Sara Andreotti installing a shark safe barrier

This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with Sara Andreotti from The SharkWise Project.

Name: Sara Andreotti

Role: Founder/Director

Company: The SharkWise Project

Top Tip: Things always tend to work out in the end!

Quick Fire Questions

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation? 

I always had a strong passion for nature, animals, and the sea, fuelled by my dad’s love for marine life. I found out at the age of eight that be a marine biologist is a path that combines all these three elements and pursued this ever since.

2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?

I studied biology, and then completed a Masters in Marine Biology at Universita’ degli studi di Trieste (Italy), focusing on seaweed systematics first, and then on white shark ethology. I moved to South Africa in 2009 to study white sharks, thanks to the collaboration with Michael Rutzen, a shark conservationist with vast knowledge of white shark behaviour. I proceeded with a PhD on a white shark population estimate and genetics at Stellenbosch University (SU), thanks to Prof Conrad Matthee’s supervision, which led the way to a postdoctoral position at the same University. I am now an extraordinary lecturer at SU aiming to give other people the opportunity to grow and contribute to the shark conservation and research field.

3. How did you obtain your current position? 

I firmly believe that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure the long-term survival of shark species in South Africa and globally. I have been working transversally between the academic environment and the entrepreneurial field, to improve the human and resources capacity for shark research. My current job/position is just the by-product of this ongoing effort.

4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I always enjoy having a good excuse to be underwater. I love to have the opportunity to share, even if for a short period of time, the same space with the animals I am working for. When on land, I enjoy seeing more people getting involved in our mission and pushing the knowledge on sharks and their conservation a little bit forward every day.

5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

I see how the SharkSafe Barrier Pty ( company is taking shape, with more people joining the cause, and I am proud to see the results from the research of my students. But I trust that I am going to be in a better position to answer this question at least another 20 years from now.

6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

I wish I knew in advance that completing your studies doesn’t automatically result in securing a job within your field of expertise. For some reason, I used to take it for granted, and it was a good wake-up call to realize that this is not the case. Nevertheless, it seems that things always tend to work out in the end.

7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

When I pictured myself becoming a marine biologist, I pictured my life being secluded between the field and the lab, without much interaction with the media. It turns out that working with white sharks comes with a lot of public attention, which pushed me to improve my communication skill. I am very grateful I found Mike Rutzen and Wiida Fourie-Basson (the Media & Science Communication responsible of the University’s Faculty of Science), two good mentors that guided me through the best practices.

8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

To work in this field isn’t a straight path, and several times things didn’t work out the way they were planned. My advice is that if working in this field feels like a very strong call, you should find a way around the obstacles and keep on going. 

9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?

I know this will sound obvious, but white sharks are still on top of my list. My fascination for this species started from realizing how much we still don’t know about them, and how many misconceptions they are surrounded by. After 15 years since I first started working on this species, I realized we are only still scratching the surface of learning about them.

10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?

I have had the honour of diving with white sharks on several occasions, but one time I had three of them gliding through the water around us and suddenly the three of them started forming a swimming pattern together. Just being there and seeing this happening was a real gift, and truly unforgettable.

“If working in this field feels like a very strong call, you should find a way around the obstacles and keep on going.”

Sara Andreotti

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