Dr. Craig P. O’Connell: Focus on shark conservation

When he’s not conducting research on shark conservation or diving with great white sharks, O’Connell focuses on youth education

Dr. Craig P. O'Connell
O'Connell just before the dive.

Craig P. O’Connell '14, of New York, earned his PhD in Marine Sciences at UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology. He is the author of more than 20 scientific publications and has led expeditions across the globe, focusing on shark conservation in South Africa, Guadalupe, and in the middle of the tropical rain forest.

In addition to hosting or presenting episodes for the Smithsonian Channel and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, he is the founder of the O’Seas Conservation Foundation, Inc. – a nonprofit organization focused on shark conservation research and youth education.

Discuss how UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Sciences and Technology (SMAST) advanced your career trajectory?

First and foremost, it was essential that I was able to scuba dive for my research. Upon my project commencement, diving was not permitted. However, SMAST staff obtained special permission for me to scuba dive for my research. If it wasn’t for this action, I couldn’t have pursued my conservation technology work at UMass Dartmouth. 

Also, the SMAST staff was always happy to help. I truly think that all future SMAST students will be lucky to have this staff guide them through their degrees. 

Also, my committee at SMAST went above and beyond to see me succeed. The Ph.D. program is a challenging, yet rewarding one and it is during this program that you have many ups and downs. But I feel that a challenge is one of the key ways that contributes to the growth of an individual. In this circumstance, I could firmly say that the professors at SMAST who served on my committee challenged me, but are largely responsible for the scientist I have become today. 

Discuss your work with your PhD advisor Pingguo He. 

During my PhD, I conducted a wide array of projects all over the world. Due to this, I often had many project and grant proposals, scientific manuscripts, and permit requests that needed revision. Dr. He was my advisor and therefore, I always looked to him for guidance to successfully accomplish all of these tasks. Each and every time I asked him, he helped me and this is one of the key reasons for academic progress. I am forever grateful to have had Dr. He has an advisor as he made the PhD. experience much more enjoyable. 

What do you remember and/or appreciate most about your time at SMAST?

The people!  Although I did spend more time in the field, than I did in the lab, the people at SMAST were incredible human beings. Their support, not only for me, but for one another was great to see and created a very healthy work environment. 

In between all your work (scientific publications, TV shows, and travels), any new deals/ventures you'd like to share?

Presently, my life is dedicated to my nonprofit organization, O’Seas Conservation Foundation, Inc. and presenting for several nature-based documentaries. Both of these ventures are challenging but give me the ability to continue conducting research and to educate a substantial quantity of people, which has always been my goal. 

With that said, the technology I developed during my PhD, the Sharksafe Barrier, is progressing.  My team and I have just finished the final phase of experimentation in South Africa and we will soon be testing this technology to determine its efficacy along the S. African shoreline. We hope that one day, this technology is adopted and will serve as an eco-friendly alternative to beach nets. 


School for Marine Science and Technology, Research, Features - Alumni feature (SMAST) Alumni, School for Marine Science and Technology Alumni Connections