The first fish I ever saw were a brightly-colored school of fabric clownfish that my parents placed above my crib as a mobile - and that was, as they say, that. From that point on, I had my eyes on everything ocean related, from Disney's version 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Jacques Cousteau's books and TV specials. After that, of course, was Jaws - and after that, all I wanted to see was sharks. Matt Hooper was my role model.
The first elasmobranch (the family of fishes that sharks, rays, and chimeras belong to) that I ever saw in the wild was a smalltooth sawfish off the coast of Palm Beach, FL. I was swimming out to the buoy line at the local beach club, and it swam beneath me, slowly gliding along the bottom, likely hunting small fish to make short work of with his deadly (only to baitfish!) blade. Being only a boy of 8, I couldn't process logically what I was seeing and proceeded to haul ass towards the shore terrified I might wind up as its next meal. As I got older, I realized that I missed a moment - as in just the short time from that moment until the time I took my first plunge into the ocean as a diver, the sawfish went from being a fairly common sight in Florida waters to becoming critically endangered around the entire world.
So I dive now as an ambassador for the ocean, and especially sharks. I've had the good fortune of diving with over 20 different species, like the weird cowsharks of South Africa and Oregon's Pacific coast, to the mighty Great Whites of Isla Guadalupe and the timid but delightfully spotted Zebra sharks of Fiji (including a special one that I have been told is my ʻaumakua by a Hawaiian friend of mine). If you take a Fins Up Ecology class, you might get me as a teacher, and I hope I can imbue the class which as much love and wonder that I have for the sea into the coursework!
My favorite place in the world to dive is probably a place off the coast of Ticao Island in the Philippines called "Manta Bowl", where I encountered everything from whale sharks and manta rays to smaller animals like peacock mantis shrimp and reef whitetip sharks, although a recent expedition to Cozumel is gives it a run for its money. I still have great love for my hometown of Palm Beach, FL and the waters nearby, including the amazing Blue Heron Bridge, and Lake Pleasant, from it's needlessly aggressive largemouth bass to it's humorously dour catfish is also lots of fun.
F**k plastic and let's dive!