At ConnectOcean, we are passionate about the preservation, conservation and restoration of the marine environment. 

We are also passionate about sharing our love for the environment with the community, through education, awareness, interaction, and involvement across all generations, cultures, and abilities.


Since 2002, ConnectOcean has been connecting young people to the environment by providing place-based education, immersing them in the marine world through teaching the basis of life on earth underwater and on our shores.

We believe that we can't just rely on governments to make policy changes, but that we, as the global community, need to be the change we want to see. In addition to providing education for the younger generations, we work with local communities to increase awareness of the environment, and provide opportunities to up-skill and protect their futures. 

Integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has been lacking in the past, and at ConnectOcean we believe we have a fantastic opportunity to champion STEM through our education programs and learning.

All of our work is embedded in Citizen Science - meaning that by educating and up-skilling the community and young people in the marine environment, large amounts of data can be collected and contribute to a greater understanding of the environment, our impact on it, and what we need to do to protect it. Our programs have been developed and are continuously reviewed by leading marine scientists and educators to ensure that everything we do is scientifically robust and has purpose.


Meet the team

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Ernst van der Poll is the founder and Managing Director of ConnectOcean. Ernst is an experienced educator, PADI Course Director and scuba diving instructor. Having spent most of his life in the ocean, Ernst is passionate about protecting the marine environment for future generations to enjoy. After establishing a successful dive centre and marine education program in the United Arab Emirates, Ernst relocated to Costa Rica where he continues to share his passion for marine education. Ernst works with all levels and abilities, from young children to corporate executives, and is committed to helping local communities develop new skills that provide them with a secure and sustainable future.


Jemma Purandare is ConnectOcean's Director of Science and Strategic Development. With more than 14 years' experience as a marine and coastal scientist, Jemma has dedicated her career to studying, conserving and restoring the world's oceans and shores. Jemma has worked all over the world, including in Australia, the Galapagos, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, and has a passion for studying and protecting coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves and coral reefs. Jemma conducts research with both James Cook University and Griffith University in Australia, and is the co-founder of the Australian Coastal Restoration Network. Jemma is also a qualified scuba diving instructor and is always keen to share her knowledge of the marine environment through education and learning.

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Eric Madeja is the Director of ConnectOcean Asia-Pacific and an award-winning marine and conservation photographer. Over the past 20 years, Eric has led many photography expeditions all over the world, and has his images and articles published in numerous major magazines. Eric is the co-author of The Coral Triangle - a coffee table book about marine conservation published in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Eric has coordinated and delivered numerous large Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) events, including the Guinness World Record for the longest underwater ocean clean up. Eric's heart is in exploration and conservation, and he takes every opportunity to travel to remote and challenging locations to study and document the deep connection humanity has with the ocean.

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Sarah Travers is ConnectOcean's Conservation and Outreach Manager. She hails from Colorado, USA, where she studied ecology. Post graduation, she worked for NOAA researching fisheries catches in Alaska. She became a scuba diving instructor in 2014 and has been using her skills to conduct underwater research. She has a passion using data collection as an educational tool to engage the community in the marine environment. This builds a deep connection fostering a sense of ocean stewardship from participants.

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Juan Sio Guie (Sio) is a PADI scuba diving instructor and Outdoors Specialist with a passion for teaching the younger generation about the wonders of nature. Sio grew up in San José, Costa Rica, where he spent most of his childhood outdoors connecting with Mother Nature. After studying Biology, Ecology, and Sustainable Development, his appetite for knowledge and adventure led to a career in tourism and research, taking him on to journeys to Kenya, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, United States, Canada, and throughout Costa Rica. Whenever Sio has spare time, he spends it with his two sons scuba diving, trekking, horseback riding and simply sharing his passion for nature with his family, community, friends and visitors.


Rheinhardt ("Rheiny") Scholtz is one of Connect Ocean’s Scientific Advisors. He is an ecologist with a broad focus in ecological modeling. He grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, attended the University of Cape Town where he obtained an MSc in Phycology followed by a PhD in Biology from the University of Kwazulu-Natal. Part of his main duties includes developing data collection protocols for Connect Ocean’s research projects. He is passionate about all things conservation and attempts to better understand, conserve and manage ecosystems through science and society.


Sofia Solano Fernández is a Scientific Advisor for Connect Ocean. She is a Conservation Biologist, specialized in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). She was born and raised in Costa Rica. After completing her BSc in Biology at University of Costa Rica she moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where she obtained her MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Cape Town. Her MSc thesis focused on Marine Protected Areas, and since then she developed a deep interest in marine conservation. Since returning to Costa Rica she aims to apply and share her knowledge, looking to improve the protection of our marine resources.

“An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source not only a great curiosity, but great fulfilment”
— Sir David Attenborough