I am the 2019 North American Rolex Scholar of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society.
My name is Neha Acharya–Patel, and I am an aspiring scientist and conservationist. I have always been fascinated by the natural world and pursued this through my bachelor’s degree in biology with a marine focus. Since then, I have worked as a scientific diver with an institute that studies coastal ecosystems in the context of the Anthropocene. I am hoping that I can use this year to help me focus my goals for the future and to gain a multifaceted view of the environmental challenges being faced globally.
May started off with a lengthy drive down from Victoria, Canada to Long Beach California, where I spent a week at the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber, learning about chamber operations and diving physiology. We also spent quite a bit of time exploring the island, and my new Panasonic GX9 was great for capturing the wild beauty of the island!
As someone new to the world of photography and videography, my next stop was San Diego to train with Photographer and 1997 Rolex Scholar, Sara Shoemaker-Lind. Underwater image-making is undoubtedly one of the most important skills to have for this scholarship year, and for any future conservation work. In our hyper-communicative society, images that can powerfully convey a message are key! I am looking forward to fine-tuning my skills in order to improve my scientific communication. Sara and I had some fun days taking photos all over San Diego. But we got down to business and went through my equipment piece by piece. I learned how to put the kit together, and how wet lenses like my Nauticam Wet Wide Lens-1 actually work! Sara believes (and I agree) that taking things one step at a time is really important in learning a new skill. So I spent a couple of afternoons photographing pool toys, and Sara’s daughter, Celeste, in their pool. This was really useful for me to learn how to adjust the GX9 settings on the Nauticam NA-GX9 Housing in an underwater context. This has allowed me to begin thinking in terms of ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed when working in different conditions.
I finally took the kit into the ocean for a day of shark chumming with the 2013 North American Rolex Scholar, Jeff Hester. The sharks were unfortunately quite elusive, but I got a good photo of Jeff, as my first image in the ocean with the awesome Reef Photo equipment! I am so grateful to Reef Photo and Video, and Sara for making my introduction to the subtidal photography world so smooth! I am so excited to improve my skills as this year progresses!