Tell us a little bit about your background.
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to teach people about animals and the planet. My family moved 10 times before I was in 6th grade. This made me more adaptable, which is great because I have now moved around 50 times in my life. Between the ages of 23 and 30 I worked at leading zoos across the United States such as the San Diego Zoological Society, Sea World, the Honolulu Zoo Society, and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Between each zoo job, I worked with conservation and education organizations in Australia, Borneo, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.
Today, I am the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but I am also a public speaker on the topics of conservation and sustainability. My mission is to raise awareness about how everyone and everything is connected, and how each of us can use our specific talents and skills to help make our planet a healthy place for generations to come.
What got you started in diving? Why did you decide to take the giant stride into the oceans?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching animal shows and reading National Geographic magazines. I knew there was a world of opportunities out there to discover, so I promised myself at a young age that I would see the savannas, rainforests, deserts, and oceans by any means possible. I was 23 before I finally saw the ocean on a research trip to Africa. I remember jumping out of the jeep onto beach and sprinting straight into the waves like it was my long-lost mother. The ocean was so beautiful and powerful; I wanted more. A year later I moved to Key West, Florida, and got my open water certification. After diving with a goliath grouper and seeing my first shark, I was hooked!
What does scuba diving mean to you?
Scuba diving means freedom and exploration to me. Every time I dive, I feel like I am a kid who is exploring a secret, magical world. Although I am covered in gear that helps me survive in a foreign ecosystem, I still feel more free under the water than I do above. Diving is like a meditation for my soul. I am fully present and only the mesmerizing fish can distract me. I feel at peace and more in tune with nature than I do anywhere else on this planet.
How has diving changed your life?
Diving ignited the explorer and conservationist in me. Since my first dive in 2007, I have lived and worked in the ocean as a wildlife guide and educator in places like Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef, the Ningaloo Reef, Borneo, and all around Papua New Guinea. I also know for a fact that if I hadn’t jumped in the water that first time, I would not be the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The passion, life-experience, and wildlife knowledge I have gained from working and diving all over the world showed Mutual of Omaha that I would be a good fit as the host for their new online web series.
What kind of diving do you like to do?
To me, shipwrecks surrounded by sharks, groupers, and rays are the coolest! It makes me feel like an underwater pirate or a treasure hunter.
Where are some of your favorite places to dive?
The Yongala shipwreck in Australia; Phi Phi Islands of Thailand; The Navy Pier in Exmouth, Western Australia; and shark diving in the Bahamas.
If you had to pick your most amazing experience under water, what would it be?
In 2012, I was filming a whale shark filter feeding after the coral spawn. All of a sudden, four other whale sharks came up from the depths with their mouths wide open while I was at the surface feeling like an ant. While I was swimming along in awe, a loggerhead sea turtle and seven devil rays joined us for the feed. I felt like I was in a Wild Kingdom episode with Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler!
If you could make one statement about the oceans, what would it be?
I believe it’s important for everyone to realize that we are all connected in this impressive and complex food web. Our actions don’t just impact the ocean and the animal’s within it, but us humans as well. Thankfully with more people diving and even more watching wildlife shows, we will realize how important the ocean is to our survival. I truly believe a movement is happening; awareness and education are more important than ever.
What would be your advice to someone considering getting into diving?
Do it! I think you would be giving yourself the greatest gift by becoming a scuba diver; I wish everyone was a certified diver. Whether it becomes your hobby or part of your future career, I hope you try it even once. After that, be prepared to get hooked and become the coolest ocean advocate you know.
Why do you think we should encourage more people to dive?
First of all, diving showed me what I was capable of. I saw a side of myself that I didn’t know I had. I was brave in a place of vulnerability; I was a bad ass! It built up my confidence to be the type of explorer that I always dreamed of becoming. Eventually, it even changed my path in life. Secondly, diving reminds me that there is still a kid inside that loves to play. It’s fun to explore a world that is so magical. Lastly, diving opened my mind and helped me see the bigger picture of how the food web works, therefore, making me a more compassionate human.
What is the favorite item in your dive bag?
I prefer to dive in warmer water. When it gets cold, I appreciate a warm, flexible wetsuit like my Definition 5mm. I love the zippers around the neck, wrists, and ankles; It just makes diving more comfortable.
Because it is the best! I read reviews on gear before working in Australia; and when I saw that “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle trusted and wore Scubapro gear, I knew it must be the best! I used to dive 4 times a day while working on the Great Barrier Reef and only my Scubapro gear made it out alive!