Anywhere Aloha Ambassador: Saiward Turnbaugh

AnywhereAloha® - The Marine Scientist - Hale‘iwa, Hawaii from OluKai on Vimeo.


FISH ALOHA Anywhere Aloha Ambassador Saiward Turnbaugh Protector of the Sea.


Richard Dreyfuss as Marine Biologist Hooper in ​Jaws?​ Bill Murray as oceanographer Steve Zissou in ​The Life Aquatic​? Saffron Burrows as Dr. Susan McAlester in ​Deep Blue Sea? Daryl Hannah as Madison the mermaid in Splash? Which of these fictional, ocean-oriented movie characters match the reality of Saiward Turnbaugh? “I’m not sure any of those characters closely relate to me,” Turnbaugh said.  


“I am definitely not a supporter of hunting down sharks and killing them, so Jaws is out." "Steve Zissou, of course, is quite the character in The Life Aquatic," she continued. Saffron Burrows goes against the code of ethics and genetically modifies shark’s brains ... I’m not really for genetically modifying things in general. In Jaws, a shark dies. Not for that at all.


Plus Saffron Burrows’ character dies at the end of the movie...definitely not going to choose that one ... As for Daryl Hannah in Splash, I do enjoy romantic comedies, and who wouldn’t want to be a mermaid? But I can’t say I am closest to that role either. The real life person who I would most like to be like would be Dr. Sylvia A. Earle.” OluKai’s “Anywhere Aloha” Ambassador Saiward Turnbaugh is an aquarist and diver at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks.


Originally a Vermont mountain woman, she fell in love with the sea at a young age, and has dedicated her life to caring for the ocean and its animals. “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist and as long as I can remember I have been flipping over rocks or wading through grasses in search of aquatic critters," Turnbaugh said. "When my brothers, sister and I were kids, my mom let us watch very limited TV. She did, however, allow us watch 'The Voyage of the Mimi.' This wonderful program definitely could have been my gateway into being absolutely in love with the ocean.


All I know is that I had never even seen the ocean when I decided that my future job would be based around it. The ocean pulls me towards her; it’s as if my heart pumps saltwater rather than blood through my veins. I believe that we have certain passions or purposes that we are born with; it’s whether we choose to listen and go after them that they come alive.”


From Vermont to Catalina Island and now the Outer Banks,Turnbaugh is a dedicated protector of the sea. Her name is prophetic, it turns out. “My dad named me," she said. "My parents were pregnant with their first child to be born when they were watching the movie The Awakening Land. The main female character was named Sayward. My dad loved the name, and he told my mom that if the baby she was carrying was a girl, he wanted to name her Sayward. My mom wasn’t quite so taken with the name... Lucky for her, that first baby born was a boy.


But a year later I came along and my mom, having warmed up to the name, agreed with my dad to name me Saiward. My mom’s edit to the name was to change the y to an i.  My parents didn’t know it at the time but Saiward, correctly spelled Sayward, is an ancient Anglo Saxon name meaning ‘Protector of the sea.’ Pretty fitting as I have made it a life mission to do just that.”  


Turnbaugh graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.S. in Natural Resources and a concentration in Wildlife Biology. She then spent “an amazing three years” at the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI), where she was literally immersed in the ocean through education and aquarium work such as collecting animals, SCUBA diving, freediving, kayaking, swimming and boating. “Everything water related,” Turnbaugh said. “When you live on a rock with no roads in or out of your home, and the ocean is your front yard, it’s very rare that a day goes by where you are not on or in the water.


My job description was doing pretty much everything and anything under the sun and I loved every second of it.” Turnbaugh’s experience with aquariums lead her to her current position at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island (NCARI) as a Natural Science Curator 1, better known as an “aquarist.”   “The short of what I do as an aquarist and diver is that I take care of animals. I mainly work with marine fish from seahorses to sharks"Turnbaugh said. "A longer description is that as an aquarist and diver at NCARI, I do it all.


To list a few of my responsibilities: I manage and prepare the animals’ diets, feed the animals, do small-scale veterinary procedures, administer medications when needed, clean exhibits by SCUBA and Hookah diving, help teach education programs, maintain life support systems, run water chemistry tests, and one can’t forget about poop ... I am constantly dealing with poop.” As an OluKai Aloha Ambassador,Turnbaugh believes she is showing her aloha by introducing the general public to the secrets of the sea while stressing appreciation of the ocean environment, conservation and overcoming fears and misinformation about the ocean through education and good information.


“I am proud to be a Vermonter but my heart belongs to the sea," she said. "I was born with saltwater pumping through my veins so I fell hard in love with the ocean long before I ever stepped foot onto her beaches. It is my passion and purpose in life to help in whatever way I can to protect the oceans and their inhabitants. As humans I feel we have a responsibility to the natural world, the earth, the sky and the oceans. When we live in the spirit of Aloha, we are a part of all and all is a part of us."


Turnbaugh said her job at the North Carolina Aquarium embodies the Aloha spirit by promoting "awareness, understanding, appreciation and conservation of aquatic environments." "We connect people with the natural world ... displaying animals and having interactive exhibits and programs allows people to connect with and experience animals they may never get a chance to come into contact with otherwise," she said.


"That’s what makes my job so wonderful ... In a way, my colleagues and I are a part of the greater picture of conservation. We get to be a part of the ‘awe’ experience our guests at the aquarium have when they walk down our halls and observe the animals. It’s truly awesome. When these moments are created, people feel driven to want to protect the natural world, both the environment and the animal kingdom around them."


Sharks are often left out of the aquatic conservation conversation because people fear them. Seeing them in an aquarium, Turnbaugh said, allows people to see them in a new light. “When people see and interact with things that may scare or frighten them such as sharks and have a positive experience, walls of fear can be broken down and acceptance, respect, appreciation and awe let in to fill its place," she said. "People protect what they care about and it’s time for people to start caring about sharks."


"I am honored to be able to represent OluKai in their Anywhere Aloha campaign," Turnbaugh said. I am stoked to continue to spread the words of appreciation, conservation, respect,awareness and understanding in relation to our oceans.”