Steve Shindell grew up in Phoenix and became interested in scuba diving from watching Jacques Cousteau and Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt.” Shindell began diving in 1977, and once aspired to be a professional diver.
He considers his most exotic dive trip as a tie between the Solomon Islands and traveling to Sulawesi, Indonesia, in the Celebes Sea (western Pacific Ocean) with wife Lori last year. The Solomon Islands trip was with Dr. Bruce Carlson, former science officer of the Georgia Aquarium, with whom he co-authored the book “Bringing the Ocean to Atlanta: The Creation of the Georgia Aquarium.”
When asked if he’d ever stared danger in the face, Shindell declared, “Danger. No, not even when diving with venomous sea snakes in Indonesia. The ocean is a lot safer than land!” He furthers that the rarest creatures he has encountered are pygmy seahorses, which are the size of a grain of rice.
The Shindells look at diving and caring for sea life as a “family affair.” Three of their children dive and he’s “working on the other four and four grandchildren to join in.” Two of their teens did summer internships at the Aquarium.
Many scuba skills, emergency preparation and management, self-discipline and following instructions are values he engenders in his Boy Scouts. “We like to say Scouts teaches leadership, and the outdoors are our classrooms,” the neuropsychologist said. “Lori and I co-chair the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Boards of Review for the district. She is crew leader for a Venture crew, and I am assistant scoutmaster in another troop. Two of our sons are Eagle Scouts and two others are working on their projects now. I teach the oceanography merit badge and have led several scuba trips for my Scouts.” Shindell has taken Scouts for dives in the Cayman Islands, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. The minimum age to be scuba-certified is 11. Prior to that is the Discover Scuba Diving program.
Shindell refers to himself and other volunteers at the Georgia Aquarium as “Jacques Coustodians.” His volunteerism includes cleaning and maintenance and helping marine biologists feed the marine life and perform procedures. He has done over 500 dives in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, hundreds more in others. He urges visitors to study the coral reef exhibit, by explaining “It is the rainforest of the ocean, but with more biodiversity.”
He built the underwater menorah for Ocean Voyager and dressed as Santa underwater. He even lit the menorah in his Santa suit!
Shindell began volunteering at the Aquarium almost 16 years ago. “I was there since before the Aquarium opened. I am one of the original volunteers. The former director was a friend of mine, so I toured it in a hard hat during construction.”
Wife Lori added, “I volunteer on the dry side of the aquarium. Mostly at the Ocean Voyager or Tropical Diver, but the most fun is staying overnight [pre-COVID] with the sleepover guests. Being around the guests and helping them navigate the aquarium or trying to answer questions gives me great pleasure. I always leave with a smile in my heart.
“Sleepover guests vary. Scouts, clubs, school groups, families, adults-only, etc. It was one of the aquarium’s programs, like guided tours behind the scenes, that could end in getting to fall sleep watching the animals.”
Dr. Shindell notes, “During the pandemic, the staff has done a great job. There was no real change for animals.” Many recently tuned in to “Animal Planet” to witness mother Whisper’s delivery of a new 174-pound baby beluga whale. “She is doing great.”
In terms of the marine life in general, he explained, “The ocean is 70 percent of the planet; there are amazing creatures for everyone to observe. The lesson is ‘No blue to green,’ a quote from legendary marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle. The oceans literally are responsible for everything on earth; if we don’t take care of them, there will be no land animals either.”