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Conversations with Jillian Morris

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jillian Morris.

Hi Jillian, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Growing up in Maine, I spent a lot of time exploring rock pools at the coast. I’ve loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. We traveled to Florida each year for my dad’s work, so I got to explore the ocean there as well. On one of these trips, when I was eight, I saw my first shark while snorkeling. It was a nurse shark and I was obsessed. I devoured ocean books and wanted to learn as much as I could. By the age of five, I had already told my parents I wanted to be a marine biologist and it never changed. My fascination with sharks continued with age and my adult life has wrapped around these incredible animals. I am a marine biologist, shark conservationist, author, professional photographer and the founder of Sharks4Kids.

As a marine biologist, I’ve traveled the world to work on various research projects. I’ve taught scuba diving and have filmed for numerous television networks. My photography has been featured in numerous books and magazines. The path has not been straight, but I’ve been able to combine the things I love and my skills to create my own career.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I didn’t follow a set career path, so there have been lots of challenges. Being a woman working in male-dominated industries (marine science, filming and scuba diving), I have been told countless times that these jobs are “not for me.” I’ve been asked when I will get a real job or if I have a death wish (working with sharks). I decided to ignore the outside voices and follow my passion. When I turned 30, I created Sharks4Kids and found my true calling. I loved all the other paths I had explored, but nothing really set my soul on fire like educating and empowering kids to save sharks.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I run Sharks4Kids full time which means I create educational resources, teach students in person and virtually and (when it’s safe again) will return to our in person visits, field trips and education programs. I also do consulting work, write and am a photographer. I am really proud of the opportunities Sharks4Kids has created for students. Kids are far more powerful than they realize and we are seeing them find their voice and make an impact. I am seeing kids (and adults) go from being afraid of sharks and the ocean to not wanting to leave the water. They become an ambassador for an animal they once feared. This is something I am incredibly proud of. Our programs in The Bahamas include classroom visits but also get kids on and in the water. Creating a personal connection to the ocean is critical for conservation. It’s amazing to be able to provide these free opportunities to students.

As a photographer, I am able to share the underwater world with students around the world. Capturing images of sharks helps me create amazing educational resources and show kids the beauty of these remarkable animals. Being in the water with sharks is incredible and I feel lucky to be able to tell their story. Photos and videos are powerful tools for education and conservation.

I am also learning to balance being a mom (13 months old) and running a business full time. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
You have to be creative and be able to pivot when you run a business. We had to cancel education tours and events but were able to launch some new programs we’d been talking about for a while.

I’ve also come to realize how important patience and kindness are. We are all facing challenges and while they might not be the same, they are still challenges. Kindness goes a long way. I know I’ve appreciated the people who have been patient with me as my business has changed and also becoming a mom during a pandemic. I have also had people who have not been kind or patient and it’s been difficult.

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Image Credits:

Jillian freediving with great hammerheads Credit: Sophie Hart Lemon shark and manta ray Credit: Jillian Morris Student programs Credit: Duncan Brake, Enie Hensel, BNT Jillian with lemon sharks credit: Duncan Brake

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