Under the Sea 5

An Explorer’s Happy Place

From guiding dives in Malaysia, surveying coral reefs in Indonesia, and exploring submerged caves in Mexico, 26-year-old Carlsbad resident Caitlyn Webster travels to remote areas around the world as a Scientific Diver and photographer. No wonder then that she speaks five languages and has traveled to all seven continents!

“It certainly is a multi-faceted job,” she says. “I am able to show people this world that they otherwise wouldn’t really think about.” This ‘world’ Webster refers to involves her work on months-long excursions to remote regions as an Undersea Specialist on Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic ships. Her responsibilities include taking video footage during her dives and creating a natural history presentation for the guests on board, often within the same day.

When not on an expedition, Webster works with various research stations around the world as a scientific diver, aiding their graduate research projects and creating promotional underwater videos. The short amount of free time on the ships is spent researching, and her time off is filled with prepping for the next adventure. “It’s constantly learning and trying to figure out how you can use what you already know, and then build upon that based on a specific ecosystem or place that you’re visiting,” she says.

When diving at work, Webster must constantly monitor her time, as dives are limited. “I could stay down for 3 hours and it would feel like 10 seconds,” she shares, of the undersea world that is her “happy place.” It isn’t smooth sailing all the time though. During emergency situations in the course of her work, and Webster has experienced a few of those, she has learned to react calmly and effectively.

“I have been fortunate in that all of my jobs and training have prepared me pretty much for any situation under water,” she says, recalling a dive in Antarctica when her regulator “free-flowed,” releasing all of the air from her tank. On various other dives, she recalls great hammerhead and tiger sharks spontaneously swimming by her. “Your heart rate goes up for sure, but it is more of a thrill than anything else.”

Born in southern California and raised in Northern Virginia, Webster and her family moved to Carlsbad when she was in high school. She remembers her first marine biology course and taking her first scuba diving course during the summer. “I was totally hooked and thought it was the greatest thing I had ever experienced,” she says about her first dive in Catalina. A trip to Maui further fueled her passion for undersea exploration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in biological science at California Polytechnic State University, where she was Vice President of the SCUBA club. She did her senior thesis in South Africa studying great white sharks, later volunteering with a nonprofit organization in Mozambique, Africa, studying everything from diver impact on reefs to manta ray behavior. Now her current assignments take her around the world on diverse remote research diving operations and logistics endeavors.

Constantly on the go, Webster usually has just a day to a couple of weeks to visit home. “Carlsbad is certainly a wonderful place to inspire someone to love the ocean, and it is definitely one of my favorite places to visit while I am off the ship and can go anywhere in the world,” she shares.

Most times though, Webster has to readjust after longer trips abroad. “I certainly have had reverse culture shock multiple times. It takes me two hours to go grocery shopping,” she jokes, about being overwhelmed by the number of food options available. While Webster acclimates to everyday life during her brief visits home, her passion for ocean preservation continues off the ship. On a recent trip to Costco with her mom, the plastic water bottles people were buying saddened Webster. “It made my heart cry at the thought of all of that waste that will inevitably end up in the ocean.”

Eventually, Webster plans on obtaining a graduate degree and performing research with sustainable fisheries and natural resource management. “The big picture is to make a positive impact on the marine world and preserving this fascinating place that I absolutely love.” She encourages those with an interest in marine life and the ocean to do exactly what they love.  It is the photos of her early dives Webster shot as a hobby, fascinated by underwater photography, that fueled her path to working as a videographer now for National Geographic.

“Even though it might not be the most beaten path and kind of scary, you might find yourself broke with a staph-infection and stranded in Australia, but it is definitely the most rewarding to feel like you’re making a difference for something that you’re passionate about!”