Eco-Warrior Profile: This Scientist Has A Message From The Ocean’s Depths
Imagine coming across a job posting requesting an undersea specialist with experience towing plankton, deploying ROVs, and the capability to shoot in sub-zero waters (years of hydrophone use preferred). The role would include jetting up-and-down the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, scuba diving to take underwater photos and videos that capture the unique species living in these ecosystems.
Many of us would have to Google what most of these things mean (by the way, a hydrophone is an underwater mic used to record submarine sounds), but for Shaylyn Potter, it’s all just another day at the office. Currently, as the Undersea Specialist for Lindblad Expeditions of National Geographic, she’s spent more time off land than on land to share her experience with as many people as she can, showing us what lies in the freezing and dark marine ecosystems of remote places such as the Falkland Islands and Kiribati.
“Our oceans cover 70% of the planet, but most people have never seen that underwater world. I’ve spent many, many hours underwater, which is a great privilege. I aim to use that privilege to advance marine conservation,” says Shaylyn Potter. “By helping people feel connected to various marine species, we can create new ocean advocates and increase marine protection policies.” Her work highlights the importance of taking care of our oceans as a means to our survival. They’re the main source of the oxygen we breathe—but we’ve killed 90% of the fish that inhabit them, and now the whole planet at risk.
“Human lives are intimately connected to the natural world; we absolutely couldn’t survive without healthy oceanic ecosystems,” she stresses, while going through the many trips she’s taken, trying to pick her favorite spot. After scanning her brain for different locations where she’s dived—from Belize to South Georgia, French Polynesia to Baja California—she settles for the Millennium Atoll in the Southern Line Islands. But not for the reasons we might think.
“When I arrived there in 2018, there was nearly 100% death of the branching corals. It was devastating. This is an idolized dive site, and I was super eager and excited leading up to my time there. And when I finally got in the water, I was completely shocked to see the state of the reef. It was a harsh reminder that warming oceans can impact even the most remote areas of our planet.”
It’s one thing to read the news and try to comprehend the magnitude of the climate catastrophe, but Shaylyn experiences it first-hand whenever she goes out to work. Yet, she doesn’t let reality bring her down. “Our biggest opportunity comes with realizing that small, individual choices do matter,” she emphasizes. “People often feel so helpless. But collectively, all of the individual choices make a huge difference.”
According to Shaylyn, the United States (her birthplace) has all the resources and infrastructure to propose environmentally-sound strategies, but isn’t doing enough when it comes to building a sustainable society. “Leaders in our country prioritize economic growth over things like protected areas and carbon emission reduction.” But she doesn’t despair. “I try not to get too discouraged and focus on keeping up the fight. I actually draw a lot of hope from the generations below me.” She also finds inspiration in fellow marine biologists Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson @ayanaeliza and Asha Devos @ashadevos. We should all be motivated by Shaylyn too—even if we can only get ahold of her only when she comes up for air.