Sharks in Our Backyard
By Jillian Morris
We’ve all heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words, but I never put much thought into until I started taking images of my underwater adventures. When I started traveling the world to work on research projects, I was lucky enough to have a camera with me. Whether I was tagging sharks or diving with them, I was able to capture some amazing moments. I’d return from a trip excited to show my friends and family the places I had visited and the work I was doing. The reactions I usually got were amazement or disbelief, but either way, I realized just how powerful an image could be.
Image courtesy of Sophie Hart
My mom, as well as friends who are teachers, started asking me to visit their classrooms to talk about my work with sharks. I pulled together photos and videos to teach students how amazing and important these animals are. Most of the kids were really interested and asked lots of great questions. No matter what age though, there were always the kids who were afraid of sharks or assumed they were man-eating monsters. These moments really initiated the idea of Sharks4Kids.
Kids are far more powerful than they realize and they have a voice. I knew if we created an interactive and engaging fact based program, we could turn fear into fascination. Sharks4Kids launched in November of 2013 and it’s been an incredible journey. From our launch to the end of 2020, we’ve taught shark lessons to nearly 160,000 students in 65 countries either in person or virtually. We’ve also provided science education days and field trips for hundreds of kids, allowing them to see sharks and participate in scientific research.
In partnership with Bimini Scuba Center, we are able to provide amazing field trips for local high school students. The Bahamas is arguably the ‘Shark Diving Capital’ and established their shark sanctuary in 2011 ( illegal to catch and kill sharks). For conservation to be successful, the local community must be involved and invested. Connecting Bahamian kids to the ocean and sharks is critical for conservation to be long lasting. They are the future. This is their backyard and they must be part of the conversation. Many of the students we work with have never even been on a boat. We want them to have their own story, one they will carry with them as they get old. One that will shape how they vote, what they buy and the careers they pursue. These trips are fun, but they are also empowering and inspiring the next generation.
If we cannot take kids to see sharks, the next best thing is to provide them with immersive learning opportunities. We are constantly creating new educational resources, so having photos and videos is a huge part of making impactful materials. I am always thinking of new ways to use media as a tool. We will be launching our new 360 Virtual Reality videos in the coming months. Virtual reality allows kids to dive into the world of sharks from wherever they are. We’ve seen the impact our first Virtual Reality video made and are excited to share even more.
Image courtesy of Sophie Hart
Fourth Element has supported Sharks4Kids for several years. Having the right equipment allows me to focus on the image. If you are free diving you have a limited time underwater and you do not want to be fixated on your suit shifting or hood feeling uncomfortable. Same for scuba diving; you want to be in the moment. It’s not all about comfort though, as a nonprofit focused on shark and ocean conservation, working with eco minded companies is extremely important. Fourth Element is constantly leading the way in sustainability, from the materials they work with to their packaging. I am proud to be an ambassador and thankful for their continued support.
To learn more about our work or explore our resources www.sharks4kids.com
Based in Bimini, Jillian is a marine biologist, shark advocate, scuba instructor, explorer, educator and unabashedly obsessed with sharks. She is founder of Sharks4Kids and is a fourth element ambassador.