PhD student Shannon Switzer Swanson named an Adventurer of the Year

Shannon Switzer Swanson photographs a woman who is part of a women’s collective that gathers shellfish in Tonga’s mangrove tidal flats. (Photo: Michaela Clemence)

National Geographic has named Stanford PhD student SHANNON SWITZER SWANSON one of the 10 most inspiring Adventurers of the Year. National Geographic selects its adventurers based on their achievements in exploration, adventure sports, conservation or humanitarianism.

National Geographic invites readers to vote for a People’s Choice winner through Dec. 16. The winner will be announced in January 2017.

Swanson is a second-year PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources.

A photographer and conservationist, Swanson has, according to National Geographic’s description, “dived with sea lions, sailed along the coast of California and surfed near otters and whales. Over the years, her love for surfing and other ocean sports inspired a deep commitment to scientific research and advocacy, which has propelled her across the globe.”

Swanson diving
Shannon Switzer Swanson (Photo: Michaela Clemence)

A native of San Diego, Swanson worked as a photojournalist for six years before earning a masters degree in coastal management from Duke.  A National Geographic Young Explorer winner, she is currently leading an investigation with three other explorers of the global aquarium fish trade. The team went to the Philippines and Indonesia in June and July to track blue tangs from home aquariums back to their native habitat in the farthest atolls of the South Pacific’s great island chains. A film documenting the journey will debut next year.

In a question-and-answer feature about the project, Swanson told National Geographic, “We’re trying to have a counter-narrative to this dominant conservation view of ‘the aquarium fish trade is bad and just make it stop.’ We would encourage people to just learn more about the chain itself and understand the complexity of it. There are a lot of people who are involved in it and are impacted by the aquarium trade. And if we stop the trade – that is the goal and that is the current voice from the conservation community – there are people like the harvesters who will have to fill that void with something else. That will likely be another marine resource that might be managed less sustainably.”

Swanson explained what motivates her this way: “I think I have an extra dose of curiosity. There are obvious forms of adventure and exploration that are about going out into new territory and the adrenaline of trying new extreme sports. I value those forms of adventure, but there are also other forms. For me, research is another form of adventure, a way for me to express that curiosity of the mind and to really understand how we can address conservation issues in a thoughtful way – a way that isn’t going with the obvious solution that may have unintended consequences. And there’s the old adage, you answer one question and there’s 10 more.”