wanted a career that revolved around the ocean?
When I was 11, I began scuba diving and by the time I was in high school was completely set on the idea of going to university to study marine biology. There was never really another career option that crossed my mind, it felt like the natural choice. I think documentaries and photography played a large role in my passion for the oceans. As a kid, I loved Blue Planet and had a book [about] dolphin photography I used to travel with all the time. I learned how to identify most dolphin species from that book, [and] loved picking up random ocean facts to share with people. Over time, that love of dolphins moved to a fascination of sharks. I struggled with sciences in school and had always been more naturally gifted in the arts but I was passionate about the oceans so studied twice as hard to ensure my dream would come true. When I was 18, I moved to San Diego to study marine biology at San Diego State University and began working as a scientific diver for graduate students. [I helped in] assisting in their research projects.
TFUI: What is The Watermen Project and how did you get involved?
IC: The Watermen Project is a shark conservation team run by William Winram that uses its breath hold techniques to tag sharks and media skills to spread conservation messages about sharks through digital platforms. I became involved with the Watermen Project after their collaboration with Yes/No Productions for the film ‘Great White Shark 3D.’ I worked on the IMAX film as a project assistant in South Africa and Los Angeles. After seeing one of Fred Buyle’s talks about shark tagging at the London International dive show, I thought Fred and William would be a great fit for the film. After the production ended I stayed in contact with William and when I graduated from university he gave me the opportunity to apply for the Watermen Project Young ambassador program and a few months later I accompanied them on my first expedition to Revillagigedo Archipelago to tag scalloped hammerheads.
TFUI: That sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime! What did you do in the expeditions?
IC: During expeditions, I mainly assist the team by working as a videographer/photographer. We started shooting a short vlog series about our tagging efforts and share [the] photos over social media to educate people about shark biology, behavior and the threats that face these animals on a daily basis.
TFUI: That is amazing! What has been the coolest encounter with a shark (or other Chondrichthyan) that you've had?
IC: It’s so hard to choose just one!
TFUI: Oh man, we know. We love them all!
IC: Every shark is so unique, so each encounter I have had has been incredible for different reasons. I think one of my best experiences has to be in Isla Mujeres. I was working as a project assistant on an IMAX film called ‘The Last Reef’ and we had a day off since it takes a day to set up the underwater camera rig. We were chatting with the local dive staff and someone mentioned a new whale shark aggregation site.
TFUI: If this is leading to where I think it's leading, I'm jealous.
IC: The next morning we set out before sunrise with no real expectations to find out what all the fuss was about. For over an hour we were moored up in the middle of open ocean, not a single boat in site with what must have been 200+ whale sharks. As far as the eye could see giant fins were cutting through the crystal clear water. That day my camera lens fogged up, I left with not a single photo but some absolutely incredible memories.
TFUI: Wow. That sounds phenomenal. So, do you keep to a particular schedule or is every day different for you?
IC: My schedule is constantly changing. I work on all sorts of projects such as video editing, documentary film research, travel writing, photography and even teach scuba diving so my schedule greatly depends on what project I'm working on at the time.
TFUI: What about your schedule with the Watermen Project?
IC: During expeditions with the Watermen project our schedule is usually packed. We try to be out on the water at first light and usually won’t return to dry land (or boat) until the suns coming down and then we spend the evening talking over the successes and the challenges of the day to make sure the next can go even better.
TFUI: Wow, that sounds like a long day! Talk about tiring.
IC: When you’re working in a wild environment it’s hard to have an exact plan for the day because you never know how the weather or ocean conditions will change so we usually set a list of goals in order of priority and just try to work our way through them as the environment allows. Balancing media and scientific goals can be challenging but both are essential for our project mission so we are constantly adjusting our schedule to ensure both are a success.
TFUI: I can definitely appreciate that sort of balance. Speaking of field experiences, is there a place you
have visited that you can’t wait to get back to and stay awhile?
IC: I would happily live in the Revillagigedo Archipelago! I think I’m one of those people that is just 10x happier underwater. Although, considering its almost a 2 day boat ride from the nearest city, [and] has no internet or phone signal, and you can’t step foot on any of the surrounding land it could be a logistical nightmare.
TFUI: Tell TFUI readers a little more about this place.
IC: Revillagigedo Archipelago is a series of seamounts in the Pacific Ocean. During our expedition to this region I was amazed by the huge abundance of marine life. From the second we entered the water we were surrounded by some of the largest oceanic mantas I have ever seen! There was one dive I had during the expedition where I became completely engulfed by a pod of playful bottlenose dolphins, had oceanic manta rays swimming above my head and ended the dive with a school of scalloped hammerheads… it was every ocean lovers dream dive. The most incredible thing about this area though is how the marine life changes through the seasons boasting scalloped hammerhead, bait ball and whale seasons. I would love to return during a different season and see the change in marine life.
TFUI: That sounds magical! So let's talk about Europe and the ocean. You live in the UK- do you think people in UK have a good relationship with the ocean environment?
