Tell us about you and your journey to conservation/wildlife vet nursing?! Do you have a story of a past experience with an animal that has stuck with you?
I have always loved animals, and felt a deep connection to Mother Earth. After living in and travelling Europe after school, I studied Certificate III Captive Animal Management and got a job as the Education Program Manager at a wildlife park. Teaching people about Australian animals every day inspired me to start a conservation education platform, and to study a Bachelor of Zoology.
While I was studying I was accepted for an internship with the Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal, studying human-wildlife conflict. My first few weeks there were focused on helping the survivors of the brutal Gadhimai festival, and it was here I realised I needed more skills in animal medicine and care. So when I finished my degree I looked for a wildlife nursing course, and am now enrolled to begin my studies this July!
I hear your pets are an unlikely bunch! Stick insects and a spider. Tell us about these beautiful creatures and what you love about them?
Haha I actually have to thank my partner for our latest pets- they were his idea. We have two Gargantuan Stick Insects (Ctenomorpha gargantua) named Sebastian (actually a female) and Mrs Iglesias (after a hilarious scene from ‘Bridesmaids’). They are a recently-discovered species, native to the rainforests of far-north Queensland, and are believed to be one of the largest species of stick insect in the world! I love to watch them eat (at night you can even hear them munching away on the leaves) and try to camouflage- when they sense us around they start swaying like branches. I also love just how incredibly well their bodies have evolved to camouflage- their forearms have little slots in them so their head doesn’t stick out between them!
We also have a Golden Hunstman (Beregama aurea) named Shorty, who does an adorable happy dance when she gets fed!
Tahnee & Mrs Iglesias
End Extinction International is an environmental conservation organisation founded by you and focuses on conservation through education. Education is so important particularly when it comes to our environment and looking after the planet.
What are you currently focusing on educating others on? Are there are particular concerns that you’d like to shed light on?
EEI was started in 2013 with the goal of increasing awareness for endangered species, helping people understand the everyday impacts we have on our world, and offering real-life ways that they can make a difference. It’s definitely been a rollercoaster running EEI by myself, I’ve been so blessed to connect with incredible people around the world, made new friends, and had the honour of presenting at several events and schools.
With the world in such turmoil the past year, my biggest concerns have been the lack of funding for conservation efforts such as anti-poaching rangers, as well as the drastic increase in single-use plastic use. I hope that people are able to find ways to use what they have and invest in reusables where possible.
My focus at the moment for EEI is to develop an app that will allow people to learn and take immediate action everywhere they go. There are just so many species out there desperately in need of protecting, it can all become very overwhelming. So I hope that by streamlining everything into a simple-to-use app, it will inspire and motivate people every day! “Their future is our legacy”. - EEI’s slogan.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés
How would you describe your personality and lifestyle?
I would say I’m warm, nurturing and down to earth. I feel like I’m always on the move - I’ve been called a gypsy by my friends; to me it’s just how life keeps turning out! No matter where I am putting down my roots, I always keep my lifestyle healthy by getting close to nature (in my spare time, you can generally find me by some kind of glorious body of water) and eating wholesome food, “let food be thy medicine”.
With your socials flooded with birds, reptiles and the natural world, we’d love to know a little about your work with animals.
Since I was a kid, there was nothing else I wanted to do in life, it was always work with animals. I started volunteering with wildlife when I was 16 and then studied Wildlife Veterinary Nursing. After the first year of study I packed up everything I had in 2 weeks for a job in North Queensland. After 6 months in the role of zoo keeper, I stepped up to manage the wildlife park. We introduced the public to our native friends and raised awareness of the environmental problems each species faced. I will admit I faced some inner conflict about working in a wildlife park, but truly, how else can you create an interaction for people and animals who otherwise would never do so? You take whatever platform available to you and you do the best job you can to teach. I watched people fall in love with my furred, feathered and scaled friends everyday, and hoped that in this way they would go on to take some responsibility for their habitat.
This role lead me in to a Wildlife Nursing job for James Cook University where I helped develop a new role within the veterinary clinic there caring for wildlife! I learnt SO much from my vet and am so grateful for both experiences. Im now back finishing off my vet nursing studies in Northern NSW 📖 awaiting the next adventure.
