When TFUI Founder Melissa first wanted to become a marine biologist with an interest in sharks (back in the early 2000's), she realized there was not a lot of #womeninSTEM she could look up to. Oh sure, there was Sylvia Earle (Her Deepness) and Eugenie Clark (Shark Lady), but other than that in the marine world...? Well, nada. (Editor's note: Obviously these are Melissa's own, personal views).
In the past few years, the women marine scientists have been cropping up everywhere. And it is beyond empowering for children nowadays to be able to see a future version of themselves among these greats. One of them is the inspiring Susana Navajas, founder of Save The Sharks. We catch up with her in today's #BehindtheFins. Dive on in!
The Fins United Initiative: I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with TFUI, Susana. First, I really want to chat with you about Save The Sharks: How'd you come up with it? What's it's mission? What do you hope 2016 has in store for your organization?
Susana Navajas: When I was doing my undergrad, I helped with some shark research and it was then that I learned all about sharks and the troubles they were/are facing so I wanted to do something about it! I volunteered for quite a few nonprofits, but didn't like the bureaucracy of it all so I decided to do my own thing.
TFUI: I can definitely understand that train of thought!
SN: I've worked tirelessly on many campaigns and I've helped with a lot of local, federal and even international campaigns! It's mission is to better the status of the world's ocean through positive shark interactions. We do a lot of grassroots work, campaigns, presentations, research, we release trapped sharks, photography... you name it! Some of the 2016 goals would be to get our Dominican Republic project off the ground and to do even more hands on work in Mexico! I'm very excited!
TFUI: That is amazing work! Congratulations on how well it has gone thus far. With all of that going on, what are you studying, if anything? (Readers, you can follow "Save the Sharks" via Twitter and Instagram, too).
SN: Currently studying for my GRE so that I can begin my Master's for Environmental Studies. I plan to focus on policy making so that I can better protect sharks through the work of [Save the Sharks].
TFUI: Since you are planning to get a Master's, lets talk about research: if you could study one shark, which would it be, why, and what would you focus on?
SN: Hmm... I'd have to say the Scalloped Hammerhead! It's my favorite shark and I would focus on their ability to detect electrical pulses better than most sharks.
TFUI: An interesting fact! Not many people know that about them! Since we are in a field-mindset, what has been your most exciting discovery/trip?
SN: I'd have to say when I went to Mexico on one of Pelagic Life's expeditions! I was able to freedive with Mako and Blue sharks for the first time in my life and it was a trip that I will cherish and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life. During that trip I gained a new found love for Blue sharks and also got to learn so much about Mexican culture and made some life long friends.
TFUI: Being from Mexico, I can attest that Mexican culture is truly something special. On the flip side of a good trip come bad ones. What has been your toughest experience?
SN: To be honest, I don't think I've had a "worst" experience. For me, each experience has been fabulous and unique in its' own way and I've gained valuable lessons each time. But, again, if I had to choose I'd probably go with one of the times I went out to the field during my undergrad for Bull shark research) and literally everything that could go wrong, did. After a couple of hours waiting to see if we'd caught any sharks (which we didn't!) the boat broke and we had no cell service! It took us hours to get back to the marina and we were all sweating, and were just absolutely exhausted.
TFUI: It sounds exhausting just hearing about it, haha. What did you learn from the experience?
SN: You literally have to prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes, you have a plan for everything imaginable but things will still go wrong. It was an interesting day, to say the least.
TFUI: I bet! [laughs] What’s a myth about being a shark advocate that you want to clear the air about?
SN: I [would call myself] more of a shark conservationist. In that retrospect, I'd like to clear up that no, we are not crazy! ;) we're just passionate! On a more serious note, however, I think people think that running a small org is all fun and games and while that may be true at times - it couldn't be further from the truth at other times. Running an [organization] is hard work and there is a lot of paperwork, emails, and constant phone calls. Writing, scheduling, hiring, planning, marketing, etc... You have to basically be a business person, a salesperson, a marketing guru and who knows how many other roles, all at the same thing. To say that it's stressful, is an understatement.
TFUI: Amen, amiga. I can concur with that-- and I'm sure anyone with a startup is nodding their head enthusiastically right now. It truly takes your all, and I was surprised about that when I first started my own organization. I looked up to great women entrepreneurs (both in the marine world and out of it) for inspiration. So who has inspired you?
SN: I don't think that one particular person has inspired me, so much as the whole conservation/science community has! I love how hard people work for something that they love. I am constantly learning from others who do what I do and I love that so much! But, if I had to choose I would certainly say Dr. Sylvia Earle and Cristina Zenato; I believe both women to be pioneers in their respective fields.
TFUI: They are pretty fintastic ladies! Any advice to those who want to follow your footsteps, such as advice you wish you had gotten?
SN: This may sound harsh, but I'd have to go with "grow thicker skin". The conservation would is brutal and people are constantly going for your jugular (not literally, of course). You're going to always find opposition (sometimes even within the same branch of conservation) and you simply just cannot let it get to you.
TFUI: It kind of baffles me that conservation can be so cutthroat at times. I mean, aren't we all working towards the same end goal: better education to help protect a species? I know I have definitely been burned in my short time in the "spotlight," and I'm slowly trying to develop thicker skin.
SN: If you have a plan/goal/dream and you believe in it and yourself... do not let anyone tell you otherwise!
TFUI: Isn't that the truth! So what do you think needs to be done for the future of shark conservation?
SN: One of the main goals should definitely be for people to work together. I mean, actually work together. At the end of the day, we all want what's best for sharks and frankly, if we all put our minds together and work for a common goal - we'd be unstoppable! Once we've figured that out, I think habitat protection is vital. We can get sharks protected, but they're mainly migratory species and it serves them no good if they're protected in one area, but once they go to another they no longer have that same protection.
TFUI: I really like that mentality. And I can't wait to hopefully collaborate one day with you! But I'm curious... had you not gone down the route of marine biology, what else tickles your fancy?
SN: Law! I'm all about police officers, detectives and anyone within that field (I certainly include our Armed Forces in that, as well). I've always found law to be an extremely interesting field and had I not followed through with conservation, I would have chosen to follow the law!
TFUI: Love it! And so glad the oceans have you on their side.
the fins united initiative would like to thank susana for her time and
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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