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Women Explorers: Maya Santangelo

A dream of mine is to take a submersible down to depths greater than humanly possible, plunge into darkness and leave the photic zone behind—to truly explore a place that is “otherworldly” on our own planet.
Expedition Diver, Lindblad Expeditions

14 different countries, 73 flights, and 73 days of shipboard life

As the 2016 Australasian Our World-Underwater Rolex Scholar, Maya traveled to 14 different countries, took 73 flights, and lived on ships for 73 days. The yearlong program exposed her to all kinds of underwater-related disciplines and gave her the unique chance to work alongside current leaders in the field. Maya had some incredible opportunities along the way: she assisted on a film shoot with cuttlefish for Blue Planet II, studied sharks at a world-renowned research station in the Bahamas, learned to free dive in Bali, and helped create a 360-degree virtual reality film about mobula rays in the Azores. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up


But the most life-changing part of the program? It led Maya to her dream job. She was introduced to Lindblad Expeditions when she spent time aboard our ships, and saw firsthand how important the expedition and diving industry can be in making a difference. “Lindblad is the only operation I’ve ever experienced that actively prioritizes educating people about what we’re getting to see underwater,” she recalls, “and it’s why I wanted to come back and work for them.”

Maya learned to dive as a teen in Sydney, Australia together with her marine biologist father. The world she discovered beneath the waves has been captivating her ever since. And it inspired her to pursue her own marine biology degree. Now she gets to combine her passion for diving, science, and communication as an expedition diver for Lindblad.

Whether she’s coming face-to-face with a leopard seal in Antarctica (a heart-pounding moment!) or gliding among massive manta rays in the South Pacific (a more Zen-like experience!), Maya films these amazing encounters and brings them to the surface to share with guests. The undersea program perfectly aligns with Maya’s goal—to help make a difference for our blue planet. Nothing makes her happier than when she hears from guests how much it added to their voyage. “If I can inspire even one person to care more about something in nature, make one positive change in their everyday life, or start a conversation with someone else, I’ve done my job.”

Watch Maya don all of her polar diving gear here.

We asked Maya Santangelo:

Why do you explore?
I explore because I care about this planet. Exploration to me isn’t just about getting to see new, exciting, wild places, it’s about fuelling that undeniable curiosity to ask questions about what we see and wonder how the world works. With opportunities like filming under icebergs with an ROV and diving in uncharted territory, my job doesn’t just give me a chance to feel a little like an explorer, it gives that exploration a purpose.


What is your favorite Lindblad Expeditions destination?
Although some of my favorite dive experiences have been in warm waters, my favorite destinations to travel with Lindblad are definitely places with cold water. When you think of places like Antarctica and the Arctic above the surface, you think of an environment that is white, vast, and possibly desolate. Looking below the surface in these regions, this is where we find the color. The life underwater in the poles is surprisingly diverse and perfectly adapted to these extreme environments—and it’s incredibly rewarding to discover.

What is the dream exploration you haven’t done… yet?
We live on a planet that is covered by more than 70 percent water, yet we have explored less than five percent of the ocean. A dream of mine is certainly to explore the deep sea. To take a submersible down to depths greater than humanly possible, plunge into darkness and leave the photic zone behind, to truly explore a place that is “otherworldly” on our own planet—I think that would make my heart explode with fascination and curiosity.

Name your female heroes and why.
Dr. Sylvia Earle. As a woman in ocean science, not only did she pave the way for women to do things that were previously considered to be things only men could do, she has relentlessly used her voice with palpable passion to inspire others to care about our ocean. 

Secondly, and more importantly, my mom. Although she’s what I refer to as a “terrestrial creature”, and I may have followed in my dad’s footsteps of pursuing an ocean path, my mom has without a doubt influenced the passion that I have for what I do and what I care about. And she’s taught me to always “swing for the fences.”

What advice would you give the next generation of women explorers?
Be inspired by the women that paved the way doing things as “first women,” but remember now is our time to get out there and do things no matter what! It doesn’t have to just be a significant step for women to make something special. If you are doing what you love, and it makes a positive contribution to our world, it’s special. Explore with purpose, but don’t forget to just be wonderfully curious sometimes and marvel at how amazing our world can be.