We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Bear and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Well, being a diver, there are certain inherent risks involved in the sport itself, just by being underwater, but those can be mitigated by proper training and common sense. In terms of the setting up of our non-profit, Ocean Sanctuaries, there is a always risk in that as well, because you never know how it will be received by the public, how you’re going to run it properly [it was our first time running a non-profit] and how you will fund raise. But, as the old saying goes, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ so at some point you have to simply decided to hit the ‘Go’ button and see what happens. We’ve actually been astonished at the level of interest by the general public in the fields of both citizen science as well as marine citizen science.
How did you get to where you are now?
In late 2006, I found myself at a crossroads, having come up through the various diving certifications, up to and including Master Diver and having logged over 500 dives, I was unsure where to go next. What could I actually do with my diving experience that would be both fun and educational? I had seen articles on the Internet about a group called REEF [Reef Environmental Education Foundation], which offered to train divers to recognize local marine life and then log their sightings in a database used by marine biologists to monitor coastal conditions and it sounded intriguing. So, I began training as a Roving Diver for Reef and logged many instructive dives, learning the various species of San Diego and California marine life through Reef’s seminars and practice dives in and around San Diego and the Channel Islands. For a couple years, we also participated in the Annual REEF/Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary/SIMON [Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network] marine life survey, under the direction of Dr. Christy Semmens, Director of Science for Reef and Dr. Steve Lonhart of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary/SIMON, where we learned the basics of being a citizen science diver. Next to follow was training by another similarly named group called Reef Check California (RCCA), whose training was a bit more rigorous and not free of charge as Reef.org had been—but, well worth the experience, involving as it did doing transect line surveys of marine life in the lush kelp forests off the coast of California, under sometimes less than ideal conditions. Right around this time, I developed a personal interest in Sevengill sharks after having an eye-opening close encounter with one off the coast of La Jolla, so out purely personal interest, I set up a citizen science website to enable divers to log encounters with this species of shark, called Sevengill Shark Sightings [https://sevengillsharksightings.org/]. This project ended up snowballing well beyond the original spreadsheet it started out as and began attracting the interest of some professional shark researchers, as the first of its kind citizen science baseline population dynamics study of this species of shark in the San Diego area. In 2010, an opportunity arose for further Science Diver training at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which offered American Academy Underwater Sciences (AAUS) Scientific Diver certification, and provided valuable training in animal husbandry, assisting aquarists as volunteer aquarium divers, helping to feed and maintain the various forms of marine life at the Center during shows for the public. After a couple of fruitful years at the California Science Center, another crossroads had been reached: where to go at this point? In 2014, Barbara Lloyd had the idea of setting up an ocean-related related nonprofit organization (NPO) that would be focused mainly on gathering and sharing data from various citizen science projects, as well as some documentary film-making. It would be called Ocean Sanctuaries. We felt this would be the perfect vehicle to establish a non-profit devoted almost exclusively to ocean-related citizen science projects and sharing the data obtained from them with the both the professional and the citizen science community. Our philosophy is: that you never stop learning.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Well, before we began having ‘virus issues,’ my favorite spot to take out-of-town friends–even if they weren’t divers–was La Jolla Cove, due to it’s beautiful natural scenery, waves crashing against the rocks, birds, seals and sea lions cavorting and even pupping nearby. It is also a spot favored by both divers and sport swimmers. Torrey Pines, near the Glider Port, is also a favorite–and, not just among hang gliders, either. Its steep cliffs offer stunning vistas of the ocean, especially at sunset. The beach is a great spot to jog, under the rising cliffs–although care should be exercised due to (thankfully) infrequent rock slides.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Well, first of all, I have to be clear that I was not the founder of Ocean Sanctuaries, Barbara Lloyd was–I was merely the co-founder–oh, and I came up with the name! But, she, by far has been the guiding light, so to speak, in terms of doing the grunt work of setting up the organization, learning non-profit tax laws–all the things that I would be terrible at. She also manages a high-pressure day job in IT on top of everything else–so, without her, there would be no Ocean Sanctuaries. She is also experienced diver, underwater photographer and accomplished filmmaker who has had two films featured at the annual SDUFEX underwater film festival.
Other: We have had some peer review researche published in professional scientific publications, for those who may be interested: https://oceansanctuaries.org/peer-reviewed-papers/
For the photo of me ascending up through the kelp, please credit: Scott McGee For the photo of me photographing a sea anemone on the bottom (with the bright light), please credit: Barbara Lloyd For the photo of my with the rather large jelly fish, please credit: Greg Amptman For the photo of me in dive gear, sitting on a boat with the ocean in visible in the background, please credit: David Hershman For the B&W photo, please credit David Hershman For the photo of me smiling with a cap on, please credit: Barbara Lloyd