Photography by Alice Wint
What is your biggest concern for our native wildlife at present and how do you believe we should be tackling this problem?
I have many grave concerns, I think the bottom line lies with legislation and political priorities. Both seem to be obscured by greed for resources and money. I’m not sure how to eradicate greed in the world, if it ever can be.
But I know once you connect with nature, you get closer to your purpose, and once you see what really matters, you don’t want more than the earth can give. Can we drop our world leaders in to the most pristine parts of the world and leave them there for a few weeks!?? Maybe not... but change takes every person asking themselves, “what is my part in this ecosystem? What contribution am I making? What choices am I making, or not making, that directly effects this natural world? Is it positive? Or negative?”
Hi Tessa! How have you been during these unusual times, that seem to have swallowed up 2020?
We’d love to hear about your journey to becoming an actor and environmentalist.
For sure, the ocean has always been a huge part of my life and I'm so thankful for that. Growing up in North Narrabeen there's a such a strong surfing community, it seemed normal to spend every morning/arvo/weekend in the ocean. For me starting so young I just fell head over heels obsessed with surfing, and I still am to be honest. But it's amazing how you don't even have to grow up by the beach to have a special connection with our oceans. The oceans are calming, and cleansing, and humbling....so many things, for so many people. Nature is so generous like that.
What is one positive moment that is of significance to you so far this year?
That's a hard one with so many big issues swirling around. In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, here and in the U.S. I think it's great to see the tough conversations are being had, resources are being shared, and with all this down time self-education is on the rise. I've enjoyed the quieter pace for that reason, and lately have been reading up on Intersectional Environmentalism, which acknowledges the link between the injustices towards marginalised communities and the environment. Heaps more info and resources available here.
Photography by Daisy Bradford
Hi Anita! Tell us a little about your background?
I was born in Romania into a communist dictatorship. My parents were in their early twenties when they had me – I was born in their student room on campus- they were both just finishing their degree as engineers.
It was tough times in Romania and my parents decided to escape to Germany with me and my brothers when we were still kids. We moved around Germany- the first year we lived in refugee housing but luckily my dad found a job in his profession quickly and we became citizens.
I would lie if I said it was easy – my parents started from scratch in a foreign country with three kids and no support net of relatives or friends around. My mum was working all kinds of jobs from scrubbing floors to kitchen hand in restaurants and so on – although she is engineer and spoke German fluently (She now works an engineer too, I am incredibly proud of her!)
Regardless of all the obstacles my parents made sure there was always enough for us and we learned from a young age to work for things we want in life.
We moved around a lot and I never felt home in Germany so I tried to live with my aunt in the states when I was sixteen, moved back and finished high school.
That’s when I first came to Australia – 11 years ago. I knew I was going to live in Byron, but my journey took me around the globe to Argentina for a number of years. The reason was a boy. I’ve studied fashion at Uni there and moved back Australia by myself six years ago. To make a long story short – it’s my home now and I couldn’t be happier. I met boyfriend over five years ago and recently have added a little street kitten to our household.
How long have you been dressmaking for and what's your personal style like?
I love creating - I'm a dreamer and a maker, and always have been. From a little girl, when we escaped Romania and into a better future for us kids, all I did was disappear into the world of books and I loved dressing like my favourite characters.
I had my grandma help me make the clothes that I was inspired to design from the characters in my books. From Frill dresses with aprons to hand knitted sets and jumpers. Later on I was scoping out flee markets and altering what I could find to dress like the Spice Girls or other stars I've adored. I was selling my pre-loved stuff there to buy something new to create- not much has changed, haha.
We didn't have school uniforms, so the dressing was an important way of expressing myself. Trust me I went all out some days and it wasn't seen as the most desirable from peers in the early years. Later those skills came in handy with girlfriends and after finishing my Degree in Fashion at Uni in Argentina. I always knew that there was no other path than creating. And without planning or even considering something like that - Instagram came along and created opportunities I could only dream of for me.
My personal style is probably best described as eclectic – I don’t like stereotypes. I wear what I feel like wearing or I choose the clothes by how they make me feel.
You can find me at home covered in threads sewing in a beautiful gown or wearing my boyfriend’s shirt to a party – or vice versa. Never know. I like to surprise myself.
