What do you do with a chance?

This is not my story. This is the story of someone else I have been fortunate enough to be a witness. It is worth sharing and shows us that our desires as a driving force bring impressive results. 

I want to share this story to inspire younger people into taking chances and sticking with their decisions.

This is the story of my teammate, friend, and an overall great person, Kewin Lorenzen.

Kewin contacted me after conducting some research online about completing his cave diver and technical gas training together with a five-day shark course back in August 2017. He arrived on the island to start a month-long work on January 1st, 2018. 

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When are you going to get a real job?

“I am worried about the fact that my daughter has decided to be just a diving instructor and throw away all her education”…the words fly out of the mother’s mouth, the emphasis on the “just” before she can even think about the whole meaning of them. I smile gently, she blinks and mumbles a couple of excuses “I am sorry, I didn’t mean that it’s not a good job, of course, look at what you are and have done…” the rest of the sentence dies on her lips as I assure her that I totally understand her point of view.

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Under The Magnifying Lens

Many years ago, I was fixing a mooring line and noticed three hairy little bodies hanging tight around a small piece of coral. I had never seen this creature before, never mind a cluster of them.

Little did I know I had found something that scientists had not yet identified. Only years later, they appeared listed as the Caribbean Sea Spiders, eight-legged animals in bright yellow and blue stripes. People still considered seeing them a rare occurrence. In total, I have spotted them four times.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

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Size doesn’t matter, or does it?

I started to work with sharks in 1995 and put my first shark into a relaxed state a few months after beginning to work with them. As actions evolved one day, I found myself lifting the shark into a vertical position and holding her there for a few seconds before she woke up and swam away.

People surfaced amazed, and that move became my signature for a few years. I realized that when people saw that image, they would be mesmerized and, at the same time, curious about what they were observing. Usually, after witnessing such a moment, the statement I would receive was, “I didn’t know sharks could do that.”

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Discovering The Land Of Fog

One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead of tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling like an average person, I decided to get up and start looking for potential new caves. As I was sitting in the darkness, scrolling through the map, something caught my eye. The excitement grew (that didn’t help me fall asleep), and I zoomed in on an area to have a closer look. It looked very promising. I wrote down the coordinates and went to bed.

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Our view on sharks

The biggest problem for sharks is that people don’t know very much about them. What they know are mostly myths. When most people think of sharks, they think of Jaws; sometimes, I think they hear the word shark and the soundtrack of the movie. I have to admit that most modern work has still not done much to improve the view of sharks. I stand behind the fact that Jaws was a movie, and it should not take responsibility for changing sharks’ fate. The humans who watched it created a real scenario in their minds. If Jaws created some damage, I feel that programs that could have helped change sharks’ public view have entirely missed the mark. Modern television has played on people’s fears and emotions to trigger higher ratings, and revenue, without thinking about the final consequences towards the animals. They contradict themselves by regularly swimming and scuba diving with sharks, while verbally expressing the usual, annoying clichés and jokes about sharks. One of the first steps to understanding sharks is to stop collecting everyone under that simple word. Sharks are over 520 species, and they are so unique they cannot be categorized as one. 

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The quest for Anaconda swamp

In 2008 after driving around the island following the images taken by a satellite screenshot, my diving buddy, at that time, Arek Pers and I arrived at the end of a rocky road. Under torrential rain and threatening lighting storm, we hiked for over three hundred meters of uneven, sharp rocks and muddy ground to the edge of a swamp, where the water looked as if it was overflowing. 

We entered the water in a sidemount configuration, wearing drysuits and plunging below the darkness caused by the hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent feeling on our exposed skin, giving us an idea of the high concentration in the water we entered what appeared to be a cave opening. 

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Each one of us belongs to the Ocean

If I could go back in time 12 years to now. I wouldn’t recognize this Gemma today to the past Gemma.  I am now 46, 47 in September 2020 and I still feel 20 something. I feel younger than I did 12 years ago which sounds crazy but it’s down to lifestyle I guess. I moved to the UK coast 12 years ago. I have always had a connection with the sea, even as a little person, we would come to where I live now on day trips.  Even my Grandma and Granddad had their honeymoon in the village I live now, they were settled in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire so absolutely no roots in Suffolk, so I really know it’s that meant to be place.  My family draw and roots are here.

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The most enchanting voice from The Siren project

I can’t remember when my daily 1.5 hour-long walks turned into a routine and then from a routine into something that was more like a meditative state rather than exercise. 

When I quit my job as a Marine Biologist in the Maldives at the end of November 2019, I didn’t think that it would take me so long to find a new position and that by the end of February I would still be living at my parent’s house. Finally, after having sent 100s of job applications, I was finally offered a Marine Biologist/ Environmental Officer position in the Maldives… and I was so relieved. But as life has it… things didn’t quite work out as planned and by the beginning of March, the world plunged into a Pandemic (COVID-19) that left Millions of people unemployed (myself included) and would test the world, its people, the economy and country leaders.

