A few years ago Elizabeth Ban was busy working at an advertising firm, wearing designer suits, and successfully pushing Cheez Whiz on unsuspecting mothers. Then came the day she boarded a plane bound for the British Virgin Islands. On that restful vacation, Ban put on a snorkel mask for the first time. What she saw under the sea changed her life.
"I gave up my job, vice president, corner office, the whole bit," Ban said.
The woman who previously occupied the corner office was now manning the information center at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. "I was the answer lady. School kids would write, ask questions. The public would come in. Some questions I could just answer; others I would have to research," said Ban. "That was all with a philosophy degree."
The shift in jobs came about because Ban wanted to devote her life to studying the ocean. While she continued with her duties at the aquarium, Ban figured she "needed to take it up a notch." She went to Yale University, where she earned her Masters in environmental management, advanced study in conservation biology with a focus on Caribbean coral reefs. Last year, she made the move to the Virgin Islands.
Ban will take on the role of answering questions once again, this time in a question-and-answer column she'll be writing for the V.I. Source. The column, called Sea Scoop!, will now appear regularly in its own section of the same name.
Aaron Reiff, Source assistant publisher, helped develop the idea with Ban after the two met during an Environmental Association of St. Thomas boat trip to Sunsi beach. "I'm really excited that Elizabeth has agreed to do this for us. It's exactly the kind of content I've been wanting to bring to the Source," he said. He also pointed out that because the Source is electronic, the columns will accumulate, and, over time, become a dynamic database of useful and interesting information.
"Anybody who has any questions about marine life or marine ecosystems is going to be able to shoot out an e-mail, and I will answer them once a month," Ban said. "I will do my best to answer all of them, whether in the column or not. I will likely answer only one or two a month in the column, though."
Ban says since she agreed to do the column, she's already been inundated with questions. "Here, where we are so intimately tied to our environment. It's great to learn how cool this stuff is around us."
Ban is also a marine adviser for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service, which is part of at the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of the Virgin Islands.
"My job is the coolest job in the world. I get people to love the ocean," Ban said. "I spend a lot of time going to schools doing presentations on coral reefs, fish, marine careers, ecosystems, mammals."
In addition, Ban is working to reach the tourist population. "I've taken it on as a personal challenge getting good education to the tourists who are here for a day. They don't get the opportunity to understand coral is a living entity. People who don't understand the marine environment can do a lot of damage without even realizing it," she said. "Corals are so delicate. If you stand on one, you're killing hundreds of coral polyps. If you break off a piece because you think it's beautiful, you've just broken something that may have taken 100 years to grow."
But back to her previous life of designer suits and writing ads does she miss it? Ban says she'd rather wear fins and a snorkel mask any day.
"I've come to life since I started doing this."
If you have a question about ocean life for Elizabeth Ban, you can send an e-mail with your question to Sea Scoop! She will make an effort to answer all questions, and will include some in her columns. When writing Sea Scoop!, please include your name and where you're from.
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