What do you love most about the Australian fashion industry and do you see light at the end of the tunnel for the industry?
I love that many brands are looking into sustainable alternatives in fibres, fabrics and in energy used in their factories. As well as making sure to produce ethically. I love the idea of No- seasons and just releasing small drops of pieces or made to order in Australia. In our times where everything is so short lived it is even more important to understand that waiting and saving up for something that you really like increases its value and makes it so much more fun.
Dana! We'd love to hear a little about where you are from and you're environmental work!
My name is Dana Lopez, I am originally from Argentina but I’ve being in Australia for about 4 years now. I am a model, Educator and environmentalist. Ive being a model for about 11 years now and I about a year ago I started working with Take 3 for the Sea as a volunteer and Educator.
I like that I can combine the two and start conversations about plastic pollution within the industry I am working on, which I believe has a long way to go in terms of sustainability. That’s why I love Shapes in the Sand's concept and we definitely need more brands like you guys!
I love the ocean and I think is key to protect it and preserve the way it is. The ocean gives us so much, so we need to do as much as we can to give that love back to it. I am not afraid of talking about this problem and I take every opportunity I get I try and spread that message out there.
I think in another life I was a dolphin or at least I wish I was. :)
What are you enjoying the most at the moment about staying home during this crazy time in the world? What is one thing you miss about normal life.
It's nice to take a moment, sit back and look back at life and reflect where I am but at the same times it's hard to have everything on pause. Hopefully we come out of this learning that we need to change things. I must say that the only thing keeping me sane is the ocean and my daily swims.
I have been so excited to hear about your latest little endeavour to the Whitsundays as an educator and volunteer for Take 3 for the Sea. Tell us about the journey, what you were up to and some highlights.
The expedition was amazing, we spend a week sailing around the Whitsundays with a group of Scientists, trawling and sampling the sea surface for micro plastics, we used a trawl on the back of the boat for 30 minutes each time, size of 0.3 mm, so we were able to sample particles in the same size range as plankton.
Was surprising that we did not find that much visible plastic in the ocean, which is definitely a positive but we are still waiting for the samples to be analyse in the lab and see the results. It was a super cool experience to learn from expertise on Micro plastics and be able to see the science behind it all.
Corona virus was just starting so had to cut the trip short which was sad but we still manage to have a great time. The company organising the trip, Sail and explore are planning to come back next year and do another trip, so I will be definitely joining them again.
Being a Take 3 educator, what are some facts you've learn't that we should all know?
There are a few numbers and statistics that have really stuck in my mind. Scientists estimates that there are between 93 to 286 kilotons of micro plastic particles floating in our oceans.
There are an estimated 46,000 pieces of marine litter floating on every square mile of ocean. I found it crazy that we, humans, did this, so we have to change that!
What are your top 3 future hopes and dreams?
I will have to say that a dream would be to get people to understand how much damage we are making to the planet and we need to change that. I think making a difference and provoking change is my biggest hope/ dream.
A quote or phrase that is special to you?
Every small action, will bring us a big action ;) I often remind myself of this, when things get a bit much and I feel unmotivated. No matter how small the action is, it's contributing to a bigger action from everyone and that makes you feel like you are making a difference.
We were so lucky to have you as one of our 2017 Nature Girls. We learn't a little about you and your love for the ocean, conservation and living a sustainable life. What have been some new practices you’ve added to your sustainability bandwagon since our last interview?
I have learnt so much since our interview in 2017! In 2017 I had a big focus on beach clean ups and the removal of waste, which is still very important to me. Recently I have been focusing my energy on what I can do personally to live in equilibrium with the earth, always putting back what we take out. 2019 has been a busy year of working out all the creative ways I can eliminate unnatural waste from my own cycles. There have been many successes, especially in the kitchen. I love spending time working out how I can make something for myself without waste and heavy carbon loads. Sustainability to me means using your time and focus in a meaningful way, and for me this has been eliminating some of the peskiest everyday plastics from my life. I also have a newfound love for bamboo and hemp materials. One of my biggest successes over the last two years has definitely been waste free periods. For women who bleed I cannot recommend Modi Bodi period undies and moon cups highly enough!
