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Ocean Minds presents Drew Hitchner

Profession: SCUBA Instructor/Shark Diver

Organisation: Shark Explorers

Drew is probably the most laid back cool person you will ever come across, but his fearlessness is what truly inspires me. A true Ocean advocate, with an incredible background in shark science, his captivating stories about his experiences in the field are not to be missed!

1. How did we meet?

We both were working with Operation Wallacea in Utila, Honduras conducting research around the reefs.

2. What is one memorable ocean moment from our time together?

Well, I was leading undergraduate research on lionfish in Utila and I always remember being on dives with my students to collect data and I would see you and your team working on SVS video surveying of the reef. I would try to wave and say hi, but you were always so focused and in the zone holding the camera steady! I think sometimes I would get a quick nod. Also, I could always count on you telling me of any lionfish you happened to see.

3. What encouraged you to purse a career in marine biology/conservation?

I got a taste of snorkelling coral reefs when I was young, eventually leading me to begin a career in diving. Being underwater and seeing a different world captivated me, and still does today. It encourages me to want to learn more, know more, and showcase the incredible sights beneath the surface. Whatever the role is I am playing in the marine world, whether research, education, or purely diving, these original feelings toward the underwater realm motivate me more than anything else.

4. How did you land your current job?

I have worked with some incredible people, including yourself, and my time as a coral researcher in the Bahamas after University provided me with great friends and colleagues, one of whom invited me to become a part of her up and coming liveaboard shark diving business. Before I knew it I was living on a boat in the Bahamas, sailing and taking people from all over the planet to the greatest diving destinations in the Bahamas, possibly the whole world. Combine this with also spending part of the year in South Africa with the other branch of Shark Explorers, I would encourage everyone making their way in the marine world to always stay connected to all the amazing people you meet and work with along the way!

5. What is it about your role that makes you feel like you are truly making a difference?

At Shark Explorers we specialize in diving with…you guessed it… sharks! Ocean enthusiasts travel from all over the world to spend time with us and experience the incredible shark diving of the Bahamas; however, providing these visitors with ocean experiences they did not expect is the most special to me.

From incredible wall diving, to beautiful, shallow corals, or even an afternoon in knee-deep water with sting rays or a passing pod of dolphins, I love showcasing the Bahamas marine ecosystem as a whole. When clients, scientists, or photographers leave just as excited about those moments and memories as they are about the sharks, I feel like I made a difference in how we can all appreciate the ocean in so many different ways. The ecstatic high-5’s and “thank you’s” in so many different languages I get right after dives never gets old as well!

6. What advice would you give to aspiring ocean warriors?

Do not be afraid to advocate your research, beliefs, or even simple love for the ocean to those who may have no interest or relation to the ocean whatsoever. Excitement is contagious and passion is enviable. Spread your knowledge, share your pictures, and stay dedicated to changing people’s perspectives.

7. What has been your most unforgettable experience in the ocean and why?

I have had a few crazy whale shark encounters and being absolutely dwarfed by an animal in the ocean is something that never leaves your mind. That said, there is a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that hangs around Bimini, The Bahamas that is widely considered the friendliest dolphins in the world. Over the years I have hopped in with them at every chance to play “pass the seaweed” with the teenage dolphins, do synchronized underwater spins and flips with the baby calves, and receive warm “hi, how are ya’s?” from the adults in dolphin clicks…unforgettable and humbling. Also if you know me or dived with me I am a huge coral nerd. If you point me in the direction of a Staghorn or Elkhorn coral colony I will be your friend forever.

8. Who has inspired you to achieve your goals?

My Dad’s fascination with fish and coral reefs definitely rubbed off on me at an early age and I would say I strive to have that same fascination rub off me onto others. Although he never had a career involving the ocean, I guess you could still say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

9. What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I have really enjoyed the role of SCUBA instructor since taking the step up from Divemaster 2 years ago. I would love to get more unsuspecting people underwater in the years to come, especially surrounded by sharks. Taking the person with 1000 logged dives out diving is always fun, but taking the person with 0 dives out and seeing their face is just too good!

A Short Shark Story

A few months ago I took a group of 20 year olds on their Discover SCUBA Dive (first dive ever) with five Great Hammerheads. One of the students even had a fear of sharks! Total sensory overload and they could not believe their eyes. Safe to say they fell in love with not only big sharks but also the experience of being underwater. Just one dive, one opportunity to see what exists beneath can change everything.

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