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May 25, 2019

Jenna from Oly.

If you were to find me at a local support group, it’d probably go something like this:

“Hi, I’m Jenna... it’s been [insert ridiculously small number] minutes since I last found a way to bring sharks up in a conversation.”

You can laugh! My friends tease. That’s me – obsessed with how awesome sharks are for as long as I can remember. But a chance adventure last October changed everything.

A stressful season of work spurred the idea for a quick vacation. I’d clear my head and FINALLY see some sharks up close! But when I was there, in the blue waters off Andros Island in the Bahamas, I had an epiphany:I didn’t just love sharks. I’ve always had this deep connection with sharks and the ocean. Sharks are in trouble and I’ve gotta save these guys. This is where I’m supposed to be.

Back home in Olympia, WA, I talked to my fiancée and decided it was time to chase my dream. I packed up my cute apartment, said a tearful goodbye to my decade-long career in politics, and started making arrangements to move to the Bahamas and save some sharks.

Sharks? The Ocean? (aka the ‘big’ picture)

Why do I love sharks? DUDE. THEY’RE SO COOL. Have you even seen these guys? Swimming around being badass all day? They inspire ME to be badass. They’ve survived FIVE mass extinctions. But humans are being jerks and could ruin all of that. This is where I get pumped up.

To save sharks, we’ve gotta start by saving our oceans. Here’s the big picture:

The world’s oceans provide 2/3 of our oxygen ● There are 228,450 different species of animals in the oceans ● TWO MILLION MORE species TBD (according to scientist guys) ● Sharks? 440 species of ‘em ● Endangered? 143 species Yep, you read that correctly – overone-third of shark species are endangered, and there’s a bunch of reasons why.

First, ocean health. This one is tricky. Over half the states in America don’t touch an ocean. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Who cares what sunscreen we use? Who cares what tuna or shrimp we buy? So what if I live in the Midwest and buy plastic? Turns out, it matters a lot.(I’ll swim back to this point.)

Second, bycatch. Many people know about the horrific practice of shark finning, but did you know thattens of millionsof sharks are caught by accident each year? Bycatch occurs during commercial fishing and it’s estimated thatone in every five fish caught is a shark. Sadly, many of these are blue sharks and silky sharks; two very charismatic species and some of my favorite to freedive with.

Finally, a niche market for shark meat. In February, I walked into our local grocery store and found Mako shark steaks for sale, $9.99 per pound. I wanted to throw up. Instead, I contacted their corporate office and expressed my dismay, sent them many research papers on the plight of Mako sharks and how horrible eating shark is for your health. The mercury content alone is staggering. To their credit, the entire chain of stores have decided to no longer carry shark meat. My one phone call made a difference.

Living the dream (aka the ‘small’ picture)

Chasing your dream mightstartwith a great big grand gesture –like quitting your job and moving to the Bahamas... damn, I’m doing that?!– but actuallylivingyour dream is about the small stuff.

I live my dream with the small choices I make every day. Stuff like...

Asking for no straws at restaurants ● Using reusable metal and glass water bottles ● Swapping my plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush ● Choosing bar soap, shampoo and conditioner ● Buying groceries in glass jars whenever possible ● Supporting sustainably sourced seafood and meat ● AND wearing KZ sunglasses. The truth is, our lives are FULL of plastic – not just straws and bags, but shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, and all kinds of packaging. It isn’t the grand gestures that make a difference; it’s the small, every day habits that add up to real change. Sharks don’t have to be ‘your thing’ to help save them.

Going with the flow

Over the next few months I’ll earn my freediving certification and truly be living my dream – swimming with sharks, leading diving tours, and connecting people with the ocean.

The ocean is my home, my happiness, my soul; it demands respect and heals wounds. I hope to cultivate that feeling of awe and respect in others, share the love and happiness I feel from the ocean, and inspire people to make small changes every day.

Knowledge truly is power, and the small stuff matters.

Google different names for shark meat.

Check to see if your tuna is pole-and-line caught.

Order a pair of KZ Floatables and keep that one extra piece of plastic from being lost to the ocean.

If a kid like me from Olympia, WA, can end up in the Bahamas, you can be badass like a shark and pursue your dreams too.

Follow me for pics of sharks, sunburns, and snarky commentary. Mostly sharks. @jennalynnmckenzie on Instagram or ItStartedwithaTooth.com