Ellen Prager Ph.D. ’92, Coastal Studies Institute
From CC&E to Hollywood: Marine scientist, author shares expertise with Disney
Marine scientist Ellen Prager teaches earth and ocean science through her popular science and children’s adventure books, public speaking engagements and media interviews. She is the science adviser for Celebrity’s small ships in the Galapagos Islands and was recently a consultant on Disney’s newest animated feature film, Moana. Prager was previously the assistant dean at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and at one time the chief scientist for the world’s only undersea research station in the Florida Keys. She has participated in research expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, Papua New Guinea, Caribbean, Bahamas, and the deep waters of the Florida Reef tract.
Noted for her ability to make science entertaining and understandable to the general public, she has appeared on national television programs and has written numerous articles for scientific journals, general interest magazines, and books, including Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The oceans’ oddest creatures and why they matter and Chasing Science at Sea, both published by University of Chicago Press. She has also published several children’s books with the National Geographic Society, for which she received the 2000 Parents Choice Award.
Prager’s most recent book, Stingray City, published in May 2016 by Mighty Media Press, is her third book in a fiction series for middle graders (ages 8-12) that tells of the ocean adventures of 12-year-old Tristan Hunt. Described as “an underwater Harry Potter,” the books combine humor and fast-paced adventure with learning about the ocean and marine life.
Prager’s earlier works included popular science publications aimed at readers in high school and beyond, as well as illustrated children’s books for four- to seven-year-olds.
CC&E Today: What work did you do for Moana, and how did that come about?
Prager: I gave a talk to and answered questions for the Disney animators and others working on the movie about the ocean. We discussed what the ocean can look like under a variety of conditions, waves, interaction with islands, and more. It was great fun, and they asked excellent and often very creative questions. I was contacted through the Science and Entertainment Exchange in California. Scientists interested in getting involved with the entertainment industry can provide their name and field of expertise. I was just lucky they called me for Moana. My colleague and friend, Captain Peg Brandon (president, Sea Education Association) answered questions about sailing and navigation as well.
CC&E Today: Your career thus far exemplifies the rich variety and wide scope of opportunities available to coastal and marine scientists. In what ways did your experience at LSU prepare you for the work you’ve been doing?
Prager: My experience at LSU broadened my expertise, especially within physical oceanography and computer modeling. My background is now really well rounded to include marine geology, biology, and physical oceanography. This has allowed me a wider variety of opportunities in terms of teaching, writing, speaking, and working with the media.
CC&E Today: Any advice for current and potential CC&E oceanography and coastal sciences majors?
Prager: Take risks, be proactive, and go after opportunities. Don’t be afraid of failing or of being rejected, those things are very often part of the path toward success. And take advantage of networking opportunities and work hard. But be careful not to come across as entitled. Believe me when I say I have had to work for the opportunities I now have, starting at the bottom and showing people that I am willing to work hard, laugh at adversity, and love a good challenge. There are a lot of different and amazing opportunities out there today, so explore your interests, while you discover your strengths and weaknesses. And don’t give up!
CC&E Today: What’s next for you?
Prager: I’m hoping to start a new adventure fiction series for middle graders with the first book taking place in the Galapagos Islands. I’m continuing to work in the Galapagos with Celebrity Cruise lines, and this year I’m a spokesperson for Dawn dish detergent, which is the cleaner of choice for oiled or contaminated birds and marine mammals. I’m excited to work with a company that has donated its product and some $5 million dollars to animal rescue organizations. In addition, I’m also very proud to be the chief scientist for Force Blue, an organization that will be training ex-combat and recon divers to help in coral reef restoration, to be spokespeople for the ocean, and to assist them with their PTSD issues and in finding a new positive mission in life.