Lesley with Lemon sharks
Photo: Mike Ellis

Ocean Ambassador, photojournalist, CEO and PADI Divemaster are just a few of the many titles worn by our newest PADI AmbassaDiver™ Lesley Rochat. We wanted to delve deeper into her life and find out what drives her and how she remains inspired to do so much great work for the protection of our oceans…

How did you get into diving?

My love of the oceans goes back to me growing up along the Garden Route of South Africa and spending hours in the water as a little girl. At the same time, I was mesmerized by the Jacque Cousteau ocean series and I decided that one day I too would explore what lay beneath the surface. Once I put my head under the water my love for the ocean quadrupled, I was spellbound and remain so to this day.

Lesley Rochat photographing a whale shark
Photo: Rodrigo Friscione

What drove you to work within conservation?

I became a freelance dive travel journalist, underwater photographer and videographer many years ago. Often I returned to the same destinations and witnessed the deterioration of the areas. This perturbed me greatly so I began to write, not only about the beauty of the areas I dived, but about the environmental threats of the areas. This led to me becoming a well-published environmental photojournalist, focused on marine topics.

The more I researched for my articles and became aware of the plight of our oceans, how improved fishing practices were raping our oceans of all life, the more concerned I became. Of particular concern was what I was learning about sharks, animals that play such a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of the fragile marine ecosystems, how as other fish stocks decline worldwide, sharks are being targeted.

I felt the need to do something about it and being a freelance environmental writer and videographer just didn’t seem enough, but I didn’t know what else I could do to help, until I met Maxine, a remarkable ragged tooth shark living at the Two Oceans Aquarium. I found out about her remarkable life story and because of Maxine I packed up my successful corporate career, founded AfriOceans, and dedicated my life to marine and shark conservation – the rest is history…

What impact did learning to scuba dive have on your life?

It became my life. It introduced me to my true love, the Ocean, and not long after I learnt to dive, I packed up a successful and lucrative cooperative career and dedicated my life to helping conserve the Oceans.

Working with young divers to inspire the next generation

How do you hope your work inspires change in people’s perception, and conversation of the ocean?

I practice being the example of the change we want to see. Through my work I have become a role model of how one person can make a difference, no matter how small, of how to live gently on Earth, and to respect all living creatures. I believe we cannot save the oceans or any of Earth’s precious life, if we do not start with changing ourselves, learning to love ourselves. In my teachings to the youth, and in my motivational talks, I not only share ocean stories, and raise awareness about the plight of the oceans, but I encourage belief in oneself, learning to respect and love oneself, being brave, reaching for what seems the impossible and linking that to not just taking from Earth, but to giving back and becoming the voice of voiceless.

 What do you see as the greatest threat to our oceans?

The main drivers of decline of the oceans are the rising demand for resources, technology advances, decline of fish stocks, climate change, biodiversity and habitat loss, pollution, and weak governance. Our Blue Heart, the Ocean, is ill. When it comes to our own heart, unhealthy living habits can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary artery disease, which can result in a stroke or heart attack. In the same way, humanities abusive and neglectful habits inflicted upon our natural environment has made the Blue Heart of our planet critically ill. At the current rate of abuse the eventual diagnoses is a fatal heart attack, or global ocean ecosystems collapse, which will adversely affect each and everyone of us.

In my underwater explorations over the past 25 years, and as the principal environmental photojournalist of AfriOceans, I’ve witnessed first-hand the deterioration of areas I have returned to. It has both shocked and saddened me. I have freedived with sharks, spent hours playing with dolphins in the Bahamas, and photographed some of the last underwater Eden’s left such as those of Sipadan, Raja Ampat and the Cocos. Each place is fighting daily battles against encroaching negative human impact. Driven by hope, my resolve is fueled to raise global awareness and encourage action, in part through my images, and also through Shark Warrior Adventures which offers travelers transformational experiences with some of the oceans iconic species such as whales, dolphins and sharks. Adopting ways to heal our Blue Heart, to save our oceans, needs to be done as though our life depends upon it, because it does.

Underwater photography
Photo: Scott Smith

What does MyPADI mean to you?

I am proud to represent PADI because it is an organization that aligns with my conservation mission and vision. The next 10 years are a critical time for saving many species currently under threat of extinction. Because we are running out of time, I feel a great sense of urgency to do more. MyPadi and being a PADI AmbassaDiver allows me to reach a greater audience to not only inspire others by sharing my story, or promote my conservation messages, but to also introduce more people to the sport of skin diving, freediving and SCUBA diving. It’s one thing to talk to people about the oceans’ problems, but by showing them the beauty of the oceans, one is guaranteed of winning their support –  I do not know a single person I have introduced to the sport of diving that has not fallen in love with the ocean as I have. It follows that when you love something, you want to protect it. This way we can grow that army of conservationist needed to save our oceans.

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