What has been one of your biggest accomplishments this year?
My job as an educator with Take 3 For the Sea has easily been the most challenging and rewarding experience. When I was approached earlier on in the year to apply for the position, I knew this was something that I had to apply for. Working for Take 3 had been a dream of mine since I first found out about them in 2015! Through my work with their amazing team I have run educational seminars and workshops about sustainability in primary and high schools, as well as leading beach clean ups with schools and corporate groups. I am also very proud of how fast my professional diving is developing and am eternally grateful for my mentors.
What’s something you’ve learn’t about life in 2019 that has allowed you to further grow into the person you want to be?
Knowing the value of your own energy! The busier I get with uni and work commitments, the more I have come to understand how important it is to use your energy in positive ways. I have realised that you cannot force people to see things the way that you do, all that you can do is lead by example and not lay blame. Everyone is doing their best, and it makes so much more sense to encourage sustainable behaviours rather than shaming bad ones. We’re all learning new things every day, for me this has been 6 years of learning and I still discover new things every day! Supporting one another is the way to a more sustainable world.
Where’s one place you’ve been to this year that gave you the most incredible experience?
In July this year I went on a research trip with Humpback’s & Highrises to the Gold Coast Bay where we had the most surreal interaction with a sub adult humpback whale. This individual was interacting with our research team for over 40 minutes. We fondly named him ‘Nigel’ as he had no companions in sight. He would curiously spy hop, inspecting our vessel and then would roll to his side looking straight at us with his beautiful eyes. Staring into the eye of a whale is one of the most humbling experiences and I will never forget this special day on our research trip.
Tell us a little about what your background and what your lifestyle is like?
I am Filippino Australian raised in a country town in the Macleay Valley, NSW. My work with Halfcut is as co-founder and full time volunteer, my very busy schedule can at times be both demanding and stressful. Given this, I strive to achieve a balanced lifestyle and whenever possible I love spending time with family, friends, and my ‘fur-babies’. Connecting with the natural environment is my ‘happy place’ - soaking up the sun at the beach and going for bush walks. Eating healthily, sustainably and cruelty free are also priorities for me - one day I would love to own my own small plot and grow my own food.
We love all that you and your partner Jimmy are doing, protecting what’s left of our precious rainforests through Halfcut, your not-for profit. Tell us how it all began, your journey and adding Halfbraid for the ladies!
It all started around eight years ago in 2011, when James and I set off to South America. We both shared a passion for the environment and wildlife so we decided to do volunteer conservation work in the Amazon Basin Bolivia, Serene Reserve. Seeing the continued destruction of the environment and wildlife, as well as the impacts of wholesale illegal logging and animal agriculture on local communities was devastating. It was then we both knew it was important that we create awareness and raise funds to support conservation. Whilst travelling, James had grown a large beard that invariably drew attention from other tourists, everywhere we went we got shout-outs of “Nice beard!” His beard became the catalyst for conversations with total strangers, so I started to respond with “It’s for conservation”. We were genuinely shocked by the number of people who did not know what conservation was, so we decided to incorporate the importance of conservation into any conversation we had about his beard.
On returning to Australia, we started off with two campaigns - BeardsOn and BraidsOn. During one of our many brainstorming sessions, we decided we needed to reach as many people as possible and have all ages to take part in the challenge - not just guys with beards. So we merged both campaigns into HalfCut allowing anyone and everyone to be involved - taking part, their way, in a fun way. We wanted to be more inclusive of all ages and have options for those people who wanted to get onboard, but who did not feel comfortable shaving off half their hair. So for example; half braid, half make-up, half styled clothing and colouring half their hair, which still created a platform for discussion.
What can you tell us about the importance of our forests and the connection they have to the rest of the planet?
Every minute, almost 50 acres of rainforest are lost forever and critically endangered species face loss of habitat. Every single day, more of our planet’s ecosystems are being destroyed and the climate crisis worsens. This is heart-breaking. There will come a time when every human will ask themselves why they didn't do more? When for just $2.50 (half the price of coffee) we could have collectively saved something precious OUR planet.
