young ambassador


Young Ambassador Interview Questions:

We’ve recently had the chance to catch up with one of WP’s Young Ambassadors, Andrea Asúnsolo Rivera. The young marine scientist has done research in seasonality and abundance of sharks, as well as behavioural changes in reef fish caused by the presence of sharks. Andrea is currently based in Port Douglas, Australia, where she works on tourist boats, spreading her knowledge and passion for the underwater world. To her, science is a way of trying to understand the world you live in; comparable to trying to get to know the house you live in and getting the best use out of it, while also attempting to safeguard it for generations to come.

Here’s what she had to say about her time as a young ambassador, her plans for the future and the current state of ocean conservation:

How did you initially find out about the WP and what sparked your interest?

I would say it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I was at DEMA [global pro-only dive show in the US] and attended a conference that included a Q&A session. Some of the people on the panel got bad comments and I stepped in to say that this was not fair and they should be given a fair chance. William happened to be in that same room and I remember him asking a question to the panel and introducing himself as a freediver, which caught my attention. However, I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him and ask him about his work.

Back home in La Paz, I found out that he was collaborating with the non-profit organisation that I worked with at that time– Pelagos Kakunjá. We ended up going to Cabo Pulmo to tag bull sharks and William mentioned his organisation, his projects and the apprenticeship programme. I was immediately hooked and completed the application process to be on board.

What makes the WP stand out? What makes it special?

It is quite special because it combines different skills and approaches that other conservation organisations don’t necessarily empace or use at all. The Watermen Project incorporates a good mix of elements such as outreach, education, freediving and scientific research, which makes it unique and versatile.

How would you describe the WP in one word?


When did you get to be a young ambassador?

I’ve been a young ambassador since November 2015. Since then, William has been very present and supportive, checking in and staying in touch every now and again.

What have you been up to since then?

I initially had to take a year to work and get some funding for my MSc in Marine Science at the University of Western Australia. I’ve been trapped in Australia for three years now 😉

I have completed my degree and I have recently presented my research at an international conference. My work is very close to being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

What was your most memorable moment as a young ambassador?

There were a few: Cabo Pulmo was a very special trip just because I got to see the national park and interact with sharks in a way that I had never experienced before. I had always used SCUBA, but thanks to William, I had the chance to interact with the fauna while freediving. Later, during a Watermen Expedition to Revillagigedo/Soccoro Island, we tried to tag scalloped hammerheads and I also had some incredible encounters with oceanic giant mantas. William certainly taught me a lot about freediving.

How did your time with the WP affect your life, shape your views or impact your path?

I would say it was that missing piece in the puzzle, because I always knew I wanted to do research and I always knew I like doing fieldwork, but I had not figured out how exactly I would want to put the two together. Now, my medium/long term goal is to set up a boat and go on expeditions, tagging sharks while freediving and collaborating with other researchers. Basically, it was William who inspired me to reach for such a goal.

What was the most important lesson you learned during your time with the WP?

Never dive alone! I got into a bit of trouble during an expedition when Lukas [another YA] and I went on a dive together in order to look for tiger sharks. Lukas was tired and jumped back on the boat after a while. I came across a manta and decided to continue diving alone, which is something you should not do. I learnt my lesson that day. William is very safety oriented, so that is definitely something he has engrained in my freediving.

What is the main motivation behind your work?

I definitely have a passion that I cannot even describe, for the ocean and all of the life that inhabits it. I also could not imagine a world without oceans– thriving oceans, ideally. I want to do anything I can. I want to dedicate my life to help share and educate and preserve, and even help recover whatever damage we have done to the ocean. It makes me feel frustrated and alienated to see the damage because it is something that does not make sense. Some people choose not to care and I struggle to understand their way of thinking.

What are your main goals/plans for the future?

I definitely want to continue with scientific research. I enjoy generating information and I believe it is a key part of trying to manage resources in the ocean. I would also love to get involved with outreach and education. Ideally, I would like to have a programme that teaches kids about science and conservation first hand rather than showing them a power-point slide. I would like to keep collaborating with scientists.

Who inspires you? Who do you look up to?

This is really cliché, but I have to say Silvia Earle. She is my absolute idol!

Could you describe your earliest memory of feeling connected with / inspired by the ocean?

I was very lucky to grow up close to the ocean. When I was about four or five years old, I was feeding fish with some crackers; I remember getting bitten by a fish and being intrigued by the fact that fish have teeth. This made me very inquisitive about fish and sea-life in general. It somehow made me feel related to fish because I also had teeth and I had never thought of fish having teeth.

As a diver, would you primarily describe yourself as a scuba diver or a freediver?

That is a very tough question. Currently, I would probably say I’m a freediver, just because of my work, where I get to freedive every single day. We take people out to snorkel and I freedive to take photos or point out specific fish.

