Meet Pat Swanson: subsistence spearfisher, professional SCUBA diver and marine science educator

The ocean is a part of his life, in many ways.

Pat Swanson introducing the next generation to the sea. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Pat Swanson introducing the next generation to the sea. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born in Hunterville, far from the sea, but my first memories are from when I lived at Te Mata, near Raglan, on the west coast of New Zealand. I now live in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Pat Swanson enjoying the beach since childhood days. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Pat Swanson enjoying the beach since childhood days. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Where are your favorite waters?

I have no favourite waters as such. I love diving somewhere new, but I have many places I revisit as well. The thing I like is that the sea has seasons, and no two days are the same. I love the warm tropical coral reefs, but the rawness of the deep south has its own magic.


How does water make you feel?

The sea can be many things, exciting, relaxing, forbidding, but for me, the sea brings peace to my body and mind. It is a place to relax, challenge yourself, and heal yourself. I need saltwater to run in my veins to truly feel alive.

Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?

I can’t remember exactly where or when, but I vividly remember the first time I wore a mask and snorkel in the sea. Everything seemed so sharply in focus, the colours so vivid, and I remember the delight of seeing small fish darting about, and hermit crabs scuttling across the bottom.

As a spearfisherman, I also have some fish I have dreamed about encountering, and perhaps one day spearing. One of these was the hapuku, or groper. Sadly, they have been fished so heavily that they are only found in deep water, usually more than a 100m deep. I had hoped one day to be able to spear one.

One cold June day, returning from the Alderman Islands where we had been catching a load of kina (sea urchins – I was a commercial kina diver for a time), we jumped in at a lone rock – Castle Rock, which drops straight down to 60m all around.

I had been hoping for a late season kingfish. Slowly I sank down through layers of school fish – kahawai and trevally, blue maomao, and pink maomao. At about 15m, I levelled out and waited. I sensed something behind me, and turned. Swimming slowly towards me, was a large hapuku. It was always going to be a fish I was going to pull the trigger on, and I did. The spear hit it cleanly in the head, and the fish gave one kick, rolled over and floated to the surface. Elation.

Pat Swanson with this evening's dinner for the family #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Pat Swanson with this evening’s dinner for the family #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?

I am involved in many different areas – my diving and fishing, but also I am involved in a number of environmental projects and programmes. I introduced Experiencing Marine Reserves to Taranaki. I have been involved in a number of Curious Minds projects. I am a science teacher at an Intermediate school, and I have an Enviro Group and a Marine Studies Group.

I also love exploring our amazing countryside – hiking and hunting over the hills and through the bush. I have also been a commercial diver, and worked in fisheries science.

Why do you do what you do?

I have to have a job that interests me and challenges me. It is also important that I give time to myself, especially in the sea, to maintain my mental and physical health.

Do you have a side ‘hustle’, a passion project? Do you find it blends nicely with your ‘day job’? Tell us more

At the moment I have a Curious Minds project called Project Litter, exploring the problem of Marine Litter, and trying to find workable solutions to it.

I have also recently started a dive club – “Taranaki Occasional Spearos”

What happens when you don’t have time for nature?

I feel incomplete, and my physical and mental health suffers. This affects my relationships with my family and others. It doesn’t happen very often!

Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?

Any time you begin an environmental project, you feel like that – that you are making such small change possible, but you soon realise, by meeting and collaborating with others, that as they say in the ads “small can be big”!

How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?

Simply by having faith in myself, and by motivating others to support you. Being self-contained is very important. Though that doesn’t mean there isn’t continual self doubt!

Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco/green/conservation thing at the moment?

Only that there are so many right wing flat Earthers around, that turn their back on the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence, to follow their own agenda. They tend to be the money before people sort.

What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?

The most effective thing I have discovered is that children are the key. If you get them being advocates for our environment, you also get their families, and you also get a lifelong passion for the environment.

Pat Swanson sharing marine adventures with sea lovers. Great touch with the Fish ID chart! #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Pat Swanson sharing marine adventures with sea lovers. Great touch with the Fish ID chart! #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?

Not really, but just a reminder to take every opportunity you can!

Anything else you’d like to add?

The very best thing you can do is introduce children to our water world.

Who would be a good person/ organization to donate merchandise profit portions to?

Experiencing Marine Reserves

BTW, congratulations Pat, on your Curious Minds citizen science project, ‘Project Litter’ with the Highlands Intermediate Marine Studies Group, winning the 2018 Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) Environmental Award, in the ‘Environmental action in education’ category sponsored by Contact. The award was for inspiring students through marine education, experience and action. Woohoo!

Check out the video.

Follow Project Litter on Instagram @projectlitter

Pat Swanson off to the hills. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

Pat Swanson off to the hills. #Amazingwaterpeople #OceaninaDropNZ

23 September – 9 November 2018: #OceaninaDropNZ colouring competition is now on!

It’s for all ages #kidscolouring #adultscolouring and helps with creativity and mindfulness.

Enjoy some ocean art, and take part to win great prizes perfect for summer beach days!

Download your free copy here.

Ocean in a Drop : A series of illustrations by Candace Loy, with each water drop shape filled with sea life and the life that water supports, of a country or state (e.g., California). The bigger vision is to use portions of profits from the sale of beautiful and unique merchandise, to contribute to local marine, freshwater education, research and conservation initiatives in the region depicted by the drop.

#BlueMind is a movement started by Dr Wallace J Nichols, who is also a successful turtle conservation researcher. He has done collaborations with many people including neuroscientists, to show the positive effects of being around water, on the brain.

Not only is there an increasing number of organizations supporting people in overcoming PTSD and other debilitating circumstances through water-based therapy like surfing and swimming; his message is to encourage as many people to reconnect and strengthen their bonds with water, and be inspired as a result to take care of waters across our blue planet.

Combining neuroscience, honouring emotions and using it to create more beneficial solutions for our planet and the life she supports. Here are some of his talks on neuroconservation.

#OceaninaDrop + share your favourite water memory to inspire others, on Instagram and Facebook, and get featured xo