Tim Briggs hasn’t even graduated from college yet, but he’s already getting paid to pursue his passion.
The 21-year-old junior at Northeastern University will get to spend six weeks and $5,000 focusing on his dream career: underwater and conservation photography.
Briggs is one of 15 winners from around the world who won the opportunity through a competition called #ThisFirst, launched by the skate, surf and snowboarding apparel company Volcom.
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#ThisFirst was a global initiative, according to the company, “to find and reward those who make sacrifices every day, to create more time to pursue their passion.” The prompt for the competition was: “What’s your ‘this’ and what would it mean to you to put #ThisFirst?”
For Briggs, it means the culmination of a lifelong interest and affection for the ocean. Briggs grew up visiting grandparents in both Manchester-By-The-Sea and New Bedford. He started scuba diving at age 12 and was influenced by his family to pursue marine biology in college (with a minor in photography).
“I’m really fortunate to have a family of scientists and ocean-focused people,” he said, “and my grandfather is big into photography, so I had both sides of the equation pushing me.”
Briggs has been able to travel outside of New England for dives. He took what he says is his best photo so far while diving in Cozumel, Mexico, of a sea turtle sitting amidst some coral.
“I hadn’t really experienced diving with turtles that much — usually when you see them, they don’t like you, but the turtles in Cozumel are incredibly docile,” he said. “This was a photo I really couldn’t miss.”
It was also the photo Briggs submitted with his contest application. For him, it’s about more than sharing a pretty shot.
“The ocean is a really beautiful place and very actively dying,” he said. “It’s really important to me that people, if they don’t want to save the ocean, at least know what it was like before it was gone. I’d rather not have that be the outcome, but for me, it’s really important that people who aren’t aware of the ocean know what’s going on down there.”
Briggs isn’t quite sure how he’ll be spending his six weeks and prize money yet; he’s waiting to see who his mentor will be — another perk from Volcolm. He’ll be in San Francisco soon starting a co-op with the Environmental Defense Fund and will be doing some photography for them as well, telling fishery conservation stories. This money and time allows him to take the next step, he said.
“I feel a responsibility as someone who is somewhat educated about the ocean and able to access it regularly,” he said. “If I’m just diving for fun and have this knowledge, I should be using it for something. This feels like the best way for me to get across that the ocean is valuable, and something needs to be done.”