So, when I felt overwhelmed being a 28-year-old woman living back in my childhood bedroom, frustrated with unemployment, and the sense of having no greater purpose, I started to go on long walks. Breathing in the crisp winter air felt like an escape from the frustrations of daily life as a young conservationist that hadn’t quite achieved what I had set out to do at age 17 when I decided to become a Marine Biologist.

During my walks I started listening to podcasts, anything from global news, marine science to human rights and I felt so inspired listing to all these activists and scientists that dedicate their lives to making this planet a better place for wildlife and humans alike. I was faced with a question I had been pondering on for quite some time: “Where do I fit in? How can I make a difference? What am I good at?”

And while I always imagined myself being a Marine Scientist, doing research and analyzing data… that wasn’t me, and I had to come to terms with that. I love the ocean, its vastness, its alien-like inhabitants, its colorful coral reefs, and its raw power, and I hope that Ocean Conservation will always be an integral part of my life. But what I had realized, especially working in the Maldives among an incredibly diverse team, was that I care about people. As much as I care about the ocean I care about humanity and the incredible injustice that dominates this world today. Witnessing unfair double standards, the exploitation of my co-workers, and blatant disregard for human dignity, I often felt powerless and the only thing I knew how to do, was to listen and be there for others. 

As human creatures we long to be listened to, to be understood, and to be seen. It sounds incredibly simple, but in today’s fast-paced society, how much do we actually listen to each other, and to what degree do we acknowledge the people around us and the work that they do? While movie stars, pop stars, and athletes are making a fortune, the people who are actually trying to preserve a livable planet for the next generation often barely earn a living, are mostly unseen and considered “hippies” or “tree huggers”. With a society that chooses short term capital gain over kindness and a healthy environment, I wanted to give a platform to the wonderful women who are dedicating their lives to protecting our oceans in their own ways (arts, photography, sciences, community outreach, filmmaking, tourism …).

So here I was, trying to figure out how to combine my love for the ocean with my desire to make people feel heard and appreciated for the work that they do. Without having any funds and truly not a lot of connections within the Ocean Conservation Community I figured social media could be the answer … and The Sirene Project was born. 

The Sirene Project is a platform for women from all walks of life, with different talents, different backgrounds and ethnicities, that highlight and connects female ocean conservationists to empower each other, inspire positive change, exchange ideas, create opportunities, and to be a resource for the next generation. While The Sirene Project might not tackle injustice or climate change within itself, I hope it gives a voice to the women who are trying to solve those problems. 

Leoni Dickerhoff

How do you get where you are today

Very often, I receive questions about how I arrived to do what I do, especially in the field of working with sharks. Some people want to know my field of studies, what I minor and major in, how much biology helped me with my work, and how someone else can arrive to do what I do. 

Every time, I find it hard to explain the complexity of my journey. Let me start with one simple fact: I didn’t study marine biology. I didn’t even study biology. I studied languages and all the subjects related to art, history, culture, poetry, literature. 

I had a childhood dream to have sharks for friends while working as an underwater scuba ranger that would control the safety and health of the oceans. However, I had a family that encouraged my passion for the water, going into marine biology was never a thought; it was a very foreign concept at my time and in my culture. I am glad things have changed, and more young people are aware and interested in these opportunities.

So how did I arrive here?

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Challenges That Change Our Future

“Humans are the only creatures with the ability to dive deep in the sea, fly high in the sky, send instant messages around the globe, reflect on the past, assess the present and imagine the future.” 

~Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist

When I first interviewed Cristina Zenato for my podcast What it Takes to be Wild, I thought she would be a great guest and would likely bring some real insight to our audience.  I had no idea that talking with her would open up a completely new personal challenge for me.

I’ve always struggled to believe in my capacity to live fully and explore worlds bigger than myself.  As a result, I created a small, safe life, with an acceptable job and reasonable marriage.  But there has always been a hidden part of me yearning to be stronger than I think I am. It is like a small white light in my chest  that occasionally glows bright and says: “You’re bigger than this”.  

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Shark Journey

As an underwater photographer, there is no animal more charismatic and exciting to create an image of than a shark. As a biologist, there is no marine creature more impressively adapted to life as an apex predator than a shark is. As a writer, there is no story more polarizing or important to tell than that of a shark. And as a conservationist, there is no animal that needs more help with PR than a shark does. Being both critically important and chronically misunderstood is a tough act to balance, so it is my greatest hope that through images, articles, and activism, we can all work together to tip the scales in favor of sharks around the world. 

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Click. Share. Repeat.

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.

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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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