According to National Geographic New Science “Land conservation must double by 2030, to prevent dangerous warming and unravelling of ecosystems”. Deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change causing greenhouse gases. Studies indicate that tropical deforestation accounts for up to 15% of net global carbon emissions each year. That’s about the same as every car, truck, bus, plane, ship and train on the planet combined.That’s because nearly 70,000 acres of tropical forest are lost every day. But if you prevent deforestation, all that carbon remains safely stored away in the forests (Source: Rainforest Trust 2019).
Furthermore, not only do forests provide vital organic infrastructure for some of the planet's most diverse collections of life, rainforests are also vital resources for medicines.Today, 1% of the worlds tropical forest plants have been tested for pharmaceutical properties, yet a quarter of all modern medicines came originally from rainforests. The real tragedy here is, that many, many more species are yet to be discovered and their vital medicinal properties not even known.
I can imagine you have visited some of the worlds most diverse forests. What does spending time in nature mean to you?
Spending time in nature is hugely important to me, especially being raised in a small country town I was very lucky to have the best of both worlds - beautiful bushland and the ocean. Living in the heart of Sydney, it can be difficult to escape and reconnect. But when I do, I feel more relaxed and rejuvenated. Increasingly, the science of the healing power of nature is being better understood, good for the heart, good for the head, good for the soul and good for general health. During my own struggles recovering from a traumatic head injury, through the pain and darker times has allowed me to relax, recover and focus on listening to my body. I truly believe by reconnecting with nature, we reconnect with our true self.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Tell us where you’re from and what you do for fun!
I am from Miami, Florida. I have lived here for about a year now and absolutely love it!
For fun I love to spend time with my husband at the beach looking for ocean creatures, swimming, and picking up trash. A lot of people think I am weird for liking picking up trash, but for me it is like a meditation. It is calming to me to pick up trash and listen to the waves. My husband actually proposed to me while we were picking up trash on the beach!
Being a Marine Biologist what area do you work in and what do you love most about your job?
I would like to say I work in education and conservation. To me those are one in the same. You can’t have conservation without education. I recently worked as an educator for a marine biology summer camp, where I taught children the importance of Biscayne Bay National Park. I also worked for a little bit helping rehabilitate injured, sick, and orphaned manatees. My role in helping with the manatees wasn’t just to provide care for them but to also educate people in the importance of protecting them. For me the best part of my job is seeing how what I have taught someone leads to them loving and wanting to help protect the ocean.
What qualities define the Nature Girl in you?
A Nature Girl is passionate about saving the planet. Someone who puts their heart and soul into what they believe in. I live and breathe the ocean. It is my life and has been a huge influence ever since I was a little girl. All I have ever wanted was to protect and save the ocean and the animals that live there.
How long have you been vegan for? We’d love to find out your absolute favourite vegan breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or dessert!
I have been vegan for 4 years now! My favourite breakfast food would have to be my husband’s waffles! He makes the best ones! They aren’t overly sweet, and they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside! Honestly, I have no idea how he makes them so good! My favourite dinner is defiantly homemade pizza! Even though I can’t have cheese, we still manage to make super yummy pizza! If I had to pick a favourite food, it would be pizza!
How has your Plastic Free July been so far? What’s a challenge you’ve faced this time round?
Its been great! This is my first year doing it! I had already been trying to eliminate plastics from my home, so this challenge pushed me to working even harder! I started to look more closely at the foods I buy and how they are packaged. Every item I threw away that was plastic I made note of. I started to notice certain things that are hard to avoid and others that I could find replacements for. It's all about buying smart. The hardest challenge that I faced was the lack of plastic free places to shop and the cost of trying to purchase plastic free alternatives.
What are your tips to being kinder to our oceans?
The easiest way to be kinder would be to refuse single use plastics. There are so many alternatives out there, you just have to be willing to make the switch. Another way to be kinder is to pick up a few pieces of trash every time you go to the beach. Even picking up 10 items can make a difference!
Captured by @maggiemeronea
The Royal National Park - NSW
Lara is a friend who I had the privilege of meeting a little while ago. Since then Lara has been on a journey of growth, travelling and finding happiness in expressing herself creatively. She's compassionate, helping others achieve their goals and she's our May Nature Girl.
Lara, Tell us about yourself?!
