You may recognize his face from recent GAP or Nautica ads, but what Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols would prefer to be known for is the cause closest to his heart: Ocean research and conservation. A marine biologist, J. has helped to save sea turtles from extinction, and is now working through his organization, LiVBLUE.org, to preserve our oceans. Follow him on Twitter: @wallacejnichols, his web site, LiVBLUE.org, or The Huffington Post.
PPF: When you were little, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?
JN: I wanted Jacques Cousteau’s job. I grew up in New Jersey and was a member of the Cousteau society and got a sticker and a newsletter every month. But nobody ever told me I could be a marine biologist. The only person who had a job related to the ocean was Jacques. The job was taken. At least that was the perception. So there wasn’t really a lot of encouragement at home or at school that I could become a marine biologist. So I decided the next best thing was Evel Knievel, but obviously the world didn’t need two Evel Kneivels.
PPF: So what did you think your best options were?
JN: The paths that were encouraged were doctor, lawyer, or businessman. Those were the serious options to choose from. I was an empathetic child. I wanted to help people. I was never interested in making money. But I was interested in biology. So to me, medical school seemed to make the most sense. So I majored in pre-med at Depauw in Indiana.
PPF: What was your first real job?
JN: In college, I worked as an EMT on an ambulance..
PPF: So did the stint on the ambulance convince you medical school wasn’t for you?
JN: Actually, I had a conversation when I was in college with an upper classman that changed everything. He mentioned wildlife biology as a career, and I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” It was the first time anyone had told me about such a thing. In college, I’d go snorkeling in the quarry when everyone was out partying, camping in the cemetery when everyone else was getting wasted. So to merge my love of nature with my education, that seemed right.