An avid traveller, ocean lover, scientist and bikini engineer.
What began as a backpacking trip overseas 8 years ago, ended up turning into a life altering course, which has now resulted in an oceanic-saving science degree and a sustainable bikini label.
Meet Steph Gabriel @Stephyygabriel, your OceanZen Founder.
When did you first make a connection with the ocean?
I have always been an outdoorsy kinda girl. When I was 20 I packed up and went travelling for 3 years by myself around the world (some say I was crazy) and ended up landing a job in the Cayman Islands working with wild southern atlantic stingrays (yup steve Irwin junior was my nickname). This was when I first had a real, engaging connection with the ocean and marine life. My job was literally handling and feeding wild stingrays for tourists, and while this was absolutely amazing, I started to really learn the effects humans were having on our oceans.
How many countries have you travelled to?
Hmm close to 60 countries now :) crazy girl I am haha
What’s your favorite marine animal?
Oooo definitely humpback whales!! Have been so lucky to work with them on the Sunshine Coast for the last 5 years and even got to go to Ecuador to research them (this included “shooting” them for DNA samples… When I say shooting… I mean darting for a tiny little bit of skin) It still felt weird though haha but all in the name of science.
We also go to Tonga every year to swim with the whales in the wild. It’s one of the only places in the world that you can legally swim with them, and the water clarity is just magic!! For anyone that wants to come with us, send an email and we can send you info on our retreats.
What are the biggest threats to marine life?
Plastic!! Items like straws, plastic bags and plastic bottles don't biodegrade and cause a large amount of destruction for our oceans and marine life. These items can also be so easily avoided with other alternatives such as glass bottles and straws and re-usable bags :)
How do you rancho relaxo?
By the beach with a good book :) Currently reading an amazing book from Lisa Messenger (my girl boss inspiration)
Who or what inspires you?
Women in business inspire me; creating their own dreams built around their passions. Travelling is another major inspiration to me, it’s the core of my soul and everytime I am somewhere new and by myself I just feel so alive!! And lastly marine life and the ocean will always inspire me to keep on doing the best I can, to BE the best I can be for our environment. I’ve shared some truly magical moments with whales, turtles, sea lions, stingrays… Moments that are so special that no words can truly describe. These moments are what drive me to protect these beautiful creatures.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
Ahhh there are so many!!! DEFINITELY the Galapagos Islands!! Was so lucky to live there for 5 months and research some of the most unique creatures on this earth!!
Hawaii, Indonesia, Grand Cayman, Peru, South Africa…Love them all for completely different reasons :)
What has been the most challenging adventure overseas for you?
There’s been a couple. I bought a combie van with a girl I had just met in Colombia (yep dumb) and we drove it all the way to Ecuador and found ourselves in a really traumatic situation.
But a real life changing event was probably trying to climb Cotopaxi for the second time (It’s the second highest active volcano in the world) and I didn’t make it to the top the first time.
On the second climb 3 year's later, (I'm not a giver upperer) we started climbing just before midnight, literally climbing on vertical snowy mountain with an ice pick and ice shoes and hectic mountain snow gear. I was so focused on getting to the top for sunrise that I didn’t listen to my body and the signs of altitude sickness. Determined and completely over-motivated, a few hours in I started to get really sick and sometime after... delusional (thought my hair was purple haha) and was forced (against my own will) to head back down by our guide. I remember the sun coming up as I was slumped on the side of the volano with my face in the snow (in between spews) I thought about a quote I had once been told… “It’s not about the destination but about the journey getting there” which couldn’t have resonated with me more at the time. Cotopaxi… I will get you!! Third time lucky haha.
What has been your most surreal moment moment underwater?
Hmmm there's a couple of magical moments that I will never forget. High fiving a humpback whale's pec fin (in a non-invasive, non-agressive environment) has to be right up there with magical moments.
Not really a surreal moment, but I also got bitten by a Galapagos Sea Lion haha but definitely memorable.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to follow their dreams?
DO IT!! And do it now. Start yesterday!! Don’t waste another second wondering if and how. Just launch straight into your passion and go for gold. But don’t expect that it’s going to be all peachy. It takes YEARS of hard work, smiles and TEARS (yes I have cried multiple times) to achieve success. But hold on, and hold on tight, ride the wave and when you come on the other side it will be well worth it :)
Follow @stephyygabriel for more adventures and behind the scenes bikini empire building!!