Ever since he began working on obtaining his master’s degree at Coastal Carolina University, Craig wanted to start a shark conservation research program in his “backyard” — the waters surrounding Long Island, New York. After earning his PhD from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2013, Craig and his wife, Dr. Nicole O’Connell, established the nonprofit O’Seas Conservation Foundation (OCF). OCF conducts local and global conservation engineering, population dynamics, and other field studies focusing on some of the most endangered species on the planet. With a home base in New York, OCF’s key focus is to characterize the shark, skate and ray fauna in local waters to help obtain valuable population dynamics and structure-related data for several critical species. Besides this, OCF is unique in that it runs summer programs for 6th-12th graders, giving them the opportunity to be part of shark research projects and inspiring them to pursue a career in the field of conservation/marine biology.
You get one chance at life, so I want to do everything in my power to make this chance count. My passion is the ocean and with my knowledge, educational background and skill set that I have been fortunate enough to acquire over the years, I want to open as many eyes as possible to not only the problems that the marine realm faces but also some very plausible solutions. It is my goal to provide the solutions and slowly help change the way we do things so the health of our oceans will be sustained for many generations to come. It is really difficult to pinpoint what truly is my favorite part of being in the ocean, because each part of it is incredible. Is it the early morning wake-ups to go diving, the people you meet along the way, the interactions you have with wildlife, the fact that no day is the same underwater, the silence? There are far too many things I love about being underwater and that’s why I think more people should get off their couches and try it for themselves. I know it can be difficult to get out to the ocean and put a snorkel and mask on, but I promise you that if you can change your lifestyle just a little bit and get out into the wild, it will not only energize you, but it will enrich your life. So get out there, explore, and live your life to the fullest!
I’m from Stormville, New York, a small town located several hours from the ocean. But I always had a fascination with the ocean, a fascination that really came to fruition during my first shark encounter in the Florida Keys when I was 14. While free diving on a coral reef just offshore Islamorada, I encountered a 6-foot Caribbean reef shark. We locked eyes and I froze motionless in the water. As the shark swam by me, its eye looked at me with a curiosity that immediately made my fear fade away — and at that moment, I was hooked. My free diving and scuba career began and has been growing ever since.
I have been lucky enough to have a family that has given me opportunities to travel the world to get as much experience as I can in wildlife conservation. Therefore, I would have to say I have been influenced the most by my family and the “teachers” I have had along the way. Whether the “teachers” are professors or nature itself, my teachers have taught me some profound lessons that not only have helped me view life in a very different way but have also given me the confidence and passion to pursue the challenging field of wildlife conservation.
I recently have had the beautiful miracle of starting a family with my amazing wife. Our daughter Charlotte (“Charlie”) is the brightest light of our lives and there is nothing more I love doing than hanging with my wife and daughter — and getting pizza and eating donuts with them. But beyond family, I thoroughly enjoy watching baseball, fishing, and just being active. I also have a passion for sharing my knowledge. I feel that I am one of the lucky few who have gotten the opportunity to travel the world and see some of the most-wild places imaginable, but it really wouldn’t be worth it if I couldn’t use those experiences to enlighten and educate others.
My favorite piece of equipment is my Cressi Gara Modular Carbon fins. They have come in handy numerous times when free diving with white sharks (e.g., they are long enough to fend off curious sharks) and give me all the propulsion I need.
When I was asked to be a Cressi Ambassador, I immediately said yes. I firmly believe in the vision of the Cressi team, and over the past 4 years, they have fully supported my shark conservation research through gear support. Their help has allowed me to achieve many of my shark conservation goals, so when they asked about becoming an Ambassador, there was no hesitation.