Meet Ocean Explorer Gabriela Espino

Gaby Espino
Ocean Exploration Trust

OET proudly welcomes Gabriela Espino to the Corps of Exploration as part of the Science & Engineering Internship Program. This internship program supports community college, undergraduate, and graduate students in building professional workforce experience and exploring STEM-related careers that connect to research themes like robotics, ocean science, education, and exploration. Gaby is joining E/V Nautilus for our NA158 expedition as a seafloor mapping intern.

We sat with Gaby to learn more about her experience at sea and the path that led her to Nautilus.

Can you tell us a little about your background? What influenced you as a child?

I grew up in Kailua, Hawaii, where my favorite pastime was hitting the beach with my brother Mario. We’d spend our days boogie boarding, surfing, and learning how to read the various ocean conditions. My dad, a Waikiki Beach boy and canoe captain, imparted his extensive knowledge of the Hawaiian ocean to me, allowing me to grasp the profound mana (power) it holds. Being surrounded by the sea, I developed a deep appreciation for its significance and the wisdom it carried. 

In addition to my connection with the ocean, I drew inspiration from historical women who left a mark, not only in their times but also in shaping my perspective today. Icons like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, and others demonstrated strength and made significant contributions. Their stories fueled my belief that I could forge a unique path, one that hadn’t been ventured before. 

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was young, I wanted to become an anthropologist, influenced by the novels I read and the movies that inspired my imagination. My love for history fueled this dream, envisioning the thrill of being an explorer and uncovering artifacts that could reshape our understanding of the past. Now, I have the opportunity to live out this childhood dream aboard the E/V Nautilus. Here, I am fulfilling my role as an explorer, contributing to the history books by creating maps of the ocean. With each sonar sweep, I am actively adding to the pages of history, one seamount discovery at a time. 

What would you consider to be your greatest challenge entering this field?

Challenges, in my view, are shaped by one’s perspective. I have a more stoic philosophy when it comes to challenges in my life, I am not afraid to face new things head on because I know who I am and what I am capable of. I’ve maintained my standards, refusing to lower the bar due to gender, race, or cultural background. This mindset propelled me through high school, leading to an acceptance into the U.S. Naval Academy, and achieving my goal of being a Naval Aviator. 

Even as I transitioned to a new career as an oceanographer, this change was during a time of significant challenges, especially during the unique circumstances of the past few years with lockdowns and restrictions. Complicating matters further, I faced the loss of my brother, my unwavering supporter in my dream to become an oceanographer. Despite these challenges, I’ve remained strong. Life’s ebbs and flows are inevitable. What matters most, however, is how we respond to these challenges. Each obstacle becomes a defining moment, shaping the person we aspire to be. 

Do you have any advice for someone looking to follow a similar path?

It’s never too late to begin exploring your interests and engaging in oceanography activities. Whether you’re in high school, college, or firmly established in a career, remember that you possess the capability to achieve anything you set your mind to. If your passion lies in becoming an oceanographer, marine biologist or contributing to ocean conservation, I encourage you to actively participate in clubs and volunteer groups related to your field.

Building a diverse resume matters, as colleges and employers value candidates who have immersed themselves in various experiences aligned with their career aspirations. Don’t hesitate to take the initiative and explore opportunities that align with your interests and goals. 

What's next for your ocean studies and career?  

I am currently on a path to completing my Master’s in Oceanography with the University of Rhode Island Online program, with an anticipated graduation date in May of 2025. During this time, I am actively getting hands-on experience and building my oceanography resume. I plan on applying to a variety of internships associated with oceanography, geology, and climate change. After graduation, the world is my oyster!