Currently situated on the pristine Ningaloo Reef, Brinkley is volunteering with a Whale Shark Research team, studying the migratory patterns of whale sharks. Simultaneously, she is working in the world-renowned whale shark Ecotourism Industry as a guide in the water. Brinkley has travelled to some of the world’s most beautiful places and volunteered in a number of research projects in Marine Biology, and she uses her social channels to promote ocean conservation through beautiful imagery.
A longtime vegan, animal advocate and ocean-minded “water baby,” Brinkley shares with us some of the aspects that inspire her to make a splash.
Who or what has inspired your love of the ocean?
My parents first inspired my love for the beach and the sea. I also learnt to surf when I was four years old and started competing when I was ten. Surfing was my first love: I became addicted to the feeling of riding waves, duck diving and feeling in sync with the ocean. Surfing has given me some of the greatest and most surprising experiences of my life, like surfing around Sea Lions, or seeing whales and sharks nearby! Up here in the Northwest of Australia, we are lucky enough to have sub-tropical temperatures in the water, so we often see green turtles and rays as well.
When was the first time you saw a whale in the wild?
Growing up in South Australia we are lucky enough to have some massive migrations of animals, including Southern Right Whales. As a child, I watched whales from the land as they played in the ocean, but when I was about 13 years old I saw my first Southern Right in the water while I was surfing. It was incredible.
What has led you to become an advocate of ocean conservation?
I have spent my life around the ocean. When I started to surf, and then to travel, and to learn more about the animals who call the ocean home, I became even more inspired; I wanted to be a part of the movement for healthier oceans. I developed a need to give back. I started off volunteering at a Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and my passion for ocean conservation sparked from that day. I volunteered as much as I could, helping with feeding and rehabilitation of Australian Sea Lions and Long Nosed Fur Seals, as well as Pelicans and Penguins.
After that experience, I contacted anyone and everyone looking for more opportunities for fieldwork for conservation. In my final year of university, I travelled to Tonga, to fulfill my dream of free-diving with whales — an incredible trip. I went on to work in eco-tourism, with Australian Sea Lions and Great White Sharks, at home in South Australia.
In 2015, I worked in both shark conservation projects and cetacean (whale) projects, which have been both tourism/conservation and science-based. My partner and I travelled to Hawaii, on a long term trip to surf, explore and for me to gain experience where I can in marine mammal research.
We spent a month in Fiji, where we dived with 80-100 bull sharks each day with Beqa Adventure Divers, I wanted to experience diving with these animals, and see how it all ran. This company was highly regarded, they brought about a marine reserve on this reef which protected sharks and all other animals in this area from the illegal finning trade, and commercial fishing, resulting in re-establishing numbers and protecting the eco system. I was thrilled to do this dive everyday, and cannot recommend Beqa Adventures Divers, and Mike Neumann highly enough.
Not only did these experiences take me to great places — Hawaii and Fiji, for instance — but they were rewarding in that they have shaped the path I want to take in life, both for my career and for the benefit of our oceans.
Of course, most recently, these experiences have also connected me to Ningaloo Reef. The Whale Sharks I work with here are so fascinating, and the fact that people can come to Ningaloo Reef to witness them in their natural environment — where they are great laws and regulations in place to protect this species and area — is incredible. Every day at Ningaloo Reef I see the awe in people’s faces as they get to swim next to the biggest fish in the sea, without interference with the animals’ natural regimes. It is such a remarkable experience.
You speak about having a “Blue Mind,” and how water can inspire us to be more empathetic and connected. How has the ocean inspired you or made you empathetic?
To me, having a Blue Mind is having a feeling of connection to the ocean, to animals, and to nature. It is the ability to block out the noise or the challenges of the world and appreciate the natural beauty around us — that is, the ecosystems, animals, other people. We all share this beautiful earth and we have to take time to connect with and support every living thing.
How can people #MakeASplash for ocean health and conservation?
Visit parks that support ecotourism. At Ningaloo, for example, visitors support the protection of Whale Sharks. This area is one of few in the world where these animals congregate and aren’t interfered with. We have strict interaction rules that are put in place to protect the sharks. In many places in the world these animals are still hunted for their fins for #SharkFinSoup, one of the most wasteful industries in the world. To support places such as Ningaloo Marine Park is supporting the conservation of these animals.
But making a splash can also done in different ways! Be wary of where you’re buying your fish from, and speak up against cruel traditions that are harming our oceans. Don’t support shark finning or destructive mining, and lessen your carbon footprint wherever possible. If you live in a big city and aren’t near the oceans, plant a tree — the world’s coral reefs are suffering from excess atmospheric CO2, and planting a tree can do your part to help our ocean’s reef systems. Fortunately for us, there are lots of ways to be involved in conservation.
What inspires you to #MakeASplash every day?
Being in the water every day is what inspires me, as do the beautiful creatures that I see looking back at me each day. Most days I get to see Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales, Manta Rays, and Tiger Sharks, and if we are lucky, even Orca. Every experience makes me realize how lucky I am and inspires me to work hard to achieve my dream of protecting our oceans.
Where would you be without the ocean?
To be honest, I have no idea. I can’t imagine my life without the ocean — and I hope I never have to. It gives me — and clearly much of our world — life.