I'm 24 and I work in mental health services where I help my clients get through their day to day activities and also help them achieve some greater goals. I have a creative soul where I love to express myself in all sorts of ways, through art making, dancing, flow sports and fire twirling, the way I dress, how I look and present myself to the world. I am very much a free spirit and have a desire to push myself in order to grow. I move around a lot and I am always experimenting with new ideas and hobbies.
It seems like forever since we last connected! What have you been up to over the past year?!
The last year I have been settling back into Sydney after a 7 month trip around South America. Other than finding my groove in this fast paced city lifestyle, I have been working towards some epic work goals. Implementing sustainability into each site that I work at and taking clients on travel trips. I have also immersed myself into creative arts, currently playing around with abstract portraiture using alcohol inks and Posca pens as well as designing tattoos. I have also been experimenting with circus arts and aerial silks which has been a new found passion of staying fit and expressing myself.
Bush doofs /camping festivals are a way of immersing yourself in nature with friends and good music, Do you have a favourite?
This is a hard one because personally festivals are majorly influenced on your experience that you have had there. So going off this, it would have to be Dragon Dreaming and Earth Frequency.
What's your style of music?
I am a sucker for drum and bass... I will most likely drop everything I am doing to lose myself in it no matter how far afar. I also love live music, reggae, funk, disco & jazz bands... and of course, psytrance. Psytrance is a genre of music that transformed my life so I will always pay my respects to the psytrance community.
I’ve noticed many festivals are implementing sustainable strategies into their events to ensure less plastic is used, there's more recycling and most patrons are cleaning up after themselves. At the end of the day it's up to the patrons and I believe there is still a long way to go here. With the festivals you’ve been to this year, have you seen much change?
This is hard to answer exactly because I spent so much time abroad and not attending Australian festivals so to reflect on the progress of where its at now and the change that has occurred, there is a big gap missing from when I was overseas. However it ranges with a huge influence of various factors. The atmosphere and intention of each festival, location & facilities, amount of patrons and so on. It seems the bigger festivals fall short in more ways however other strategies have been implemented to help this. For example I have noticed that there are cafe/food tents that offer free coffees if you return with a bag of rubbish, where bins are everywhere with simple instructions on WHERE to put your rubbish. Also, during sets at certain intervals they stop the music and have a sustainability 'green' crew come on stage and rap about 'putting our rubbish in the bin'. So for 5-10 minutes patrons will clean the dance floor before continuing to party. Recyclable cardboard tents have recently been introduced to help tackle the amount of tents/mattresses/other plastic waste left at sites. Also... Edible plates and cutlery that are made out of corn and potato, that’s epic! There are also a number of educational workshops at every festival that target sustainability and how you can implement this into your lifestyle. Festivals like Regrowth target regeneration where they encourage everyone to plant a tree. There are also the more simple strategies such as everyone having their own cups, water bottles, personal plates and cutlery that you can simply lend, wash and re use.
Sustainability is very much a hot topic and I’ve noticed a lot more conversations generated around this. Majority of the patrons that attend these festivals are very much aware of the importance of respecting our earth, so sometimes all it takes is a conversation and a few words that resonate to take part and make your own action. It's the simple exposure of these basic methods that triggers minds to be more conscious about what you are buying, using and what you are choosing to do with it after.
How do you stay sustainable in this plastic orientated world?
I try stay sustainable as best I can. I have had my own keep cups/bottles for years and am always encouraging others to do the same. I only buy clothes from op shops or second hand recycling stores/markets. If I have plastic I will always re use it. I haven't lived in the one place for a while now so to grow my own fruit/veg/herbs has been impossible, however I try my best to shop at weekend food markets and local organic food stores.
As I mentioned before implementing these methods into my workplace has been very rewarding. All of my clients have their own keep cups, bottles, lunch boxes colour coordinated to their towels and bedding so its all very simple and user friendly for both clients and other staff to follow. I have also started educating my clients on growing veggies/herbs and then teaching them how to cook with them. I am excited to join the greens team in my workplace once I return from my next trip to keep this ball rolling!
A quote that means something to you?
I have so many quotes that I love. But for this exact moment it will have to be 'raise your standards and the universe will meet you there'.