IC: I think the UK has a fairly positive relationship with our marine environment and I think that is largely due to our ability to produce brilliant wildlife TV programming. Our natural history documentaries such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet are some of the best in the world and bring people up with a respect for our natural world. Smaller programs such as spring watch and country file have also allowed people to develop a relationship with and understanding of our local wildlife. Having an attachment to the wildlife that surrounds you I think makes people a lot more conscious of how their decisions impact the natural world.
TFUI: How about the relationship between Europe and the ocean?
IC: I don't feel the same can be said about the whole of Europe.
TFUI: Why not?
IC: I spend a lot of time in Spain diving and on vacation with my family and I find it very concerning the amount of vulnerable species I see for sale at fish markets and on menus. I have also found in a lot conversations I have had with people that they are unaware of the impact of consuming these fish or supporting unsafe fishing practices.
TFUI: What do you think can be done to improve this relationship?
IC: I would love to see more done across the whole of Europe to make the source, fishing practice and vulnerability clearly listed on all menus and supermarket packaging to help people make more informed decisions.
TFUI: Let’s talk about the importance of female empowerment in the workplace. Do you have any female mentors or anyone you looked up to who helped lead your career?
IC: I have been inspired by some incredible women throughout my life. When I was about 13 I attended a talk by Andrea Marshall and I remember being completely captivated. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman lecture on a marine topic and I remember sitting in the audience thinking "When I grow up I want to be her." As I got older I learnt about more women doing outstanding work such as the wonderful Sylvia Earle and Kris Tompkins. I think there are a number of incredible women working in marine research but there is no denying it is still a heavily male oriented industry.
TFUI: Have you had supportive male mentors?
IC: I have never had a formal mentor but I have been incredibly fortunate to have a number of friends working in different marine labs and in the wildlife film industry who I regularly contact for advice and feedback. For example, William Winram and Lukas Muller from The Watermen Project are constantly providing me with advice and feedback about my work. William is an excellent free diving teacher and photographer so I'm constantly learning about in water technique from him and Lukas is always looking over videos and photos and gives me a lot of feedback about editing. I think that’s the best thing about pursuing a career in ocean conservation, everyone knows that we are all working towards a common goal so I have never encountered someone who isn't willing to help and share their knowledge, there’s something to learn from everyone and that’s what makes it such a wonderful area to work in.
TFUI: How can we use our platforms to make the world a better place for women?
IC: Despite there being a large number of enthusiastic smart passionate women working in this field, there are very few the public would be able to name. I think that’s where we are going wrong. The number of girls that want to be Kim Kardashian but have never heard of Sylvia Earle shocks me. We need more passionate female scientists and ocean conservationists on camera and communicating with the public at their level. If we can achieve that I think we will see a lot more girls pursuing careers in STEM and ocean fields, or at the very least getting outside and exploring our oceans.
TFUI: AGREED. My hands up in the air right now, haha.
IC: The great thing about social media is that it makes a platform available to do this, it creates that direct line of contact between people working in the industry and people at home. The more we utilize this the more we can give young girls the role models they deserve; intelligent, driven women and who are passionate about conservation and protecting our natural world. It will also assist in dispelling some of the myths of what are women's/men's jobs. It doesn't get more epic than swimming next to a shark in the name of science. If a girl can do that, a girl can do anything.
TFUI: So what’s next for you?
IC: I loved studying marine biology at university and am constantly toying with the idea of going back for grad school, but for me I think the biggest challenge we are facing in ocean conservation is a lack of communication. All around the world there are passionate people doing incredible research but during my studies I found that so much of this research stays within the scientific community.
TFUI: Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
IC: My ambition is to produce or work on camera to create a series of wildlife documentaries that target a younger demographic as this is the generation we need to bring up with a positive relationship with the natural world in order to conserve it. I am a strong believer that combining the arts and science creates a powerful tool for conservation and assists in bridging the gap between scientific research and general awareness. Sometimes telling someone why something is magnificent and needs to be protected isn’t enough, they need to be shown. Film creates a unique aid in storytelling, captivating moments that would otherwise go unseen which allows people to gain experiences they would not have previously had an opportunity to be exposed to. It provides us with an engaging resource that can be used to illustrate interactions between humans and nature, assisting in the education and inspiration of future biologists and conservationists.
TFUI: What do you hope others can take away from your experiences?
IC: I hope that by sharing my experiences I can share a little bit of my passion for the ocean with my viewers, if I achieve that then to me that project was a success. I use photography, videography and my writing to allow people to witness the incredible ocean encounters I have had and I’m always amazed by the number of people that reach out saying they want to try diving after they have seen my photos or that they want to study marine biology at school. It's spiking that interest and intrigue that is hugely important for ocean conservation, if people care about our ocean environment they will do more to protect it. We need to stop seeing ocean related issues as only a problem for people who live and work in a vulnerable ocean environment and start to see ocean conservation as a global issue we are all apart of. There is no way to do that unless you engage people in our oceans and share that passion, interest and beauty. I also hope that by my sharing my experiences I will inspire more girls to pursue a career in ocean conservation and show them that sciences and diving are not just for boys.
TFUI: Anything else you would like to say to TFUI readers?
IC: If you're interested in learning more about my work or following me on my adventures you can subscribe or contact me through my website www.inkacresswell.com or follow me on social media @inkacresswell.
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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