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Sharks 4 Kids Founder Jillian Morris Honored as Scuba Diving Sea Hero

By Scuba Diving Partner | Updated On January 24, 2024
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Sharks 4 Kids Founder Jillian Morris Honored as Scuba Diving Sea Hero

Shark Girl Jillian Morris Scuba Diving Sea Hero

Founder of Sharks4Kids, Jillian Morris is a scuba diving instructor, an explorer, a videographer and a passionate shark conservationist. Her motto: "Dream, teach, get active and get involved — Be the change you want to see in the world."

Courtesy Jillian Morris

Our Sea Hero program celebrates divers working to save our seas through action-oriented ­education, conservation, exploration or ­innovation. Nominate a Sea Hero

For her efforts as an educator and ocean and shark advocate, Jillian Morris is our July Sea Hero.

Q: You have written that sharks are your primary focus — including founding Sharks4Kids — and that the best tool for shark advocacy is to get as many people in the water with sharks as possible. Tell us a little bit about how you are achieving those goals, and to what effect?

Jillian Morris: I wholeheartedly believe education is crucial and must be shared across generations. Sometimes inaction simply exists because people are not aware of an issue; it’s amazing how powerful a 5-minute conversation can be. Our programs focus on students, because we want to provide them with facts and hopefully empower and inspire them to speak up and make a difference. Even a 5-year-old can be a voice for sharks and the oceans. Our education programs have allowed us to reach more than 40,000 students in 41 different countries in just over 2 1/2 years. We’ve done this not only in person during classroom visits and shark education tours, but also via Skype. Just last week, within 12 hours I spoke to schools in Jakarta, Brunei and South Korea. No matter where we live, we are connected to the ocean and need to do our part to protect and preserve it.

Replacing fear with facts is crucial, and sharing sharks up close has a tremendous impact on breaking the fear and hysteria cycle. We are developing more programs to provide opportunities for students and their families to see sharks in the wild. We offer snorkeling and diving excursions in Florida as well as shark tagging programs. Having your own tangible experience transforms how a person thinks of sharks. They are not man-eating monsters; they are powerful, beautiful and incredibly important. I recently took our business director and his two daughters to snorkel with Caribbean reef sharks, and they loved it. They were in awe and realized how amazing these animals really are. Dad was more nervous than the kids, but very quickly they were all completely lost in the beauty of the moment. After an hour in the water they were already planning their next dive trip. Seeing kids, especially young women, excited about sharks makes my heart immensely happy.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your advocacy for sharks?

JM: While public perception of sharks is changing, there is still a great deal of fear and even hatred surrounding these animals. It is always heartbreaking to see a shark killed for sport or because people didn’t want it in a specific area. These animals belong in the ocean, and we are so blessed to be able to visit their world for a brief period of time. I created Sharks4Kids, Inc. because I want students to have a strong understanding of sharks and why they are so important. I want them to respect and appreciate these animals, replacing fear with facts and fascination. After a frustrating day either seeing a dead shark in person or getting news about an atrocious act, I often feel deflated and defeated, wondering when the killing will end. But when I speak with a group of students or receive a poster from a 5-year-old that says, “Stop killing sharks because I want to see them,” it gives me hope and new energy to keep fighting another day.

Q: Your website describes you as a “freediver, scuba instructor, photographer, educator, outreach coordinator, rebreather diver, videographer, writer, marine biologist and shark advocate.” Which of those is responsible for your most satisfying moments?

JM: Showing someone a shark for the first time is a pretty incredible feeling. Seeing their nervousness or fear replaced with awe as they smile so big their snorkel or regulator almost falls out is priceless. It is a simple moment with a far-reaching and very powerful impact, and it’s something I hope I am able to share with people for as long as I can.

Looking into the eye of a great white shark and watching a lemon shark give birth have also been some of the most amazing moments in my life. My connections to the ocean and sharks are responsible overall for my happiest moments — including my wedding day (we had our wedding photos taken with sharks). I have so much gratitude for the salt life and the magnificent ocean and creatures that make it possible

Shark Girl Jillian Morris Sharks4Kids

Sea Hero Jillian Morris says that she created Sharks4Kids to replace fear with fascination for these amazing creatures.

Courtesy Jillian Morris

Q: Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now?

JM: I have written my first children’s book called Norman the Nurse Shark, so we are in the production process. I am also working on new content for the website, as we are doing a huge update over the summer. We are coordinating a new video series and working to create more field-trip opportunities for students. We are also prepping for our shark education tour in the Dutch Caribbean this summer, partnering with other organizations to promote education and protection of these species. We will be visiting schools on the islands of Statia and Sint Maarten and participating in field trips with students as well. We visited last year and it was incredible, so we are really excited to get back.

Q: How can Scuba Diving's readers help further your work?

JM: The best part of Sharks4Kids is collaborating with people from all over the world including students, scientists, divers, photographers and conservationists, so if people are interested in working with us, they can reach out. We love sharing artwork, media and research on our pages. We want students to know how diverse the options are for working with the ocean and for protecting it. Sharks4Kids, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donations are always appreciated and go directly to our education and outreach programs. We are currently trying to fund our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program for middle school girls, so support for that would be amazing. They can also share our programs with students, parents and teachers. We want to reach as many students and schools as possible.

Q: What's next for you?

JM: I always have a million ideas in my head and am always inspired by remarkable people doing work to save sharks around the world. I am also really lucky to have a pretty awesome team that makes Sharks4Kids possible, especially Duncan Brake and Derek Burkholder, the founding partners of Sharks4Kids. We are constantly doing more classroom visits, more events and expanding our reach. I will be starting my second children’s book in the near future and continuously working to advance our program and provide a wide range of opportunities for students and teachers. We also have a shark anatomy app and a new video series coming soon.

Q: Is there anything we did not ask that you would like readers to know about? Tell us what's important to you!

JM: These animals deserve our respect if nothing else, and I will continue working every day to be an advocate for them. Life is short, so do what you love and chase your dreams. I did and I am still, and I am so grateful for this beautiful, shark filled life.

Each Sea Hero featured in Scuba Diving magazine will receive an Oris Aquis Date watch worth $1,650. In March 2017, a panel of judges will select the 2016-2017 Sea Hero of the Year, who will receive a $5,000 cash award to further his or her work.

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