This is a reminder of your self-worth and self-integrity and the importance to check in with yourself. If you are feeling a certain way and recognising that something is no longer serving you then it is important to let go and release. Once you are truthful with yourself and realise what is directly lifting you up or pulling you down, you have no option but to step into a higher version of yourself.
What are two of your most memorable experiences diving/swimming with sharks?
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” - Jacques Yves Cousteau
Photography by Luke Gouvignon at Clifton Beach, Tasmania
My name's Talitha and I am a 19 year old Australian who was born on the West Coast. I spent my gap year living in a very tiny tourist town (with a local population of about 200) named Coral Bay, located right next door to the Ningaloo Reef. I now live in Tasmania, where I have almost completed my first year of a Bachelor of Marine and Antarctic Science, majoring in Marine Biology. When I'm not studying I love to surf, cook plant-based meals with ingredients we source from our local farmers market, and explore the wilderness of our new home. I love to learn, and I am regularly discovering new ways to decrease my environmental footprint.
Talitha wears the Coral Garden Wrap Over Crop & Mid Rise V Pant
Did you grow up in Tasmania? What do you love most about living there?
I grew up in a coastal town named Albany (located four hours south of Perth, Western Australia) and moved to Tasmania in February of this year. I was a little bit worried about moving over because I definitely prefer the warmth, however the unique and rugged landscapes of this island makes the cold so much more worth it. It is so hard to decide what I love the most. Everyone is extremely friendly, there are so many flora and fauna species that are endemic just to Tasmania, and I love that it feels like I'm living in a massive country town rather than a city with towering sky scrapers. We can see Mount Wellington from our house and my university, and during winter it often snows on the top which is an incredible view! There are so many places to be explored. I don't think I have ever visited a place that comes even close to Tasmania's coastlines and temperate forests, and not to mention the lack of crowds while surfing! It could be the weekend, offshore the whole day and there would just be myself, my partner and a few other people out. It is definitely a wild wilderness, with most of the West Coast being largely unpopulated and full of isolated national parks and reserves.
Is sustainable living the norm in most parts of Tassie, or is there still a long way to go?
I think that, in general, Tasmanian's are a lot more environmentally aware and conscious than many other states. Plastic shopping bags have been banned since 2013, which is a law that only recently came into place in Western Australia. Just a three minute walk from my university is an incredible little bulk food store that does lunches. It is completely run by volunteers, and everything is vegetarian and waste free. Just about every person I've come across is practising sustainable living in one way or another, and with all the unique ecosystems in Tasmania I think many people acknowledge the importance in conserving and protecting the natural landscape. There are major pushes from the locals to keep the Tasmanian wilderness as untouched as possible, such as 'Keep Tassie Wild', which is a profit-for-purpose business that donates 50% of their earnings to local environmental charities. I believe there is still a long way to go, however I think Tasmania is definitely leading the way.
What does being out in nature mean to you and where's your special place?
Being out in nature, to me, means letting go of the “human” world and delving deep into our natural world. Most people in a first world country have become so accustomed to the comfort of our human world: the safety and security of a roof over our heads, unlimited supply of food and water, and air conditioning and heating to reach our satisfying temperature. It is so easy to forgot that 'we are part of nature, not apart'. When we are submerged in the natural world we are exposed to the elements, reminding us that we are still, indeed, creatures of instinct like the organisms around us. Being out in nature serves as a reminder of that connection, and helps us let go of the expectations that a human society holds of us. It means exploring the land that our ancestors thrived on, and observing the intricate interactions and biodiversity of the flora and fauna that surround us.
My special place changes depending on the environment that surrounds me. When I was in Coral Bay that place was on the Ningaloo, where I would spend hours immersed in the reef and observing the abundance of colour and life around me. In Tasmania it is either surfing or exploring the temperate rain forests or raw coastlines. It is anywhere that reminds me that time is man-made, and challenges me to live in the moment (as cliché as that sounds).
Tell us about Echoes of the Tide?!
