We had the good fortune of connecting with Shayna Brody and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shayna, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Loving and protecting the ocean is more of a lifestyle than a job. When you decide to go down the career path of marine conservation – you know upfront that you are choosing your passion over money. You do it because you feel called to. Because you love the ocean and it’s creatures; and are fascinated by the mysteries of unexplored realms. Maybe you can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than watching the sunset over the horizon, or diving beneath the waves. Certainly because you refuse to sit idly by while humans pollute, develop, and exploit something you cherish.. At least that was the case for me.
That’s why finding a ‘work/life balance’ has always been a bit of an enigma for me. I have spent my entire life focusing on a career path that would allow me to do what I love. I am currently the Director of Media & Communications for an ocean-conservation non-profit called the Waitt Institute. We work with island nations around the world to develop strategies to help protect the ocean in a way that is driven by the local people.
My job is never boring; it’s full of surprises. One day I’m planning an event with a President, the next I’m taking underwater videos of an octopus on a remote reef. Other times, I’m stuck at my computer for ten hours straight, editing videos while surviving on coffee and pretzels. The one consistent part of my job? No matter what I’m doing, the focus is on the ocean.
For several years, my position with the Waitt Institute brought me around the globe. I was in a hotel room more often than I was in my own living room, and I was more familiar with the airport than with most of my friends’ latest life updates. I even adopted a stray dog while doing hurricane relief in the Caribbean after Hurricane Irma in 2017 – but had to work out an arrangement to share him with a coworker in order to keep up with my job and traveling.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had been traveling for almost 3 months straight. I had been aboard an underwater research expedition to study and document the state of coral reefs of the Maldives. On my way home I traveled through Singapore and Japan as the earliest COVID cases began to climb, before any of us had an inkling of the true scale and impact it would have on the world. I returned home utterly exhausted, wanting nothing more than to catch up on sleep in my own bed and not see an airplane for a while. Almost immediately upon returning we went into our first lockdown.
I think we’ve all made huge adjustments to our lifestyles and the way we work in the past year. For me, my job didn’t slow down, it just shifted completely. Rather than going to a country, working with people who live there, and learning from them about their culture, we are working entirely from zoom. Instead of meeting at the docks with fishermen, we are launching digital campaigns.
To me, this year has really highlighted the urgency in protecting the environment and fighting for everyone’s inclusion in the outcomes of our future. It’s tricky to have a healthy work life balance when you are constantly reminded just how important your work is. Each day we learn more about the impacts humans are having on the oceans, and how imperative the ocean is to the future survival of the planet as we know it. The ocean regulates our climate, produces half of the oxygen we breathe, is critical to future food security and our global economy. It always has, but people are becoming more aware of this. Poke bowls and Amazon packages don’t just show up overnight – the ocean is full of fishing ships catching our food and cargo ships moving our goods all over the globe. Modern life is dependent on a healthy ocean.
There are a few big side effects of this transition to working from home – like many of us, I feel completely tied to my electronic devices. Especially when working with places around the globe, there really is no time that I’m not getting emails, Whatsapps, Instagram messages, or meeting invites. Some of our project sites are 12 hours apart, so it’s not uncommon for me to take a call at 7am and 10pm on the same day. It feels like there’s not much respite from the pressure to keep all of our work progressing, and there’s little excuse to not get it done when you’re stuck in your house next to your computer. The saying now is that we’re living at work rather than working from home.
At the same time, there have been many silver linings from this past year. We have been pushed to communicate in new and innovative ways. We are leaning more on our international partners, who are more than capable of carrying the work forward. We have even taken a dive into new(ish) platforms like Tiktok (@blueprosperity) and Clubhouse and are reaching new and bigger audiences.
My hope is that we can take the lessons we have learned from this year and create a new normal that blends the best of both worlds. Maybe we don’t need to be jetting all over the globe at the drop of a dime every time there is a conference — we can hold some of these meetings online. We can be more mindful of the time we all spend together and what that means. We can be more aware of what it takes to get something delivered to our door.
I think we all need to think long and hard about the most efficient ways to protect and heal the planet. It’s extremely important to stand up for nature, to reduce our footprints, but most importantly take care of ourselves. We must fight to carve out free time because no one else is going to do it for us. For me, I do this by finding creative outlets that are separate from work (right now I’m planting a garden and building out a Sprinter van.) The more we care for our own well being, the more equipped we will be to take on the biggest challenges of the world.
So here’s to all of us forging a new path of balance, for our work, for ourselves, and for the planet.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am lucky enough to say I have my dream job. I work in ocean conservation doing media and communications. That means that I use photography, videography, graphic design, web design, social media, and writing to help people around the world understand the importance of protecting our oceans. I’m known for my work at the Waitt Institute & Foundation, my photography (especially wildlife and drone photography), and an ocean-themed film series I co-founded called Salty Cinema.
I am the Director of Media & Communications for an ocean conservation non-profit called the Waitt Institute. Our ultimate goal is to protect oceans worldwide while benefiting people and local communities. Currently, we have partnerships with eight countries – two in the Atlantic: Bermuda and the Azores, three in the Caribbean: Barbuda, Monsterrat, and Curaçao, two in the Pacific: Tonga and Micronesia, and one in the Indian Ocean: the Maldives.
