There’s nothing more inspiring than someone following their passion – especially when they have had to overcome adversity to do so. For International Women’s Day 2022, PADI is celebrating eight women who have overcome many obstacles to turn their passion into a lifelong mission to save the ocean – and who encourage others to do the same
Gádor Muntaner: using science to save sharks
Originally from Spain, Gádor put on a mask, fins, and snorkel for the first time in Mallorca Island when she was three years old. She certified as an Open Water diver after turning 16 and already knew that she would dedicate her life to the ocean. Gádor became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor at the age of 22, in order to share with others what she loves most.
In 2016 Gádor moved to La Paz, Mexico to turn her passion into her work: the study and conservation of sharks. She completed her undergraduate thesis studying sharks while working with Pelagios Kakunjá Marine Conservation, focussing on the movement patterns of the silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) in the Revillagigedo Archipelago and is currently pursuing her master’s degree studying contamination in great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) tissues in Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Her love for sharks has led Gádor to travel the world, most recently running a scientific study in Spain on the positive impact sustainable shark tourism can have on the ocean.
Follow her mission to save sharks on Instagram: @gadormunta
Zandile Ndhlovu: building a new generation of Ocean Guardians
Zandile Ndhlovu is the first black African freediving instructor in South Africa and the founder of The Black Mermaid Foundation, an organisation seeking to improve diversity in marine conservation and sports. Zandile’s inspiring work centres around creating magical first encounters with the ocean for young children – many of whom would otherwise never have the opportunity. As an ocean conservationist, diversity and inclusion specialist, and avid speaker and storyteller, she uses her skills to advocate for a blue planet in which the ocean is accessible – and protected – by all, regardless of race, gender and religion.
Follow her journey to creating more diversity in the ocean on Instagram: @zandithemermaid
Mermaid Elle and Brandee Anthony: giving the ocean a voice
Follow her mission to help others connect with themselves and the water on Instagram: @brandee_anthony
Mermaid Elle is the most popular mermaid on TikTok and makes a full-time living as a PADI Mermaid Instructor and professional mermaid, and takes great pride in teaching others. ‘Becoming a mermaid is really just being yourself in your most powerful form,’ she says. ‘We call ourselves mer-sisters and mer-brothers because mermaids are one species, one family, one school of fish!’
Elle believes that it is the mer-persons role to speak for the ocean and its creatures, that can’t speak for themselves – a ‘real-life Ariel’ using her skills to drive more focus upon marine conservation.
Follow her mission to inspire others to live their best mermaid life on TikTok: @themermaidelle
Julia Aveline Rabenjoro: creating more youth conservationists
Julia is one of the youngest, and most decorated PADI divers with several certifications under her dive belt. Julia started her diving journey with PADI on her 8th birthday in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, certified as a Junior Open Water Diver when she was 10 and Junior Advanced Open Water Diver aged 12. Julia is now 14 and has just taken her Junior Rescue Diver course; she also started freediving at the end of last year and she is now a certified PADI Basic Freediver. Diving has helped Julia to find her passion in conserving the ocean, which caused her to create the Seed of Hope Facebook page to raise awareness and funds for ocean causes, while inspiring other young ocean advocates to do the same.
Follow her mission to plant seeds of hope in communities on Facebook: @JuliaIntoTheBlue
Cody Unser: making the Ocean accessible to all
Cody Unser, daughter of Indy 500 champion Al Unser Jr, founded The Cody Unser First Step Foundation aged 13 to raise awareness of Transverse Myelitis, the autoimmune condition that left her suddenly paralyzed in 1999 at the age of 12. Her foundation’s focus on adaptive scuba and its potential as a therapeutic tool in exercise science has been applauded by both the medical professional and dive industry.
Regardless of the injury or condition, Cody advocates for others to become adaptive divers as well. Through her foundation, she established Cody’s Great Scuba Adventure, which uses scuba diving as a therapeutic and psychological tool for people living with different forms of paralysis. Her documentary, ‘Sea of Change,’ explored the neurological and psychological effects of scuba on a group of chosen paralyzed veterans.
Cody has become a leading advocate for people living with disabilities and spends much of her time travelling across the country to deliver keynote speeches, attend medical symposia and help other grassroots organisations that have similar missions.
Learn more about how Cody is breaking down barriers on PADI’s Podcast: Dive Stories.
Elise Gibbins and Mia Stawinski: showing the world how amazing the ocean is
Mia and Elise are award-winning underwater filmmakers and photographers. Elise is a PADI Divemaster who harnesses her cinematography skills to drive awareness and has collaborated with NGOs and commercial enterprises that are dedicated to positive environmental change. Elise produces world-class content campaigns that connect audiences to nature and explore humanity’s relationship with it, with a particular focus on highlighting endangered ecosystems.
Mia and Elise have teamed up to combine their passion and love for the underwater world with their background in underwater cinematography and photography. Their goal is to highlight the beauty of the world’s magnificent marine life and landscapes while encouraging divers of all genders to explore and protect the ocean.