We have been lucky enough to work with an amazing team of Honokea Ambassadors that represent some of Hawaii’s most talented artists, athletes, and activists. In the coming months we will be profiling members of our Honokea ‘ohana.
At Honokea, our mission is to inspire positive change in the planet and its people. As surfers we have a special connection to the sea and are born into a lifelong commitment to protecting it. As the human race has become increasingly aware of, the balance of life within an ecosystem like the ocean can be quite delicate. Every species, from microscopic plankton to apex predators, play a vital role, and yet we continue to overfish, pollute, and damage our seas.
Enter: Ocean Ramsey, marine biologist, stuntwoman, free diver, and shark activist. Her work is aimed at changing the general public’s misconceptions about sharks and their important role in maintaining the balance of sea life. Ocean regularly swims with the biggest sharks she can find, without a cage, to demonstrate that sharks are not the killing machines that popular culture has led us to believe, and with the proper knowledge about their behavior, they are simply beautiful and majestic creatures to behold and protect. As Ocean puts it, “In the end people will only protect what they love, and only love what they understand.” Ocean is trying to help people understand.
A little background on Ocean: Yes her real name is Ocean, and fitting it is, a soft spoken women, she can dive to over 170’ on a single breath of air, she does stunts for Hollywood, swims unprotected with the biggest sharks in the world, and works everyday to share her knowledge with the world. She has studied shark behavior for the past 10 years, diving daily around the world and has a master’s degree in shark behavior. We first met Ocean a couple years ago at Hawaii’s Makaha beach, a fit blonde who was just in from surfing and was quiet, humble, and full of energy. She later gave us a 2 day class in freediving safety, and breath holding techniques, getting the team to a depth of 100’ by the second day. For some, Ocean’s talents in water may be incredible, but her drive to make a positive impact on our planet is what we find truly inspiring.
Read the interview below to get a slight glimpse into the life of Ocean Ramsey. All photos: @JuanOliphan
What is your earliest memory of the sea?
I grew up in Lai’e on Oahu and spending a lot of time not only on North Shore, but in San Diego, CA. My mom has always been a swimmer and my dad a diver and I remember him carrying me on his shoulders into the ocean to feel the waves when I was very little. I always had a strong connection to the marine environment and it led me to pursue a Marine Biology degree at SDSU, but I have been swimming, surfing, diving all my life.
Can you describe the health/status of our oceans as you have observed them?
The current state of our oceans is in a state of extreme stress by the impact of humans. We are changing our natural environment faster than ever before, not only in terms of greenhouse gases but directly changing our oceans chemistry! Very sensitive organisms like coral reefs are a very good indicator. For 2 years in a row Hawai’i has experienced major coral bleaching due to warming sea waters.
Why is the study of shark populations important?
Very few people realize that in the last 50 years we have decimated worldwide shark populations to 10% what they once were. Shark populations are important to study because not a lot of population studies are in effect and they can be difficult to survey. Many shark populations group in different areas, especially our nomadic species where males and females of the same species may be segregated on completely separate sides of the ocean. This means one half of the population may be protected by one country but the other half may be subject to offshore fisheries like we see in Atlantic blue shark populations.
What do sharks tell us about the health of our oceans?
Without sharks fisheries would collapse, there have been many studies published regarding direct correlations of shark and gamefish populations. In fact, without keystone predators like sharks we would see an entire cascade down the trophic levels balancing out our ocean ecosystem. As marine apex predators they are considered the white blood cells of the ocean by targeting the weak sick and dying fish keeping fish stock populations in check. You are catching a glimpse of their importance and my passion in the field.
Who are your heroes?
My greatest role model is Sylvia Earle, the first female oceanographer, an amazing woman who after 70 years old is still diving and speaking up for our oceans! She retired from the head of NOAA and has created multiple Hope Spots or marine protected areas all over the world that regulate fishing in heavily damaged reefs or very sensitive ecosystems.
What’s the mission for One Ocean Diving, and how do people get in contact with your organization?
One Ocean Diving “Conservation-Research-Education-Training-Recreation” became my focus as a way to involve the community while I collect population surveys of our schooling species. We highlight research with citizen scientists, education for our guests and keiki outreach programs and conservation efforts to do more at every level to clean and preserve our oceans. I see little value in spending my career publishing studies that a very small piece of the general public will even read. The only way to save sharks before they are gone is to change people’s minds.