Shannon Switzer is an award-winning writer, photographer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on ocean conservation.
The wave picked me up and slammed me into the sand again. Earlier, I had walked a mile down the beach until I could find a location where I knew there would be a sandy bottom and no jagged rocks. Now, I was grateful I’d taken that precaution as I pulled my head above water, pointed my board toward the horizon, paddled to the outside past the breaking waves, and tried to catch another. I was two weeks into my self-imposed surf instruction at Sands Beach in Goleta, California. I had dabbled with surfing in high school, but as I was about to begin my junior year of college, I became determined to learn. While I hadn’t been rewarded with any great rides yet, I had already spent many afternoons in the ocean floating among the kelp beds and watching daredevil pelicans swoop and dive-bomb. I was hooked.
The ocean has been my favorite teacher since I was a little girl, ever since my dad brought me with him on sailing and free diving trips to Catalina Island. It’s constantly inspiring in me wonder, fear, discovery, and bliss. My heart still races when I dive down meters below the surface and rub shoulders with inquisitive sea lions and skittish reef sharks, or when I’m waiting in the lineup to catch a wave and a pod of dolphins cruises past.
Early on, I understood the importance of scientific research to
protecting our oceans, which led me to pursue two degrees in Biological
Sciences and Environmental Studies from the University of
California, Santa Barbara. However, after graduating I became convinced
that, without people dedicated to processing those scientific findings
into accurate narratives that motivate citizens, the research loses
its power. This is why I’ve dedicated my life to telling conservation
stories through words and photographs, and to working with others who use
various mediums to spread knowledge about our environment.
Like many of my fellow conservation writers and photographers, my desire
to tell stories has taken me around the world: sailing 3,000 miles from
San Diego to Costa Rica; photographing and studying whale sharks in the
Seychelles Islands and coral reef communities on the northern Great
Barrier Reef; and most recently, completing a Young Explorers grant for
National Geographic documenting the connection between the health of
fresh water, the ocean, and people.