Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published
writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on
At left: Shannon free divingin Caño Island, Costa Rica, where she embarked on a stand-up paddle expedition of the Osa Peninsula to explore tributaries and document plastic pollution. Photo by Morgan Hoesterey
As a kid I learned to love the ocean by being in it, and that fascination carried over into my adult life, fueling a desire to explore. On one of my favorite ventures, I sailed with one other girl (Liz Clark) from San Diego down to Costa Rica. I was surprised that not only did I appreciate the marine life I encountered–the whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles and manta rays–but that I also appreciated meeting the people who made a living from the ocean.
One day in an idyllic bay in northern Costa Rica, we were invited to come pull nets with the local fishermen who had anchored their boats directly next to us despite the vastness of surrounding space. So we went with them at 5:30 the next morning and hand pulled net after net. I was saddened to see the discarded catch thrown back to sea dead, although the seagulls and pelicans made quick work of it, but I also admired the knowledge and respect these men had for the sea.
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.