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Author Spotlight: Sophie van der Stap

Inspiring shark conservation among all ages
By Grace Pelkey | Updated On February 21, 2024
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Author Spotlight: Sophie van der Stap

Portrait of author

Courtesy Sophie van der Stap

Sophie van der Stap is a certified PADI diver, author and ocean advocate from the Netherlands. Wanting to preserve our shared blue planet for generations to come–including her young daughter’s–she has published two books to inspire shark conservation among all ages: “The Girl and the Shark” and “Shark Heroes.”

We sat down with Sophie for a glimpse into her passion for the ocean and what she hopes her readers, regardless of age, will take away from her recent books.

Question: Why did you become a certified diver?

Answer: I became a diver because I wanted to encounter sharks and whales in their natural habitat and become part of their underwater world. Becoming a certified diver satisfied a longing to a world where I could escape the ongoing noises and banter of city life. As a writer, I am constantly searching for a reality beyond my own.

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Q: What inspired you to start writing about sharks?

A: My real-life shark heroes did. Long before I published my book “Shark Heroes,” the people that I consider to be my personal shark heroes, inspired me through their passion and dedication to shark conservation. It is through them that I learned about the dire position sharks have been put into and the importance of their role in the ocean’s ecosystem.

image of a shark fishing hook and shark book
Courtesy Sophie van der Stap

Q: What were your criteria for selecting your “shark heroes” and is there a quality that is consistent amongst them all?

A: I had one set of criteria when it came down to selecting my shark heroes: do they dedicate their life’s work to shark conservation?

Every one of my shark heroes fits this criteria. Not only do some of my heroes focus on shark conservation, but they also extend their help to other vulnerable marine species that may need it. My shark heroes are advocates who inspire others to follow in their footsteps, just like I am trying to do!

My shark heroes are Peter Hammarstedt, Sylvia Earle, Riley Elliott, Ocean Ramsey, Vincent Mock, Cristina Zenato, Valeria Taylor, Gary Stokes, Rob Stewart and Ginevra Boldrocchi. Each one of my heroes contributes to shark conservation in their own unique way and I hope my readers are inspired to become shark heroes one day too.

Q: What is your most memorable encounter with a shark?

A: My most memorable dive helped me to see sharks for what they really are: peaceful and non-aggressive creatures. Cristina Zenato, one of my shark heroes and the woman behind my fictional book “The Girl and The Shark,” was so generous to take me on a dive with “her group” of sharks in the Bahamas. I will never forget the new sense of peace that the dive, along with the reef sharks, brought me. While I was under the surface it felt like I was a part of a different world, a world without words, or chatter; a world in which humans are not at the center stage. It was liberating and I felt completely at peace.

Q: Has your daughter ever met a shark?

A: My daughter has not yet met a shark in real life because she just turned one. However, she has encountered a few great whites and bronze whalers while she was in my belly, at five months pregnant. She has also interacted with life-sized sculptures of different species of sharks from commercial fishing hooks welded together that were made by her father, Vincent Mock.

Q: What is the most important takeaway you want your readers to have?

A: Sharks need our protection and admiration; we might be two different species, but we are not separated. We rely on their survival and the key role they play in keeping the oceans alive and healthy. I see sharks as a fascinating source of information and knowledge, as they are so old as a species.

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Q: Why is it so important for the next generations to take action for the ocean?

A: Today, the oceans–and the planet as a whole–need to heal. In my opinion, it is not so much the next generations who need to take action, but the current generations who have watched the negative progression and have unfortunately contributed (willingly or not) to this catastrophe. But there is still time to turn the tide on this.

Q: How can scuba divers help save sharks?

A: It is through the images of divers all over the world that people learn that sharks are not the monsters that they are made out to be. No matter your level of diving, your experience with sharks can help to change the stereotype of sharks and save their lives in the process.

Follow van der Stap on Instagram to learn more about her work.