To date, Pam has travelled to no less than 115 countries, including spending months in the Antarctic and Iceland. This global perspective on the world and our environment, she says, is what now drives her passion to educate people on the realities of global warming.
Even from a young age, 37-year-old Pam always knew she wanted to work in or near the ocean. Despite having been awarded a scholarship at UCT in Cape Town, when Pam met a dive instructor during her gap year she decided to move to Durban and pursue a diving career. It was a decision that would ultimately change the course of her life forever. She studied through UNISA, getting a bachelor of science degree, but it was through immersing herself in the diving community and obtaining dive master, dive instructor and skippers licenses that Pam really grew. “I think it put me at least four years ahead of where I should’ve been, and the experience I obtained helped get me to where I am today.”
Driven by her love for marine animals, Pam started working with people on their dolphin and shark research projects. She then started her own dolphin monitoring project while running a dolphin viewing business out of Umhlanga. Her business thrived and Pam was awarded the first whale watching license in Durban. “My small business consisted just of myself, a boat, a pamphlet and a young employee named Musa whom I trained up.”
After going on three local marine research cruises, Pam says she heard about small ships in the Indian Ocean looking for female skippers. The three-month cruises would entail Pam lecturing guests on different aspects of marine life and then skippering the tender boats on their daily excursions. “I was thrilled. I couldn’t believe they were going to pay me to do something I loved. It seemed too good to be true.” But it wasn’t. Pam started out on cruises to Madagascar and the Seychelles, and was soon travelling to destinations further afield, like Iceland.
“It was surreal. I was told I needed a rifle license, and when I went to apply for a license and told them it was for polar bears, they thought I had lost my mind!”
Ten years later Pam has literally travelled the world by sea, all while doing a job she absolutely loves. But along the way, Pam says, she discovered a very real need to educate people about pollution and the effects of global warming on the planet. “I simply can’t teach people about coral reefs without sending a conservation message at the same time. It would be irresponsible.”
Not many people are afforded the opportunity to get a global perspective on the damage being done to our natural world, and Pam says she has seen some serious implications. “We often go to these beautiful, uninhabited islands and find them covered in trash. We literally have to clean the island before letting our passengers get off the ship.” Pam remembers visiting an island in the Seychelles and finding 92 flip flops along a 2km stretch of beach!
Her internal conflict over taking people to these unseen, pristine areas and not giving something back to the environment sparked Pam’s newfound goal help people understand their personal impact on the planet.
Pam is now head of expedition operations for her company and is in charge of deploying teams around the world, making sure they have the right equipment and crew. She also attended a climate reality workshop hosted by Al Gore and says she now feels more equipped to talk about global warming. Pam started implementing small changes on the boats, like doing away with plastic water bottles and changing to shampoo dispensers instead of miniatures, but the message she wants to send to all people is their small personal changes can make a difference. “Governments are pushing the climate change agenda from the top and we as individuals need to do our bit from the bottom. Carbon offsetting is something everyone can do: you pay people to plant trees to offset what you put into the atmosphere. There are lots of companies who do this, just Google it!”
It is hard to navigate as a consumer in this world and know how best to do your bit for conservation, but Pam says the easiest thing is just to live more simply. “Use less. Eat less. Buy less. Everything you do, eat and buy has a carbon footprint. Car pool to work, have meat-free meals . . . make small adjustments.
“If everyone could experience our natural world the way I have there would be no doubt about necessity to preserve it. South Africans don’t have to go far to connect with great wilderness experiences – it’s the ultimate remedy.”
Text: Leah Shone