My Life at the Save Our Seas Foundation
December 1, 2019
It is with sincere thanks and acknowledgement of his dedication, passion and vision that the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) will bid farewell to its current CEO, Michael Scholl, in December this year, after seven years of his leadership of the organisation. During his tenure as CEO, Michael has guided the Foundation to fund more than 150 projects, expanding its reach in support of shark and ray science across a diversity of countries and an emerging cohort of scientists and conservation leaders.
Among Michael’s most important contributions during this time has been his dedication to ensuring that the Foundation is best positioned to support sound, relevant scientific research. This commitment is evidenced by his close working relationship with a strong scientific advisory board. Dr Dean Grubbs, a research director at the Coastal and Marine Laboratory at Florida State University and a member of the scientific board, says,
‘The influence that Michael has had on the SOSF’s reach and reputation cannot be overstated. He has an unmatched passion for marine conservation and a deep understanding of the research necessary to support it. Under Michael’s leadership, the Foundation has developed into a highly respected organisation dedicated to the conservation of the marine environment around the world. With increased emphasis on the funding of early career researchers and projects based in poorly studied regions, the SOSF has a truly global reach and is now recognised as one of the world’s most influential supporters of shark research and conservation. In addition, the creation of the beautifully designed Save Our Seas magazine under Michael’s guidance has brought marine conservation issues to the public in stark and wonderful focus. This publication serves as an important platform for scientists and conservationists to bring their messages to society. Again, Michael’s overwhelmingly positive influence and effective guidance of the SOSF cannot be overstated.’
Dr Dean Grubbs | Research Director at the Coastal and Marine Laboratory at Florida State University (FSU) | SOSF Scientific Advisory Board
Michael has trusted the insights of scientists around the world to help him steer the SOSF’s focus towards the most pressing conservation issues, keeping his understanding of this sector dynamic and adaptive. ‘Working with Michael over the past few years has been a fantastic experience. He brings so much energy, enthusiasm and experience to our work, and he’s always honest and frank in our discussions about how to build and maintain the Foundation’s work in shark conservation,’ says Dr Andrew Chin, scientific advisor to the Foundation and an Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University Postdoctoral Research Fellow.
‘We’ve had very many late night discussions about what real, responsible marine conservation looks like, about research ethics and integrity, about having real impact and about working with people who, at the end of the day, are where conservation starts. We don’t always agree, which is good – we should always be challenged and pushed and held accountable! But it’s always been insightful, and almost always fun! I’ll miss working with him, and I wish him the best in his new adventures.’
Dr Andrew Chin | Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) | James Cook University (JCU) Postdoctoral Research Fellow | SOSF Scientific Advisory Board
Another hallmark of Michael’s leadership has been the strong support of the Foundation’s project partners. His deep interest in securing longevity for these relationships took the form of many discussions and site visits, when he would take the time to get to know the people running these projects and to understand their very different needs. Sarah Waries, who leads the Shark Spotters initiative in South Africa, maintains,
‘Michael has been such a great supporter of Shark Spotters over the years and has really taken the time to get to know our project, not just from the perspective of the Foundation as a funder, but as a real partner with a vested interest in the success of the programme. He has been a great source of guidance during times of uncertainty and change at Shark Spotters, and has been instrumental as an individual, as well as a representative of the Foundation, in helping Shark Spotters become the world leader in sustainable shark bite mitigation it is today. More than just being a CEO, Michael has a deep-seated passion for and understanding of shark conservation, and that is clearly seen through his work and the direction in which he has led the Foundation over the past seven years. When visiting False Bay, he would always make an effort to stop at the spotters on the mountain and the beach to see how they were doing and just “chat shark”. He will be sorely missed by the Shark Spotters team and we wish him luck on his next adventure!’
Sarah Waries | Shark Spotters CEO
Dr Guy Stevens, director of the Manta Trust, alludes to the trust Michael fostered – and afforded – in relationships between the Foundation and its partners.
‘Since its inception in 2012, Michael’s support for the Manta Trust has been an integral part of the charity’s development and conservation successes. I will be forever grateful for the trust he placed in my colleagues and me, and for his guidance as the CEO of the SOSF. Michael has been a great asset to the SOSF, and he should be very proud of the work he has achieved during his stewardship of the Foundation.’
Dr Guy Stevens | Manta Trust CEO & Founder
Michael’s own background, rooted in shark science, has seen his tenure characterised by a commitment to developing emerging talent and passionate young shark conservationists. ‘Like many in the shark field, Michael traces his early career experience back to the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) and Dr Samuel Gruber. The Bimini Shark Lab and “Doc” remained close to Michael over the years and as Michael moved on to great things in his career,’ explains Matt Smukall, the director of BBFS.
‘For the past six years, the support of the Save Our Seas Foundation and Michael has helped the Bimini Shark Lab to expand our research initiatives and to ensure the next generation of young scientists can have the same valuable early career experiences in Bimini. Michael’s insightful guidance on research, outreach and local stakeholder engagement has helped us to advance the joint missions of the Bimini Shark Lab and the SOSF. We are very grateful for his support, as are the many young scientists who have benefitted.’
Matthew Smukall | Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) CEO
While leadership certainly relies on a combination of real experience, personal commitment and a vision for the future, it can only succeed on the basis of very human relationships. Michael has been intuitive in his construction of the human infrastructure of the Foundation, selecting passionate, qualified and committed people with whom to work and implementing structural protocols that will ensure that the respect earned for the Foundation’s work over his tenure will continue into the future. Janie Wray from the North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS) puts it succinctly:
‘Working with Michael over the past years has been such a pleasure; his personable approach and ability to communicate openly are admirable qualities – and rare. He has been a great mentor to our research team and interns, lending his expertise and objective advice. His diligence and effectiveness with regard to conservation and research are a model we respect and will continue to follow. He has truly helped us in so many ways and will be missed by us all at NCCS.’
Janie Wray | North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS) CEO
Sarah Fowler, OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and founder of the Shark Trust, worked closely with Michael as a scientific advisor to the Foundation and she echoes Janie’s sentiments about personable leadership.
‘I first met Michael in the mid-1990s while setting up the European Elasmobranch Association. A few years later, he introduced me to white sharks in South Africa. More recently, it has been a huge pleasure and enormous fun to work for the SOSF scientific advisory team under Michael’s excellent leadership. We will miss him very much, but look forward to hearing of new shark conservation projects in Europe and further afield.’
Sarah Fowler | Shark Trust Founder | SOSF Scientific Advisory Board
Nadia Bruyndonckx, Michael’s executive assistant and scientific advisor, best enunciates the full meaning of his personal commitment to the Save Our Seas Foundation.
‘The Foundation wouldn’t be such a well-established and world-renowned organisation without Michael’s leadership, hard work and dedication. His passion for shark conservation and his own ethical compass, which is integral to how he enacts that, have been a daily motivation that has pushed me to do my best. Working alongside Michael, brainstorming and sharing ideas, has been an extraordinary learning process and I’ll be forever thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive into the shark conservation world with him. He always trusted me and I am grateful for his support and understanding, for his friendly and open-minded leadership and for always keeping his staff’s best interests at heart. This has been an exciting adventure, with amazing memories that I’ll keep forever in mind. I hope that our paths will cross again!’
Dr Nadia Bruyndonckx | SOSF Executive Assistant | SOSF Scientific Advisory Board