Photography courtesy of Courtney Cox.
Living on the island of Maui and spending many days out on the water, I am privileged to know quite a few ladies who want to help our oceans and all the creatures in them. Courtney Cox (no, not the one from Friends!) is certainly one of them. A creative adventurer and passionate marine conservationist, she has a contagious enthusiasm for what she does and is not one to say no to a spontaneous swim in the ocean or leap off of a waterfall. Here is a little bit of her story.
Let’s hear a bit of your background story.
Oh boy! Well I grew up in Minnesota. I had a pretty legit childhood, very outdoorsy kid. I was always on our boat, riding my four-wheeler, snowmobiling, or at our family cabin, playing soccer or on swim team! My parents always told my brother and me that we could do whatever we set our minds to. For as long as I can remember dolphins have been my favorite animal, I even had them airbrushed on my bedroom wall as a kid. I know, crazy. When I turned 11, my parents helped me get scuba certified and realized I was incredibly stoked about everything related to the oceans. When I graduated from high school, I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida to go to Eckerd College for marine biology. Best four years of my life! I worked as a wakeboarding instructor and was the lead researcher on our dolphin research grant for four years. I volunteered with Mote Marine Lab and the marine mammal pathobiology lab. I traveled abroad to the Bahamas and Roatan to help get as much experience in the marine field as possible. When I graduated in 2014, I was dabbling between graduate school and real-life job applications when I got offered a job with the Pacific Whale Foundation. Three years later, here we are! I’m living on Maui working as a marine naturalist and loving every second of it.
When did you first develop your interest in the ocean?
That’s a tough one! I’m not sure that I can pinpoint the exact day, but I attribute my love for the oceans to the amount that I was able to travel as a kid. My dad is an aeronautical engineer, so we traveled a lot growing up. After my first open water dive I knew I was in love. I’ve been drawn to water for as long as I can remember, so it only seems natural to be intrigued by all that the oceans entail. I guess I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t interested in the oceans!
What made you decide to become an advocate for marine conservation and share your passion with others?
What is life but to share what you love with others! I feel incredibly honored to have the privilege to be able to follow my passions and devote my life to a career that I love. It sounds cheesy, but I think I’ve always been an advocate for marine animals and our oceans. My parents tell stories of me refusing to go to the zoo as a kid because I would cry when I saw the animals in the cages. I’ve known from a very young age what I feel is right, and how to protect what I love. Now I just get paid to do it! In my mind, it’s our job to take care of planet, and some of us just need to be the advocates to help others remember that.
How would you describe the feeling of being out on the water doing what you love?
True love! I’ve never felt as calm and at peace as I do when I’m on the water. I keep waiting for the day that I don’t squeal with excitement at the sight of a dolphin. I can’t even describe the feeling without getting a huge smile on my face. It’s the best feeling in the world!
When you aren’t on a boat, what do you like to do?
I like to be in the water, around the water, or adventuring! I love to rock run, free dive, and adventure all around my beautiful Maui home. Anything involving being outdoors is good to me. I also really enjoy crafting and using reclaimed wood and debris to make art!
Can you tell us what your perfect day would entail?
Hmm, my perfect day! I would have to start the day with some coffee - preferably after 5:00 AM - and some adventures! Rock running, waterfalls and frolicking would be an amazing start to a day. After adventuring I would chill and relax by crafting, reading a book in the hammock, or watching Netflix. I enjoy a good balance between adventures and chill time. A perfect day would have both!
How do you keep yourself going when the going gets tough?
I just try to remind myself how lucky I am to live where I do, have the people I do in my life, and to be doing what I love! I’ve gotten pretty good at taking the time I need when I start to feel burnt out, and I usually craft my way out of it. My best crafts come from stress, and it really helps me zone out and get out of my head. I spend a good majority of my time surrounded my humans at work, so being able to spend time alone, and get some good old nature time and crafting in really helps! That, and talking to my family.
What is something that happened in the last week that really encouraged you?
Last week, I was talking to my mom on the phone when she told me that moving back to Maui was the best thing that I had ever done. I know that my parents will always support me regardless of where I end up, but it was nice to hear to that they are truly proud of me, and the crazy path I’ve taken to get here. Really helped push me through the rest of my long work week!
If you could inspire people to do one thing, what would it be?
I guess I would just inspire people to do what they love! Life is too short to do anything other than what you want to be doing. It’s not always going to be easy, and you may have to struggle to make it work, but in the end it is always worth it. Last week I had a friend from home message me on Facebook saying how cool she thought it was that I ended up being exactly what I wanted to be at age 10. If I can inspire one person to follow their passions, then I’ll be stoked!
In a world where “cannot” isn’t a word, what would the future hold for you?
Well wouldn’t that be nice! In a world of endless possibilities, I would be a full time employee of the Eckerd College Dolphin Project! But realistically speaking, I guess I would run a small educational foundation. I love everything about the oceans and really want to pass that knowledge on to the next generation. In an ideal world I would run a camp for middle and high schoolers as an immersion program to get them excited about science and the oceans. Teach science experiments, research techniques, and marine biology classes combined with fieldwork and small-boat excursions! The keiki are going to be the ones taking care of our planet when we’re no longer here, so it’s crucial to get them started in the ocean conservation movement. Anything to be out on the water, seeing marine life, and educating would make me happy!
Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.