However, I cannot say that I like one or the other form of diving better. These two allow for completely different approaches and give you different perspectives of the underwater–world. Freediving just makes you want more. You learn to relax and be efficient with your oxygen consumption. It literally makes you want more. With SCUBA you obviously have long bottom times but you always feel like an alien. You don’t belong underwater, you blow bubbles and animals tend to be weary of you.

What does diving mean to you?

I would say freedom.

How would you describe the feeling of diving with sharks?

I started diving with sharks in 2013, when I had my first encounter with bull sharks. I always say it’s addicting. It’s having the opportunity to witness perfection. There is no other animal that makes me think of perfection in the same way that sharks do, especially predatory sharks. When I look at them, I cannot think of anything that should be changed or improved.

What is the best way to change the negative image that sharks still have?

Education would be the most important aspect. I recently learned that after amphibians, sharks and rays are the second group of animal that are most at risk of becoming extinct. I think that’s a fact that everyone should know. In addition to education, we should try to get as many people as possible in the water with sharks so they realize that this idea or conception they have of sharks is wrong. I don’t mean to portray sharks as cuddly puppies. Sharks are predators, but they are incredibly smart and cautious animals. People need to know that they are not killing machines.

Apart from your gear, what are the three things you always ping on a dive trip?

My shark & reef fish ID book, my GoPro, and hair conditioner.

If you had the power to change something about the world, what would it be?

If I had to choose one thing I would say recover the human–nature connection that we have lost. I think most humans think of themselves as separate from nature. But, we’re part of nature.

What has to change in terms of ocean conservation? How could large-scale change be implemented?

I think single actions matter. There are 7 billion people on this planet; if every single person took one action a day it would add up and we could make a significant difference. At the same time, leadership is lacking. People should start asking for decision–makers and politicians to make the right choices, put in place– and practice –legislation that allow our oceans to continue to exist for future generations.

We live in a world that is shaped by demand, so if people reduce their meat consumption and avoid buying products wrapped in plastic the market will have no choice other than adjust to more REAL eco-friendly products. I believe investing time in educating and convincing people to make the right choices in what they buy; that could have a big domino effect on many industries.

How could conservationists reach those who have no connection to the ocean or simply do not care?

As hard as it seems, we need to find middle ground. It seems as though there is a large gap between conservationists and those people who are just absolutely careless when it comes to ocean conservation. Rather than telling people that they are wrong, we should find a way to say that we know they feel differently but should nevertheless try to find common ground and make room for discourse. We cannot expect people to make 180° changes, but we can encourage them to take small steps.

When I feel hopeless regarding conservation I try to fight that line of thought. It helps to have a job that gets me out on the reef and reminds me of the fact that everything is still there. It’s puised and battered, but it’s there.

What do you personally do to keep your eco-footprint small?

I ride my bike to work every day and only use my car for trips that are absolutely essential. I only eat fish that I have spear–fished myself, or that I know has been caught sustainably. I try to avoid buying anything in plastic and I ping re-usable Tupperware containers for food. Unfortunately, I eat meat, but I try to reduce my consumption.

Has your view of ocean conservation changed over time? If yes, how?

I think the main thing that has changed from 19-year old Andrea going into university for marine bio thinking she will save the world and all sharks, is that I realized conservation is not one big gesture but rather a sequence of small steps. Rather than trying to get to the top and reaching large goals, it’s important to focus on small achievable tasks that will ultimately get us closer to the big conservation goals.

Some people think the ocean is vast and limitless and people have no effect on it whatsoever. What would you tell them?

I would show them before/after photographs. That’s effective. That’s what the Watermen Project does: Show people rather than tell them.

If you had the power to completely protect/save one species, which one would it be? Why?

Can I pick two? Tiger sharks are my absolute favourite animals so I would obviously choose them over any species. They are so incredibly beautiful and smart; they are very different from many other species of sharks. Sharks tend to have quite a specific diet, basically, they can be very picky eaters. However, tiger sharks are generalists, which means they will eat anything they think might be a food source, making them incredibly curious. They have certainly earned their nickname– ‘rubbish bins of the ocean’. I think they are very fascinating and I relate to them in the sense that they are very inquisitive.

But on a more objective point, I would probably go for a small low-trophic species like sardines because in the end they sustain all of those beautiful animals like sea-lions, penguins and sharks. Without them, all of the larger animals lose their food source. By saving the food, I would help preserve the pretty, sexy animals we all love.

What is your favourite quote?

My favourite one is commonly attributed to Mark Twain. I also used this quote for my undergraduate thesis:

‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowline! Sail away from safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover!’

What is your personal message to humanity? Is there something you wish everybody knew about the ocean?

Again, this is very ‘Silvia Earle’, but she is so right!!

Without life in the ocean, there will be no life on the planet.

Thank you for your time & much success with your endeavours!

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