Elena Salim Haubold
Elena is a German/Venezuelan biologist who is extremely passionate about the marine fauna, especially sharks. Her dream is to work towards the long-term conservation of these predators using ecotourism. Although a part of her family comes from Germany, she had the privilege of growing up in Venezuela: a beautiful tropical country with the longest coast along the Caribbean Sea, where she was strongly in contact with nature. Her favorite activities are swimming in the ocean and rivers, traveling around the exotic national parks and interacting with all kinds of species in their natural habitat. At a young age she realized that being surrounded by animals was her purpose and biggest motivation in life. She studied biology in the Simon Bolivar University (Caracas, Venezuela) where she received appropriate guidance to get into the scientific world. Meanwhile, she got certified as a scuba diver to gain a strong foothold in her job as a researcher of marine life. Elena also undertook a free diving course for six months which helped her with her breath control during interaction with the aquatic world.
In the third year of her career she went to the multicultural city of Granada (Spain) for one year as an exchange student. There she had the chance to learn about social behavior and animal physiology through research projects at the university and discovered her other passion, travelling! Her experiences around Andalucía, East Europe, Morocco and Scandinavia gave her a holistic understanding of how different cultures live and use their natural resources. At this point she was unaware of how useful this knowledge would be in helping her achieve the goal of protecting marine life.
One day, by chance, she watched a video of the world famous shark feeder Cristina Zenato on a television program where majestic sharks surrounded her. She was fascinated by it and this scene changed her view of this group of fishes and it was then that she decided to work with, and for the sharks. Following this, she decided to get involved in shark research spending seven months at the Bimini Biological Field Station (The Shark Lab). Her research was about the effects of coastal development on the spatial ecology of the lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) population of this small and pristine island. She was finally able to see sharks in their natural environment and found it extremely fascinating. She got an honored mention from the university for her research findings (University of Granada) and couldn’t wait to follow the path of a shark biologist. The ecological reason is their fundamental role as top-predator in the ecosystem. They play a key role in maintaining the ecological balance. It was her dream to become a specialist in the tiger shark predatory behavior and its effect on the prey population. Her belief was that by taking this path she would be able to contribute towards Shark Conservation, but it dawned on her that the outside world is completely different from the academic environment. Her opinion is that what really determines the vulnerability status of any marine species is commercial fishery and perception of the general public regarding the danger faced by marine species.
Elena’s goal of Marine Conservation using Sustainable Tourism required sound business knowledge of the tourism industry and so she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Business Administration in the field of Tourism Industry from European University, Munich. This coupled with her stint at Phantom Divers gave her both the theoretical and practical knowledge required to get started with her endeavor in the Sustainable Tourism industry.
Elena understands the importance of involving the society in the Ecotourism industry. The contribution of local communities is a powerful catalyst in the conservation process. The realization of people that they are the real owners of nature and that it can be a viable source of high income, will encourage them to protect it. Being an OWUSS Rolex European Scholar gave her the right platform to implement her ideas in order to guarantee long term marine conservation.
Elena's final video may be viewed here.