Cristina Mittermeir: Women Who Inspire Women to Save Sharks

Guest post by Shark Stewards team-member Nadine Mansour

Images have impact. They sometimes make you uncomfortable. Sometimes they make you feel sheer joy. Storytelling is powerful and is a part of advocacy. Stories move people from ignorance to awareness, from inaction to action.

And that’s why I’m inspired by Cristina Mittermeier- a pioneer of the modern conservation photography movement. Born in Mexico, Cristina first discovered her passion for the natural world as a marine biologist working in the Yucátan Peninsula and the Gulf of California.

In a world where words are everywhere, stories and images can cut through the noise.

Although a successful National Geographic photographer today, her path wasn’t always a simple one. Along the way she has faced challenges that most women have experienced in some shape or form. In fact, her first published photo was wrongly credited to her then-husband. And like many of us, that didn’t hold her back, instead it fueled her.

She was 28 with three kids at the time, feeling like a lot of parents do: wanting to learn more about what she was interested in and eager to get out of the house. That incident motivated her to go back to school to study traditional darkroom, printing in black and white, color process printing, and Photoshop.

Realizing early that the general public was more likely to engage in a difficult conversation about the environment thanks to powerful images rather than scientific papers, it became Mittermeier’s lifetime goal to combine photography and science.

Nadine Monsour
The author, Nadine Monsour. Post underwater cleanup with Shark Stewards, Catalina Island Feb. 2020

Now one of the most prestigious conservationist photographers in the world — as well as co-founder of her own ocean conservation group, SeaLegacy.org— Mittermeier has continues to work alongside people with diverse backgrounds to produce media and art to help spark conversations about ocean conservation and climate change.

More recently, Mittermeier and her partner Paul Nicklen (also a National Geographic photographer) launched the platform, Only One. Through the platform, people can watch a piece of content about Antarctica, fall in love with the story, and then are given the opportunity to become a small investor in mangrove regeneration or a co-op of women fishermen.

People that don’t have a scientific understanding or a biology background can often feel intimidated entering a conversation where they might not be experts but no one needs a scientific degree to be moved by the image of a starving polar bear – one of Mittermeier’s photographs published in National Geographic from an expedition to Baffin Island, Canada.

For much of my own life, I have felt dejected, not knowing how I could personally help convey the sense of urgency needed to protect the planet. I’m not a scientist, nor a policy maker. It wasn’t until about two years ago while I was spending time with a good friend’s young son that it clicked. I happened to grab one of the book’s I recognized from the bookshelf, which happened to be Mittermeier’s book, Amaze. The young boy pressed his face to each image and asked a lot of questions out loud. We had lots of conversations that afternoon.

Editors’s Note: Cristina Mittermeir is the Co-founder and Managing Director of SeaLegacy,the co-founder of Only One and Executive Producer of Echoes in the Arctic. She has traveled to more than 100 countries and worked in remote corners of the planet with Indigenous groups to document the delicate balance between human cultures and biodiverse ecosystems. In 2020 Cristina Meittermeir was awarded the Ocean Champion Award by our own International Ocean Film Festival.

This is a part of a month long series of our Shark Stewards women team members honoring women who inspire them as part of the Women’s History Month,