As a marine conservation biologist, Samantha has worked to protect the oceans and its animals in the field, lab and office. Researching biodiversity, threatened and endangered species, and sustainable fisheries has taken her to the Amazon with National Geographic, to the Mesoamerican reef with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, and to the Bahamas and the Caribbean to promote eco-tourism that emphasizes ocean advocacy and adventure. She is a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor, free-lance nature writer, and passionate community activist.
Where did it all start? Samantha recalls, “I don’t remember when I first loved the ocean, just always have. I could swim before I could walk. But one memory about ‘conservation’ stands out. In grade school, we took a field trip to a small, local museum, it was the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, dedicated to the small town’s once thriving industry. The Museum was full of harpoons and paintings of small boats battling massive sperm whales…and I remember thinking how cruel it all seemed and wondering why anyone would want to kill these incredible animals? There were statistics everywhere about how many whales used to migrate through our local waters, and yet I had never seen even one; they had been hunted out of the area completely. By the end of the tour, while others were ooh’ing and aaahh’ing about the antique row boats and flaying knives, I was in tears; horrified by what had happened in my town, in the waters where I sailed on the weekends.
The big window of my bedroom looked out over the Sound and when I got home I stared out over the water for hours imaging the whaling ships coming and going and wondering what the Sound would look like now if we had never hunted these waters at all. That night I dreamt I was again looking out my window to the Sound below and a full moon lit all of Lloyd Harbor. I could see the small beach at the bottom of the hill and strangely, a crowd had gathered in the middle of the night. Just as I’m wondering what is going on, my father comes in my room says, ‘Come on, let’s go, we’ve got to see this!’…I don’t ask any questions, just follow him down the hill to the beach, worried and curious. As we reach the crowd, all we can see is the back of heads and all we can hear is people whispering and pointing. Finally, I see a massive splash in the distance beyond the little bay but the crowd is still silent. We make our way through the crowd down to the water’s edge and finally see what everyone is looking at – hundreds of whales swimming by, headed into Cold Spring Harbor. The pod is massive and beautiful and they just keep coming until the whole Sound is full of whales, blowing and fluke-slapping, spy-hopping and breaching. I’m amazed and turn to my father and ask “What is happening? Why are they all here?” He pauses and replies, “They’ve come back; they’ve forgiven us.” And I understand completely; not from the point of view of the crowd but from that of the whales’. I still have this dream a few times a year; I don’t know if that dream made me decide to be an ocean advocate but it did instill the feelings that have stayed with me my entire life; and those feelings of both despair and hope for our oceans are what make me fight for the oceans every day.”
Samantha has worked with whales, sharks and other marine animals including seabirds and seals at the New England Aquarium and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and sea turtles in Costa Rica. In Hawaii, she managed the Kaho’olawe Island Marine Reserve working closely with the University of Hawaii’s Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, NOAA’s Monk Seal Program and Humpback Whale Sanctuary, and the U.S. Navy. It was in Hawaii that her fascination with sharks began when a very curious tiger shark closely investigated her kayak during a lagoon survey at Kure Atoll.
After five years in Hawaii, Samantha returned to the mainland to serve as Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science investigating the application of ecosystem-scale connectivity science to functional networks of marine protected areas throughout the Caribbean. After a life-affirming week at the Bimini Shark Lab, she volunteered with the shark advocacy and scientific communities to help pass regulations to fully protect lemon sharks in Florida waters. Since then she has continue to work with a coalition of individuals and organizations to get more shark species legally protected resulting in another victory in October 2011 when three species of hammerhead and tiger sharks were added to the prohibited species list by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Samantha now works with Shark Savers as Program Manager coordinating citizen science, globally.
Samantha holds a Masters Ordinarius in Literature and Arts from St. Andrews University, a Bachelor’s in Natural Sciences from Harvard University and earned her Masters of Marine Affairs and Policy at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She is Adjunct Faculty in Natural Sciences at Miami-Dade College and leads eco-educational trips through her company, The Selkie Society, focusing locally on manatee conservation and other marine mammals.