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As a kid, I was never told what I could or couldn’t do. Instead, I found my own way and explored the outdoors, be that in my backyard, on the beach, or in the creek near my grandparents’ house. I spent my childhood in Texas swimming pools and learning about life in the ocean with my grandparents. Water was a defining part of my life. I felt connected to all waters, always wanting to see what was in it.

Getting started

I’ll never forget learning crawfish hide under rocks, tadpoles grow in ponds, and stingrays fly across the sand. At 14, I was given the reins to dive a colorful coral reef in Cozumel where I was awed by giant 300 lb grouper. I was driven by love to see underwater, so it became part of my journey later in life to help others see.

For years, I crafted my diving skills separately from my other passion, creating art. In addition to exploring the outdoors, I spent endless hours of my childhood painting and drawing. Eventually, I attended the University of Texas at Austin where I discovered graphic design and developed an arsenal of skills that included photography.

Transformation

I became a graphic designer and moonlighted as a dive professional, leading divers in classes as a divemaster and eventually earning an instructor certification. In my design career, I used my skills to communicate clients’ needs and stories. 

Diving experiences started to make me believe I needed to share stories of my underwater exploration. I returned to Cozumel as a young adult, where the reef had transformed into rubble compared to the vivid reef I saw at 14. There were no grouper in the shallows and none that rivaled the giant I had seen. I felt as though people must not be able to see the change to allow it to happen and perhaps, I could help us understand.

I took my photography underwater, at first with point-and-shoot cameras. Eventually, I took my professional skills underwater when I invested in a DSLR housing. By then, I was an instructor and beginning technical diver. My buoyancy was excellent and I was ready to share new stories, so I flew on my first professional trip to Tobago where I photographed black coral trees. It was the return home that substantially redirected my career.

A defining moment

Returning home to Texas, I flew across the Gulf of Mexico on the right side window seat of a commercial airplane. Mid-flight, the pilot announced, “On the right side of the plane, you can see the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.” I gazed out and was horrified to see my home’s body of water scorched as numerous tankers tried to burn oil from the water’s surface. 

Though my camera was at my feet, I didn’t reach for it. The moment passed and guilt flooded me so that by the time I landed, I vowed I’d do something to reconnect people with local waters to help prevent such events. In talking with dive buddy Ben Castro, we decided we’d dive everywhere and I would photograph it to show people what’s in their backyard. Everywhere became a quest to dive all 50 states. Ben completed 27 states; another 73 buddies joined me throughout the journey.

I became the first woman to dive all 50 states, which gave me the platform and experience to confidently share our waters in as widely reaching way as possible. I wrote and designed An American Immersion, in which I used my photographs to illuminate the beauty of local waters and some of the challenges they face. 

Evolution

My book transformed me from a photographer who loved diving into someone who dedicates their career to telling underwater stories full-time. I created my design firm The Underwater Designer, rebranding soon as Fins Up Creative, so I could dedicate my work to sharing our underwater world. I lead trips to help others experience the underwater world, create underwater photos for a number of clients, and use my design skills to help clients who share my values tell their stories.

I create images to inspire and transform others by illuminating our underwater world.

Jennifer Idol, an expert in diving, design, and visual storytelling, connects people to the natural world so they can experience its wonder through underwater photography and film. She showcased local waters in her book, An American Immersion, a quest in which she became the first woman to dive 50 states.

uwDesigner.com

 

The Island girl finding her way

Some kids know exactly what they want do to when they grow up, that was me, at least to an extent. My name is Jhénelle Williams and I was born and raised on the island of Jamaica, an island in the Caribbean. Island life cultivated an appreciation and love for the water and the marine environment and so I decided that it didn’t matter what I did in my career, as long as I got to be close to the water. In fact, that obsession started early. As a young girl in the first grade, I really wanted to learn to swim and compete, but my parents weren’t exactly on board at the time. I decided to go anyway. Three days a week, I took the school bus to the stadium to learn to swim with other students from my school. In hindsight, that really was not a good idea since anything could have happened to me, but to be honest I don’t regret it. From the moment I started, I’ve never stopped swimming. I went from competing with swim teams to competing in synchronized swimming and playing for Jamaica’s Water Polo team. It was exhilarating, but little did I know at the time, the best was yet to come through diving, in fact, its in the interest of being a better diver that I met Cristina.

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Protecting the blue gold

“The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water”

Humans are depleting this earth of all its resources, we are using natural resources 1.7 times faster than the ecosystem can regenerate. On this blue planet, only 2.5% of the water is freshwater, of that 70% is frozen and inaccessible, 70% of the accessible water is used in agriculture, 20% in industry, and only 10% is used for our consumption. The planet’s resources are only good for 2 billion people at the current demand but we continue to expand our population. We are nearly 8 billion people now, a critical factor in accelerating the depletion of our natural resources. An increase in population creates a higher demand for resources.

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Making a big difference with small actions

Cristina asked me to share a little about myself, my company, and my connection to her nonprofit, People of the Water. Who am I to say no to the Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee, Cristina Zenato? My name is Cheryl Adams and I have always been a coastal, beach, and ocean lover. I was born in California and moved to Maryland when I was three and still call it home. My motivation to start my charitable clothing company, Shelby Reef, came after watching the Sharkwater documentaries. That’s where I learned about the shark fin industry and how many sharks are in jeopardy. I knew I had to do something. I had heard about other companies donating a portion of their profit for a good cause and thought, I can do that! I decided casual beach apparel would be a perfect fit and started with t-shirts. They not only raise money for the cause but they can also raise awareness. 

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Exploration

Exploration is, for many of us, a very compelling word. It opens our minds and imagination to never seen places, to never discovered information, and to ideas of pursuing something that is beyond the ordinary. I believe each one of us is an explorer at heart; when we are children, we want to learn as much as we can about everything that comes our way, that is the explorer in us that is forming. We should continue to foster that explorer through our lives.

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The Landscape beneath the landscape

Sharks were the reason why I came to the island of Grand Bahama, caves became the reason why I was certain I had found my home.

There’s a landscape beneath the landscape. It was decorated during the ice age when the water level was almost 400 ft lower in the Bahamas. Nature created it with patience, there was no rush, step by step she sculpted this marvel of nature. Water trickled slowly down the then dry cave one droplet at the time, and deposited minerals, dominantly calcite, to form the incredible stalactites and stalagmites. 

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The vulnerable state of sharks

Many different words have been used by people to describe sharks. They are considered nature’s masterpiece; they are called beautiful, majestic, mysterious by those who love them and killing machines, mindless killers, monsters by those who don’t. When asked how I would describe sharks, I always think of them as vulnerable. That is the word that best describes these fantastic creatures who were once indeed the masters of the oceans and guardians of the deep.

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The journey through sharks and caves

I took a big step and broke through the glass surface below me. I felt the warm Fijian water rush into my shorty wetsuit, my heart pounding of pure excitement. I was eager to glide beneath the surface and enter this new world. As I started my descent all noises disappeared and, it all became so quiet. All thoughts floated to the surface with each exhaled bubble. With each fin kick, I glided weightlessly through the water. I watched the most amazing paintings made by soft corals, the colors were incredible, I never imagined that it could be this beautiful. Bright reef fish were dancing in the blue water and reef sharks, the reason why I came here in the first place, swam by, moving effortlessly. 

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Meet the team

Welcome to our blog. We are going to try to share our story, our adventures and some of the projects we are currently working on. 

Our organization is very small, but it tries to complete a lot of work in the different fields of sharks and ocean conservation and caves exploration and land management. 

We want to start with a little introduction of our team members, Cristina Zenato and Kewin Lorenzen.

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