A Love for the Ocean is in my Blood

Tara Russell

January 8, 2023

As Chief Impact Officer for Carnival Corporation, Tara Russell was invited to speak at the first Sustainable Brands 'Oceans' Conference in Portugal in November 2019

So often we get the (theoretically) simple question, “Where are you from?” And usually there is a straightforward answer. Chicago. New York. The California coast.

However, when I am asked this question, I immediately begin sweating even though I am a pretty chill kind of person. That’s because I moved a ton as a kid throughout the midwest in fairly land-locked states (at least without an ocean border!). We lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana before I went to engineering school in Atlanta (go Jackets!) and worked in the Nashville area for Saturn Corporation. 

But one constant for me no matter where I lived at the time was the stories about the ocean and life at sea I heard from my grandfather, Popop.  

My Popop studied at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. He was drafted into war before graduating and quickly became part of the naval forces at sea. His life at war, and time traveling the world, opened his eyes and heart, and mostly provided the fuel for great stories and jokes (that we’ve heard over and over and over for years... he’s nearly 99!).  

So, when this land-locked midwesterner found herself building a purpose-driven cruise line, Fathom, for Carnival Corporation (the world’s largest travel and leisure company) and serving as Chief Impact Officer for the global family of brands, I had Popop’s respect for the ocean embedded in my mind.

During my time at Carnival, I also found out that the spirit of the ocean is also in my blood.

I learned that my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (I think that is the right number of greats!) was the first steam ship captain to cross the Atlantic Ocean. 

While serving as Carnival’s Chief Impact Officer, I worked closely with Chief Maritime Officer Admiral Burke and his team. We were tackling a myriad of global projects to develop cleaner fuel and renewable power and to reduce food, water and other waste, often leading the entire shipping industry towards healthier alternatives. I was back into leveraging my mechanical engineering roots and my passion for communicating as I frequently shared the stories of our work. 

I was championing the need to do all we can to preserve the health of the ocean because, while struck by the power, majesty and gorgeous spiritual magic of this seemingly endless body of water, I became very aware of how fragile the ocean is - and the various marine species that live within it.

I spent a meaningful amount of time while at Carnival visioning forward about how to best leverage all the things I had done, who I am today and ‘what’s in my hands’ for continued ocean innovation and impact. 

And that’s why I helped found Photon Marine. 

We believe in a world where smart meets clean. We believe that our oceans and waterways are vital to our planet, and that we MUST protect them. We believe that the diversity of life below water deserves to be defended from threats and pollution of all types. We believe in responsible consumption + creative engineering.  

We believe in reimagination and reinvention, in pushing through boundaries and reestablishing new patterns that are easier, more affordable and more accessible to all who live, work and play in or around the water. We believe in the power of protection and the power of mobilizing people towards better solutions.

It feels pretty special to visit my Popop and share all the progress we’re making at Photon. I like to think it continues the special bond we have in our shared love of the ocean. I know he’s thrilled that I am doing all I can to ensure my children, Tyson and Lucy, and their children, will have the opportunity to enjoy the ocean. Because at Photon, we believe in a healthier future for us all, and especially for our kids.