Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Marriage, a Mortgage and Mangroves: 2012 The Year in Review

2012 was a pretty epic year both personally and professionally. I started the year off on a crippled Sea Shepherd vessel, limping back to port in Australia. Duncan and I were the film team about the Brigitte Bardot for Animal Planet’s Whale Wars series. Our vessel was hit by a 30 ft rogue wave and we were 8 days getting back to port. I think this goes on record as the scariest thing I have been through, but being able to capture it and share the story was pretty

We made it back to port safely and wrapped the shoot towards the end of January. We headed to Bali for a little R & R before making the long journey back to the US. Did a couple of dives and was happy to share Bali with Duncan. February found us prepping for our impending April nuptials. We visited my family for a bit in New England as we gathered supplies and made plans for a wedding in Bimini, The Bahamas. Bimini kept drawing us back, so it was a natural decision to share the island with our family and friends as we said our vows.

It felt so good to get back to Bimini and back to the island life. We had just under a month to get things sorted for the wedding, but getting our gills wet was also a must. Got in some snorkeling and diving before the final wedding countdown began. We were not only planning a wedding, but also tons of activities for family and friends who were making a vacation out of the trip. This ended being a lot more work than expected and we were both pretty wiped out. Ten days before the wedding we flew back to Florida because I needed what ended up being an emergency root canal. We arrived back on island just in time for my mom to arrive. So it began. Duncan’s parents arrived the next day, as did my dad. Our parents had never met, so we threw them on a boat and headed out for adventure. We took them to one of our favorite spots on the planet to feed wild baby lemon sharks. It was a perfect day and a perfect way for our families to come together.

The week before the wedding was a blur of people arriving, boat trips, activities, meals and finalizing details. Things move a little slower in the Bahamas, so quite a few things were getting down to the wire. Our good friend Dougie offered his boat for a day at Honeymoon Harbor for all our guests. About thirty of us made our way south to the pristine harbor. It is here that you can hand feed stingrays and we got everyone in for a magical moment. We had a few sharks come in and everyone had a blast. We are so lucky to have such amazing people in our life.

The rehearsal dinner was held at our condo at the Bimini Sands. We hired Hotness, a local legend, to come cook Bahamian fare for everyone. The meal was incredible and we even managed to get through the rehearsal, but not without some of the bridal party mooning a passing boat.

April 14, 2012 around 4 pm I made a vow to spend my life with the most amazing man I have ever met. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the ocean for us. We had a Junkanoo band and everyone had a blast. There really are no words to describe the moment, but it is one that I will hold in my heart forever. The sand, the sun and the sea, a perfect place to make this promise. I love you Duncan Brake. This was of course a sharktastic affair with sharks on the wedding cakes, in our wedding pictures and on our wedding chariot.


No rest for the wicked. We gave Sharklab tours the day after the wedding and did a shoot the following day. Duncan joined the Sharklab to film some underwater sequences for Shark Week’s “How Jaws Changed the World.” We met Wendy Benchley, widow of famed author Peter Benchley, and the shoot went really well. We had a few guests for another week and by the time we said our last goodbyes we were both exhausted.

May was busy with two big shoots and a sawfish!!! We arrived at the lab to our friend Steve shouting, “get in the boat. Get in the boat.” We raced off in one of the skiffs not even sure where we were headed. Finally getting our bearings we pulled up alongside the other lab boats and got ready to slip in. As a moved towards the animal, I gasped. She was massive at about 14 feet and beautiful. I had never seen a sawfish in the wild and it was incredible. They look they belong with dinosaurs. We watched her and filmed a bit before saying goodbye. The lab tagged her and was able to track her through part of the night. This was such a rare and remarkable encounter.

Our first shoot was for a Discovery Channel show called Curiosity. The premise of the story was a woman whose father’s plane disappeared in the early 1980’s on his way from Eleuthera to Florida. The plane has never been found and Pam was hoping to find some answers. We joined some local guides and checked out a couple of unidentified plane wrecks. The shoot was pretty powerful as we all shared in Pam’s want for answers and some closure. Check out this VIDEO for a sneak peak. One of the planes was like something out of a movie set and was covered in life. Bimini is located in the Bermuda Triangle and there are dozens and dozens of plane and boat wrecks surrounding the island.

Our next shoot was for a British program called, “How to Survive a Disaster Movie.”
The show looked at scenes from various movies and reenacted them to see the lack of reality. We were a part of debunking events from the movie Jaws. The host was a British comedian names Eric Lampaert. He was hilarious and absolutely fell in love with the island and with the sharks. He actually asked if he could come back as our intern and do the safety briefing, which he surmised to be, “ don’t be a prick underwater.”

Sad to say goodbye to Bimini we headed to the States. I had a shoot with Symbio Studios as part of another education science video. In this project a group of teachers from St. Louise traveled to the Everglades to literally get their hands on science. We caught and tagged bull sharks, took an air boat tour to spot wildlife, kayaked, met some big snakes and snorkeled in the mangroves. They all agreed that this was not the white lab coat and old scientist experience they were expecting. It is important for teachers to have that first hand knowledge they can share with their students. Despite the intense heat, everyone loved the adventure.

Duncan and I had been saving our pennies and decided that we wanted to finally get a home. We had money from the wedding as well and after a thorough search we purchased a condo at the Bimini Sands. Bimini has always felt like home and it kept drawing us back in. It is where we needed to be. We travel so much for work, but Bimini is home. It is very exciting getting a house; so much to do and get sorted. We immediately grabbed a few cans of paint and started making the place our own. Amazing a fresh coat of paint can do. We also added a lot of sharky touches and installed energy and water efficient fixtures and light bulbs.

Shortly after becoming homeowners, Duncan was nominated for an Emmy as part of the Whale Wars Season 4 camera team. Such an honor and I am so proud of the work he did. Now having a season under my belt, I can understand how challenging and rewarding shooting this show is. Fingers were crossed that we could make it to Los Angeles and that the team would take home a win!

The second annual Lionfish bash was held in Bimini in July and we were asked to shoot the photos and do a video. The bash is hosted by the Bimini Sands and sponsored by numerous vendors throughout the Bahamas and Florida. The proceeds go to The Woody Foundation, a charity to help people with spinal cord injuries. James “ Woody” Beckham loved diving in Bimini before a freak rugby accident left him paralyzed in 2011. The event brings people together for sport, charity and the planet. Lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic and they are decimating coral reefs without any natural predators.

August is a beautiful month in the Bahamas and in the water is where you want to be. We organized a conservation photo and video week aboard a local wild dolphin boat and lucked out with some amazing encounters. Duncan missed part of the week because he was filming a magic show at the Atlantic Resort in Nassau. We played with stingrays, sharks and dolphins, even enjoyed being a bit of a tourist in Bimini. Hurricane Isaac changed our planned August Tiger Beach trip, but we enjoyed some time with friends in Miami instead.

Headed north to visit several schools in Maine during the month of September. I think I did thirteen presentations from age Kindergarten to 6th grade. I always find so much inspiration from the kids. I really love visiting schools and hope that in 2013 I will be able to do even more. The young kids are wide eyed and just love seeing the pictures while the older kids have really great questions and are learning and how they can make a difference. Very empowering and always reminds me there is hope for our oceans. I was also asked to appear on the Maine news show 207 to talk about sharks. This was a fun experience and hopefully reached a few people who might otherwise not know a lot about why sharks are so important.

Headed back to warmer climates and right to Grand Bahamas for a visit to the West End Primary School
. I have spent a lot of time at the West End and at Tiger Beach and I wanted to share the importance of the sharks with the students. They have an amazing underwater world in their back yard and I want them to know it is something they can all visit and should visit. Everyone can learn to snorkel and dive and it is crucial for these kids to realize this includes them. The Bahamas established a Shark Sanctuary in 2011 and these kids should be very proud to be Bahamian and be part of such an amazing effort to conserve the oceans. The kids were beautiful and this was by far one of the most meaningful school visits I have done. I look forward to getting back there in the New Year.

We headed back to Bimini to start a shoot about us! Yes, roles reversed, us on camera, but still filming while someone was filming us. A German producer wanted to do a thirty-minute documentary about our life as a couple traveling the world filming sharks and trying to save them. Unfortunately Hurricane Sandy had other plans and we were more or less skunked on everything we tried to make happen. Ulf left Bimini with plans to return again in a month.

We scooted north again for me to do doctor, dentist and more school visits. My mom’s house is also a quiet place for us to put our heads down and edit or work on other projects. On our way back to Bimini we stopped off in Fort Lauderdale to do a shark talk to my mom’s godson’s class. He is in first grade and we had a great visit. Again, I get so much inspiration from these visits. The kids always surprise me with how much they know and how much they care. I emphasize how much they can do to help sharks even though they are young. Gives them a sense of importance to feel like they are a part of something.

Back to Bimini and back at it. Ulf arrived a day and half after we did and we wasted no time getting into. The shoot was an amazing success with gorgeous weather and some beautiful moments. It will be interesting to hear what we sound like in German! We took a group of high school students into the mangroves to feed the wild baby lemon sharks. Always incredible to see humans and sharks make a connection. We also visited the Louise MacDonald High School to speak with the students about the role Bimini is playing in shark conservation and how they can help. Such a rewarding experience and one I hope we get to do again soon. Duncan and I will be returning to the school for a few more visits early in the New Year.

On December 17th, our little

came home with us. She is a mostly pit bull puppy that we got from the north island. We knew we were going to be on island for three to four months, so it seemed to perfect time to get a puppy! We had both wanted one for a while, but we needed to wait for the right time when we would be home. She is amazing on boats and in the golf cart. We took her to Honeymoon Harbor to spend Christmas Day with our friends Katie and Grant. She curled up and slept most of the boat ride and loved the beach. She was not really interested in the stingrays. Katie wrapped her in a blanket and she slept the whole ride home. She has probably seen more parts of Bimini and the surrounding areas than many people that visit.

The bulls

are back in town in Bimini and were able to help Lauran from the Sharklab, catch and tag a 2.46cm female on December 29th. Duncan was picking up our friends who were arriving for a shoot, but he managed to get them onsite in time for a group photo with this big beauty. Lusca even got to see here first bull shark. Lusca has seen nurse sharks, black tip sharks, a bull shark, stingrays and a Bimini Boa; not too bad for only being ten weeks old.

Our friends Dony and Michelle arrived to shoot an education video about the world’s coolest forests for a charity organization called Trees for Life. The mangroves are an incredible forest and they are in trouble in Bimini as well as many other places on the planet. Mangroves provide shelter, food and protection for not only numerous species of animals both above and below the surface but also for people and the island itself. We visited lemon shark in the mangroves, snorkeled with a seahorse, learned about bonefishing and why the mangroves are so important for the island of Bimini. We met some amazing people and had an incredible team. Katie and Grant, activities directors at the Bimini Sands and the Bimini Sands Resort were integral in making this amazing project happen. It is projected that 100,000 students in Ontario will see this video and hopefully it will end up in the Bahamian schools as well. We finished the shoot by planting mangrove propagules with some of the local kids.

All in all, 2012 was an incredible year and I look forward to the upcoming adventures in 2013.

Best Fishes,



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