Once upon a time, a young girl named Emily traveled to Baja California with her family. Traveling aboard the National Geogrpahic-Lindblad fleet, she splashed in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez and snorkeled for the first time. She also met Tierney Thys, a marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer. Thys answered Emily’s excited questions; admired Emily’s haul of bones, shells, curious stones, and other treasures from the beach—and helped plant the seeds of a future in marine biology.
Fast-forward a decade: Emily Ashe is poised to become one of the world’s newest marine scientists when she graduates this spring from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ashe credits Thys for playing a key role in steering her path. “[Thys] was such an inspirational person who was so passionate about the ocean,” Ashe says. “I remember listening to her talk about sunfish and then seeing a picture of her swimming next to one and thinking, wow, I could do that one day.”
At the time, Thys recognized the budding scientist’s love for the ocean and suggested she attend California’s Catalina Sea Camp, which offers summer sessions for ocean-loving kids. Ashe took her advice, going on to spend five summers as a camper and eventually work at the camp. She says the experience “opened so many doors.” Through those connections she landed in the marine science program at Eckerd. Over the years her devotion to the planet’s oceans has taken her near and far—from Florida to St. Barth's, Hawaii, the Bahamas, and beyond—to explore as well as participate in plastic cleanup projects, shark research, and mentorships.
Thinking back on her formative adventure in Baja, Ashe says the trip’s snorkeling memories stand out, particularly when the group experienced a sea lion haul-out. “There was a huge bait ball with pelicans diving in and sea lions swimming up from the bottom,” she says. “Somehow I got into the middle of the frenzy with everything swirling around me. It was a little chaotic for a 12-year-old, but it’s still one of the most incredible things I’ve gotten to experience underwater.”
According to Thys, such firsthand exposure is key for cultivating a passion for the natural world. “The experience can be so transformative,” she says.
Post-graduation, Ashe hopes to follow in Thys’ footsteps—or fins, as the case may be—to teach kids and the public about marine ecosystems. “My dream job is to be a naturalist on the [National Geographic-Lindblad] expeditions,” she says. “The end goal is to make a positive impact on our marine world.”
Spark a love of marine wonders on an expedition cruise aboard the National Geographic–Lindblad fleet.