I travel about 40% of the year for work, so an incredible part of my job is visiting each wonderful place, getting to learn from the people, and experiencing the rich culture, environment, and history. When I’m in the field you can find me flying a drone collecting aerial footage, interviewing local partners, planning and running events, or diving to get underwater photos and videos. When I’m in the office, I could be writing a press release, editing a video, designing a poster, or writing a media strategy. My next trip will be a scientific expedition to the Maldives, where we will scuba dive to assess the health of coral reefs and fish in the area. I’ll be filming underwater to put together a video that will be used to explain the underwater world in this area and the importance of protecting it.
My job never fails to challenge me and bring me new and exciting experiences. In the past three years I’ve done hurricane relief when Category 5 Hurricane Irma that hit the island of Barbuda, went SCUBA diving at some of the most remote islands on the planet to study coral reefs, gone fishing with local families in the South Pacific, and photographed flamingoes in the Caribbean, and a few months ago I even got to photograph environmental hero and leader, Greta Thunberg, and so much more. It has been eye-opening to interact with so many diverse cultures and really helped me realize that we are all human and dealing with the same trials and tribulations no matter where we’re from.
Over the past year with my job at the Waitt Institute, I’ve worked to launch the Blue Prosperity Coalition, a global network of experts working to protect 30% of the ocean while benefiting the economy and environment at the same time. Members of the coalition include leaders in the ocean conservation space including National Geographic Pristine Seas, Ocean Unite, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCLA and many more.
The global movement to protect 30% of the world’s oceans will not only protect important environments like coral reefs and mangroves but also help to mitigate the effects of climate change, as healthy ecosystems are carbon sinks and help protect coastlines from large storms like hurricanes. It feels like an important time in history when we have a small window to make some big changes to protect our environment before it’s too late, and I feel honored to be working with so many talented people and organizations.
I think there is often a disconnect between scientific research and what reaches the public, and one of my main goals in life is to help science be communicated in an exciting and digestible way. While I was studying at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, me and four friends started an event series called Salty Cinema. Salty Cinema is a film night featuring an expert panel, and happy hour. The idea is to use film to introduce an important topic in ocean conservation, and then bring in the real experts who can answer questions and provide actionable solutions. I think often-times we all feel aware of the problems facing the world, but don’t have great options for how to fix them. The goal of Salty Cinema is to raise awareness about different topics while leaving people more informed and ready to tackle the problem. Plus, we often get local craft beer donated so you can have a drink while speaking with the panelists or while perusing exhibits related to the topic.
Shell & Bones Media
I started Shell & Bones Media where I do photography and videography in my spare time, my job with Waitt keeps me pretty busy! About once a year, you can catch me at an art show in San Diego. I also shoot concerts and events, and the occasional weddings, engagements, and other photoshoots for friends and family.
When I’m not working, you can probably find me at the beach with my dog Jose, in my garden, camping in my Sprinter, or at a concert.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The Template The Template is an amazing community space and coffee shop that offers a wide variety of classes, events, yoga, and even acupuncture. Definitely a must see when in Ocean Beach.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
I graduated from Scripps and I love nothing more than to spend time here on campus, grab a cup of coffee from Pinpoint and walk along the beach north of the pier to check out the tide pools. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even walk all the way to Blacks Beach – and get nude if you’re feeling extra spicy.
Kayaking/Snorkeling in the Marine Room
San Diego is home to some incredible ocean wildlife. If you are willing to get in the water, you can see everything from sea turtles to leopard sharks (they’re friendly!) and the state fish, the Garibaldi, a bright orange fish that inspired the fish from Dr. Suess’ the Cat in the Hat.
The Grass Skirt
A Tiki-themed speakeasy hidden inside of an unassuming Poke shop. It is cozy and wonderfully kitschy, and you can even order a drink that’s on fire.
The Fishery sources sustainable seafood and Chef Mike Reidy has created a unique and delicious menu. I’ve partnered with them on an a Sustainable Seafood event, Salty Cinema, in the past. They work closely with Scripps Institution of Oceanography for events and to ensure they are sourcing sustainable seafood.
Cabrillo National Monument
One of the best views of San Diego, it’s full of incredible geologic features down near the tide pools and has a little museum where you can learn more about the history of San Diego.
I love the atmosphere here, it’s a coffee shop mixed with a flower shop. There are plenty of amazing trinkets and delicious drinks.
You can rent a poolside bungalow for the weekend and spend your time in a drinking in the pool on a flamingo floaty in a classic mid-century modern San Diego staple.
Balboa Park Cactus Garden
A fantastic place to view many varieties of plants from all over the world! And right next door to the Natural History Museum & Japanese Friendship Garden.
Being from Colorado originally, it has been so invigorating to have pine trees and and mountain vibes close-by. In under an hour you can be hiking in the trees, and even see a coyote! The desert overlook over Anza Borrego is a must see.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people!
My parents of course, deserve the ultimate shout-out for teaching me to prioritize fun, friends, adventure, and nature in all that I do, for the past 5 years they’ve been living in an Airstream Trailer traveling the country.
My team at the Waitt Institute, Waitt Foundation, Blue Prosperity Coalition and everyone we work with across the globe. It is such an honor to learn from so many talented, passionate people who are working to make the world a better place. I feel truly lucky to work with people who I love and am constantly in awe of.
My roommates Laura and Fernando are a constant source of fun and inspiration – we are constantly working on creative projects or learning new skills.
My cohort from Scripps Institution of Oceanography who I am living vicariously through as they work to save the ocean in other places! And all of my college friends who are teachers, creatives, engineers, and bringing their skills to the world.
My friend Paige who introduced me to SD Voyager and the music and art scene in San Diego.
And of course my dog, Jose, who makes sure I go to the beach and get outside often.