“As soon as I put my foot on board, I’m flying,” wrote Anita Conti, who spent much of her life sailing the world as France’s first female oceanographer. Born on this day in 1899, the young adventurer developed a love for the sea while traveling with her parents. Living in Paris after World War I, she became a photographer and an accomplished writer focusing on nature and the sea.
In 1935, the French Fisheries Authorities hired Conti to conduct scientific research assessing fish resources. In 1941, she was the only female to board a trawler bound for Western Africa, spending the next ten years between Senegal and the Ivory Coast, documenting traditional fishing practices, meeting with local elders, and developing detailed fishing maps. Conti’s goal was to nourish French troops and save the local population from hunger, but over time she became increasingly concerned about the danger of overfishing and was one of the first to issue a warning that “seas are under threat.”
In subsequent voyages through the North Atlantic and Canada, she survived rough seas, shot thousands of photos, and wrote about her experiences with poetic flair in books like Géants des mers chaudes (Giants of the Warm Seas). In 1952 she spent six months in the Arctic Ocean aboard the French trawler Bois-Rosé, capturing the difficulty of life on a fishing boat in her bestselling book, Racleurs d’océans (Scrapers of oceans).
A pioneer of maritime ecology, Conti spent nearly half of her 98 years on the high seas, earning the name La Dame de la Mer or the “Sea Lady.”
Bon anniversaire, Anita Conti!