We had the good fortune of connecting with Jillian Morris and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jillian, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I am from a small town in Maine called Sebec Village. I spent a lot of time in the lake and visited the ocean frequently with my parents. I spent a lot of time crawling through tide pools on the coast of Maine from a very early age. I told my parents I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was five. I still have a letter I wrote at the age of 9 about being a marine biologist. My dad traveled to Florida each year for work, so my mom and I would spend a week down there with him. This is where I snorkeled for the first time. I was eight years old and absolutely fell in love with exploring the water. I saw my first nurse shark and this inspired a life long journey to learn more about these amazing animals. Having parents who also loved the water encouraged and inspired my own exploration. This curiosity only strengthened as I got older and pursed a degree and field experience. My encounters with sharks were very different than what I was being told about them. They were not man-eating monsters, but instead absolutely fascinating creatures. I knew I wanted to not only learn more about them, but also share my experience with others. I wanted people to see the reality of sharks. My science background took me around the world. I then began photographing and filming sharks, finding this to be a very powerful tool for changing the perception of fear people have. After several years of doing media work with sharks, I decided to combine science and media to create Sharks4Kids. Kids inspire me and give me hope. I wanted to provide facts and easy to use education resources for teachers and students. This passion came together in 2012 when Sharks4Kids was created. I’ve been able to combine my areas of expertise and knowledge to do what I am most passionate about; saving sharks through education and outreach. My early experiences with sharks and the ocean definitely catalyzed this life long passion and helped me realize how important and impactful educating kids is.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a marine biologist who has combined science and media to create the education nonprofit Sharks4kids. I definitely did not follow a “normal” path to get here, but rather created my own. Having worked in fields that are predominately male ( science, diving and filming) I have definite face challenges simply because I am female. I ignored the resistance and those who said to “find a more serious career “or “something more suitable for women,” and followed my passion. I did not expect it would lead me to starting my own nonprofit, but now I know it’s what I was meant to do. I am so proud of Sharks4Kids and what we’ve been able to do. We’ve spoken to nearly 200, 000 students in 63 different countries ( through in person and virtual lessons). We’ve been able to get hundreds of students on the water and in the field to participate in shark science and see these amazing animals in the wild. We are creating the next generation of shark advocates.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live on a tiny island called South Bimini in The Bahamas. The best thing to do on the island is to be on or in the water .We have incredible marine life, especially sharks. A shark snorkel or dive is definitely a must do! 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?
I want to say a huge thank you to my parents and my husband. They have always supported my passion and have helped me realize my dream. Creating Sharks4Kids has been incredible and it is how I want to spend the rest of my career. My husband not only pushed me to start the nonprofit, but has also helped create a lot of the content and even wears a shark suit to teach kids alongside me. Having a support network is so important and I am so lucky to have this amazing team.
Person photo- Jillian with lemon shark Credit Deano Cook Photos: # 3 Jillian snorkeling with student Filipe DeAndrade #5 Jillian photographing a tiger shark Danny Tayenaka all others Duncan Brake/Sharks4Kids