Co-Managing Director 70%
Long before she knew what she would do in her life, Vera Bürgi knew that it was essential for her to have a meaningful career. Before joining OceanCare in 2003, she studied history of art and applied her communication skills in the tourism sector, for the Tibetan cause, at the theatre and in PR agencies. Until 2012, Vera was in charge of communications and media relations at OceanCare. In 2013 she took over the administrative management of the organisation. Since 2009, she has also been working as a kinesiologist.
By dedicating her working life to OceanCare, Vera wishes to promote respect for nature and the biodiversity of the blue planet. To her, nature, mankind and culture tell a unique, fascinating story, and she works to ensure that we don’t lose our connection to nature and to promote living a decent life on earth without destroying it. Within the OceanCare team she experiences what she would like to see throughout the world: joyful, collaborative commitment for a common vision. “Each of us contributes his or her strengths, and together we develop a kind of swarm intelligence, and that’s exactly what makes our work so successful. I’m sure that we are a living role model.”
Vera loves beauty – in nature, in culture, and in humans with their creative power. Regarding the sea, she is touched by the vastness, which makes mankind look very small, “right where man becomes minuscule, you can feel his real greatness”.
Stefani Westphal Vonesch
Co-Managing Director 30%
Stefani Westphal has been a member of OceanCare since 1993. She was elected to the Board of Directors in 2001 and became Vice President in 2003.
Water is Stefani’s element, thirst for knowledge is one of her main traits, and animals are her big love. As a child, Stefani spent her days snorkelling in Lake Zurich and in addition to some semesters studying zoology and a 10 year career in marketing, she became a professional diver. In her many years as a sports diver and diving instructor, Stefani has come to know and love the marine environment, always feeling like a privileged guest in an amazingly different world. On her numerous dives, she is acutely aware of the beauty of, and the threats to this wonderful part of our planet. It is very important to her that her work at OceanCare contributes to the conservation of marine habitats.
Besides her work for OceanCare, Stefani is a dedicated breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. This dog breed fits to her passion for Southern Africa, where she completed “Basic Ranger” training.
Co-Director International Relations
Within a few minutes, Sigrid Lüber’s path of life was redrawn by a touching encounter with a school of dolphins when diving in the Indian Ocean. In the same year, in 1989, together with a handful of like-minded people, she founded OceanCare, for which she has served as the president since 1993. A skilled machine designer with long-standing commercial experience in international corporations, Sigrid volunteered her free time to OceanCare from 1989 until 2003. Since 2003, she has been working full-time to protect marine wildlife and the oceans.
Sigrid’s passion and goal is the global preservation of oceans and the species within them. This focus has driven Sigrid to work hard to ensure OceanCare’s voice is heard within various high level intergovernmental fora and resulted in numerous successes influencing international ocean policy. Since 1992, Sigrid has participated in conferences of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) advocating for an end to commercial whaling and promoting the growth of the IWC’s conservation and welfare agenda. Since 2004, she has also been playing an active role in all United Nations (UN) related bodies dealing with ocean governance and policy. Sigrid builds and maintains excellent relationships with decision-makers both nationally and internationally. Owing to her cooperation with the UN and in recognition of the organisation’s expertise and credibility, OceanCare was awarded Special Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2011. