Christopher Chin wasn’t necessarily expecting a life-altering moment when he flopped into the waters off Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, in his diving gear.
But it happened anyway. Little did he know that slipping into the warm clear water was the beginning of a journey that would eventually take him to address the United Nations General Assembly — twice.
He’d joined IMAX filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall on a dive to film sharks. Not long into their second-day dive, the trio was surrounded by sharks — as many as 12 different species. Christopher descended into a theater-like plateau, at about 32 meters, when a bull shark emerged within arm’s reach — its penetrating black eyes locked with his own.
It was surreal. The shark held its gaze for eight seconds. It may as well have been an Inception-like trip through earth’s history, with man and beast tangling over a sense of place and survival.
“This was a sentient being, an animal trying to figure out what I was doing there,” recalls Christopher, a Workday engineer. “I knew sharks were troubled and misunderstood — but I didn’t realize to what extent.”
When Christopher emerged from the water, he paused. He knew, right then, that he’d be on a mission in life to teach people about these mysterious animals — and our oceans at large.
Indeed, a few years later he founded a nonprofit organization called COARE (The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research & Education). Christopher has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week; he’s a top expert on shark fin policy in North America, and one of the nation’s leading experts in single-use plastics legislation.
“We all depend on the ocean, no matter where we live,” he says. “We depend on it for sustenance, for the very oxygen we breathe. And the ocean depends on us — no matter where we are, or the things we do, we can take little actions that have a tremendous impact on the world around us.”
Last year, he spoke at the United Nations:
COARE, founded in the San Francisco Bay Area, seeks a world in which “our oceans are respected by all mankind.” They promote responsible choices like avoiding single-use plastic items (bags, straws, coffee cups) or avoiding restaurants that serve turtle or shark fin soup.
Christopher, a scuba instructor and technical diver, was drawn to the ocean at an early age. His father was a diver who worked for the former Pan American Airways (Pan Am), which enabled diverse experiences around the world.
“The underwater world has always fascinated me,” he says. “Once I became a certified diver, I never looked back. I did 100 dives in my first year.”
With the founding of COARE, Christopher has an outlet to share his passion and knowledge — and compel others to act with responsibility and urgency.
“Protecting our oceans is challenging and daunting,” he says. “There is a lot of waste. But as an organization, we just try to walk our talk. Even in the conservation community, we’ll see a speaker up there with a single-use Starbucks cup — it’s hypocritical. It drives me bonkers!
“On the other hand, we’re seeing tremendous change happening and people are inspired.”
Christopher has been impressed by Workday’s own commitment to sustainability.
“I’m proud to work at a company so dedicated to reducing its environmental impact that it has full-time employees dedicated to creating, improving, and promoting sustainability efforts,” Christopher says. “These efforts, from the rechargeable battery program to reusable snack bowls,make a measurable and meaningful difference with little effort.”
Outside our walls, there’s an ever-evolving fight to break old habits. And Christopher is often right there, making the case for positive change.
In 2016, New York City’s City Council voted to require certain retailers to collect a 5-cent minimum fee on each carryout bag, paper or plastic. This was an effort that Christopher had advocated for over a number of years. “The industry fights and they fight dirty,” he says.
Indeed, there are battles at every turn. But our planet — our oceans — needs people to step up and do their small part, and it starts with the young. Maybe they, too, will someday stare into the eyes of a sea creature and gain a fresh perspective about their plight and ours.
“This is their world that they’re inheriting,” Christopher says of young children today. “What they see now is not what we’ll have in 10 years — it’s up to them to create change and do things that will impact their world and encourage others to do the same.”