Edison State College professor Cheryl Black getting up close and personal with Caribbean reef sharks
Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Water may be Cheryl Black's preferred element, but that doesn't mean she's not on fire.
Her ardor is evident as soon as her favorite topic arises: She leans forward, eyes wide, as the words tumble out.
just cringe when I see these pictures of people who've killed big
sharks. It's just so senseless. Here are these beautiful, incredibly
important apex predators that are critically important to the health of
the oceans - and we glorify their slaughter," she says, shaking her
die-hard defender of sharks sheepishly admits that "Jaws" is her
favorite movie, "But hey, it's what got me into this," the Edison State
College biology professor says.
when she's not in the classroom, Black is educating: talking to clubs,
lecturing at Rotary lunches and appearing at festivals.
years ago, I decided to do more to learn about sharks than sit on the
sofa and watch Shark Week," she says. Learning to scuba dive opened a
new world, and she fell in love with its inhabitants, especially sharks.
"I've had some incredible opportunities to meet them up close and personally," Black says.
when she says "up close," she doesn't mean behind aquarium glass or
from a boat; she means swimming near enough to the great beasts to look
into their eyes.
first time, there was this 'What am I doing?' moment," she says. "Then
it was, 'I'm really doing this!' and it was just so amazing."
the past decade, she's gone to South Africa to work with the breaching
white sharks of False Bay, taken a biology course with famed shark
biologist Sam Gruber in the Bahamas and dove with reef, white and lemon
sharks in the Caribbean and Mexico.
of these adventures were undertaken with one thing in mind: learning
about sharks first-hand and sharing it to promote shark conservation,"
the New York-born Black says.
passion made an indelible impression on Maxi Marroquin, a former Edison
student who first heard Black talk a few years ago at the college's
Ocean Commotion, a daylong educational event focusing on marine
"I barely even knew how to swim, but after I heard her, I signed up
for dive classes," Marroquin says. "The way she talked about sharks, you
really see how incredible they are."
experiences have included seeing them leap from the water like
dolphins, watched them hunt young seals ("Yes, of course you feel bad
for the seals, but sharks are predators.") and learned that sharks are
much more than the cold-blooded killing machines they're popularly
"They have personalities. Some are shy. Some are curious about everything," she says.
that is the fact that without sharks, the oceans' ecosystems can't
function, Black says. The collapse of shark populations globally - some
scientists say they're down 90 percent - should be a call to action, she
"If I can
change just one person's opinion about sharks when I talk, and they can
change the opinion of another person, the word will spread, and perhaps
in my lifetime, populations will rebound."
Marroquin is any indication, Black has already been successful. Though
she's taking a year off of her studies to work and save money, Marroquin
plans to return to FGCU and get a degree in marine science, thanks in
large part to Black's inspiration.
"She was just so excited to share her experiences, and made you want to have them too."