Echoes of the Tide is a blog that I decided to create in June of this year. I love to write creatively, but I also love to share what I am learning at university and my journey with a sustainable lifestyle. I started sharing my thoughts and facts on Instagram posts, however there is a character limit which can be difficult when you're trying to put forward what you are wanting to say and have to cut out sentences to fit it all in. There's so many interesting concepts I've learnt in this year alone, such as Antarctic Krill have the ability to lose their sexual maturity during Winter to conserve their food stores, and the mating call of Weddell seals is one of the most unearthly noises I am sure anyone has ever listened to. Whilst studying a science degree I have realised that perhaps the biggest issue scientists face isn't the research itself, but communicating this research to the general public. Before I started my degree I had never read a scientific journal, I didn't know that Google Scholar existed and I had a very little understanding of finding and recognising credible sources. Through google we have access to thousands of websites with just one click of a button, and I've come to learn that it is so important to be able to recognise pseudoscience and to call out websites that are misinforming people through cherry picking or using unreliable sources. I've realised that it would be a waste to spend so much money on a degree if I wasn't willing to share what I learn and discover, especially when there is so much misconception about environmental issues such as climate change. Echoes of the Tide is a platform for me to share my thoughts, the knowledge that comes with a degree and perhaps to educate people on these environmental issues that I am confronted with.
What has your freediving journey been like?
When I lived in Coral Bay I was snorkelling just about every day between shifts, so that's when I started properly getting into free diving. I remember the first time I wore a weight belt while diving on the Ningaloo, I sunk to the sand and kept as still as I could. Within a couple of seconds this tiny fish swam right up to my face and was just hovering in front of my mask! It was a really eye opening experience for me, because I had never previously thought of fish as curious creatures. It wasn't until we left Coral Bay and were back in Perth over Christmas that I completed my Stage A with Apnea Australia. The course consisted of theory, pool training and open water dives. I learnt so much about how our bodies respond to submersion via the dive reflex, and it is amazing how quickly our bodies can adapt to the changing environment. I am so glad I completed this course because I discovered there were so many times I had potentially put myself in danger, such as diving all by myself, not matching my dive times with my recovery times and also showing early signs of hypoxia. I haven't done much freediving in Tasmania, so I have mainly been training through dry static breath holds, which I love to do to challenge myself and watch them improve! We are heading back over to Western Australia for the summer and I am planning on (hopefully) completing my Stage B. My biggest dream since I was 14 has been to free dive with humpback whales in Tonga, which I am doing next September. So I am really excited to continue to challenge myself and become more comfortable with longer and deeper dives.
What has been your favourite encounter to date with a marine animal?
It is so hard to pick just one! It would have to be out of our encounters with humpback whales in Exmouth, or dolphins in Monkey Mia.
As we worked full time in Coral Bay, we would get 1-2 days off a week. We would usually go up to Exmouth on these days (an hour and a half north of Coral Bay) and spend the whole day surfing. Exmouth is a haven for whales during humpback season, as they rest in the Exmouth gulf before they continue their journey back to the Antarctic. We had so many incredible encounters that would always leave me in absolute awe and fascination over their extreme curiosity. There were multiple occasions where pods or individuals travelled past very close to shore. One time an individual in a group of three spy hopped to check out the surfers, and another time there was one on its side just behind the breaks, pec slapping for about 15 minutes! Another incredible encounter was when my dad and my partner were surfing and I was watching on the shore, and this mother and calf was logging about 10 metres away from them.
Another extraordinary marine animal encounter was in Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia is renowned for it's dolphin interactions, so we stopped by for two nights on our drive back down to Perth. All the dolphins are wild, however over generations they have become extremely comfortable with humans due to fisherman feeding them many years ago. The whole two days we were simply sitting in the shallows, watching the dolphins swimming past. My partner decided to grab two shells and “clap” them together to make a tapping noise to see if the dolphins would respond. I was sitting right beside him in ankle deep water, and this female swam straight to us, almost over our laps, checking out what the noise was! She then swam away and turned around to check it out again. It was truly incredible to witness her intelligence and curiosity first hand.
Tell us a phrase that means something to you?
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
I love this quote because I think it represents the true mystery of the sea. It's the only place on our planet where humans are weightless, and one of the last few places that isn't inhabited by our own species. I think it is also the only place where many people truly feel free, which that in itself should be enough to make our oceans and its organisms worth protecting.