Fierce Female Interview No. 6: Liz Parkinson- Fierce Freediver and Shark Activist
• • • Having lived in the UK , the U.S and the Bahamas, Liz Parkinson has seen it all. She’s a diver known for breaking the norm when it comes to her expeditions setting out to prove that the sharks in our oceans are by no means like the ones we see in the movies (Jaws anyone?). By bringing awareness to the issues that these amazing creatures are facing, Liz has become a leader in Ocean Activism and a voice for those in our waters.
Hi Liz! Your accent is so interesting. You’re from the UK originally and then you moved to Hawaii when you were younger?
I was born in Windsor and moved to Philadelphia but when I was 6 ½ we moved to South Africa where I lived until the age of 18. I was a competitive swimmer my whole life and I was recruited by the coach who trained Men’s’ Olympic Sprint team and moved out to Hawaii for University, which was kind of weird as it was literally on the other side of the planet.
All my mates decided that they were going to stay in South Africa and I was literally the one who flew to a place with a 12-hour time difference I couldn’t have gotten further away from my family if I’d tried. I had an amazing couple of years there and followed my coach to Florida when the program got transferred. Upon finishing university, I moved out to Hawaii again for a year where I got more into diving and free diving. I used to go out and do a lot of spearfishing,
but I don’t do that anymore. Recently, I’ve been working in California on the new Avatar film and James Cameron, the director, is a vegan. He agreed to feed the whole cast and crew plant-based food on set. So, since October last year, I’ve pretty much been on a Vegan diet and In California, It’s really easy.
Wow, that’s really interesting. How did sharks then come into the picture with your diving?
I ended up in the Bahamas 11 years ago and working for Stuart Coast Dive Bahamas. It was really there my exposure to sharks took off. It was just eye-opening. In 2012, the Bahamas became a sanctuary for sharks because of Stuart Coast as the human interaction with sharks really affects its populations.
However, the perspective I work form is entertainment. I think whenever I dive ‘what I do get from working with the animals?’ and how can I learn to be with the sharks to help Ph.D. researchers. I’m not an artist, painter or an academic. From the perspective of those who reach out to me, I can make it tangible for those who want to do what I do. I think people relate to me as human and see that they can actually dive safely with sharks.
By taking tourists out on boats to see them, it changes people’s perceptions. I kind of base the work that I do as making it relevant and tangible to other people. I’d rather just get in the water and be present.
Tell me a little bit about the campaigns you are doing like Save the sharks, Save the sea for example.
Run for sharks’, is the non-profit part of Project AWARE US. A couple of times a year we do different marathons, bringing awareness to sharks through running. I acknowledge that not everyone lives around water, people can live in-land or live in Midwest USA. You don’t have to live by the ocean to do something good for the coast. All the water ends up in the ocean one day and this includes trash and waste that we put in it.
I work closely with a girl called Laura Wilkinson who works for Project Aware in California. She and I recruit people to run each year and we raise more through the Chicago and New York Marathon. The other non-profit I work with is ‘Shark Angels’. I
educate children through schools about the oceans and teach them about recycling and encourage them not to purchase single-use plastics. I’m also part of ‘Save the sharks, Save the Sea’, which encourages Bahamian kids to swim as 90% of them have not learnt. We take the kids out on boats to learn about the coral and its restoration.
Though it’s much trickier in the Bahamas as there are cultural connotations of the ocean as being dangerous, and that sharks should be killed as they eat the seafood that the locals rely on. So, it can be difficult at times.
Passion for Shark Conservation
What would you say are the key priority issues with your diving that sharks face?
The biggest thing I hear all the time is about the movie, Jaws. The actual ‘Jaws Shark’ was a fibreglass animal that never seemed to work but it’s the concept that all sharks are going to kill you out in the ocean that’s been ingrained into generations. Kids who are 12, 14 are even scared of it. A shark is not going to kill you the minute you hop into the water but it’s about making more people aware of that instead of misguided perceptions.
And from a conservation point of view?
Shark finning is huge, and it recently came out that Japan airlines is giving shark fin soup to its First-Class customers inflight. You’re hugely going up against cultural beliefs that are super challenging for one to face.
It’s thousands and thousands of people bought up thinking the same way but there are people that are key in the fight, like Jackie Chan, who has a huge influence on people to sway their opinions to act more sustainably.
As a successful Ocean activist, who is using her success for a good cause. What message would you like to pass on to young females and what is next for you?
What’s next for me is that I have a couple of projects that won’t come out for a little bit. They are a mix of TV and Documentary work that’s allowed me to get creative, whilst promoting the message about shark conservation. Also, I’m working on the second Avatar film for another year in California and from a shark conservationist standpoint, I am just carrying on doing more non-profit work. I want to expand my Project Aware work and look more closely into trying to combine anti-plastic pollution
with the shark conservation to make it more tangible and relevant to a bigger group of people. In regard to the message, I have a two-year-old niece, who is adorable with her favourite song at the moment being ‘Baby Shark’. I look at her and one day I want to make it so that she can experience what I can experience. So, I think what can I do to make that happen for her?
You can’t change the world, but you can change the immediate surroundings in the environment in which you live in, and if you can be positive about that and make a change in your own life to help the greater cause. That is amazing because it’s a lot more than most people are doing.
Liz Parkinson has proven herself to be a pioneer in ensuring sharks globally are protected and fighting for our oceans to become pollution free. We can’t wait to see what this amazing woman gets up to in the rest of 2019• • •