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Janelle
Van Ruiten

I am an ocean dweller, animal lover, and seeker of adventure. Here is my story.

There is nothing I love more in life than the ocean. I think it started in 1993, when I was only two years old. It may be hard to believe, but this is when my passion for the ocean began. We still have the home video of me opening up my Christmas present. That year the movie Free Willy was released and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I developed an uncontrollable love for Orca, and the ocean.

I grew up on a farm. This certainly played a huge role in my love for animals. I was given the responsibility of feeding all the animals each and every day. I remember if I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done. I created strong bonds with these animals because I understood their individualism and personalities. I named each and every animal and loved them with all my heart.

My dad had a huge influence on my life. He is an avid scuba diver and thrill seeker. He started taking me scuba diving in Mexico when I was only 12 years old, well before the legal age. This had a profound impact on my curiosity and love for the outdoors. Exploring the very thing I loved so much at such an early age gave me intransigent faith in my purpose in life. I knew I was meant to be in the ocean.

I went vegetarian when I was 16 years old. Looking back at it, it was a bold decision considering my family is made up of hunters and farmers. I never had any problem doing what I thought was right, even if it meant getting a lot of grief for it. I was the black sheep, but they seem to love me more for it now. Now more than ever, I receive kind words and admiration from childhood friends that understand I had a yearning passion for animals and especially the ocean at such an early age and have stuck with it. I have always, and will always fight for the oceans and be a voice for the ones who do not have one.

My first college course was oceanography, big surprise. I began to learn about the conditions the ocean was in. I also watched the cove, a documentary revealing footage of the slaughtering of dolphins in Japan. This information was a lot to take in, and sits very heavily in my heart when I think about what people are doing to these beautiful, and intelligent animals. I began participating in Santa Cruz ocean clean ups. They were the second Saturday of each month. This was my first involvement in conservation. I took a marine biology course, and shortly after declared marine biology as my major.

The next move in my life really opened up the door to opportunity to live my wildest dreams. I moved to Hawaii to study marine biology, and I was introduced to the art of freediving. Freediving still is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. To glide through the ocean amongst its beauty, observing, drifting, and exploring, is absolute serenity. I joined amazing organizations such as Keiko Conservation, OneOcean diving, Beneath the Blue, and Pangeaseed to name a few. I ran my own chapter of Empty the Tanks Hawaii, as I am so truly against captivity and exploitation of animals for human entertainment. I found myself paying less attention in the classroom and more attention in the wild. With all this going on, I managed to earn my degree but more importantly, I made amazing connections and gained invaluable real life experience.

I have always known deep down in my heart what I want to do in life. What I want to do is protect the ocean, and sustain a living where I can immerse myself in all of its beauty. I want to help educate people, and provide an example for those who love the ocean and believe in its importance much like I do.

Special shoutout to a few incredible influencers who have helped shape my life in so many ways. With all my heart, thank you Ingrid Visser, Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, and Steve Irwin.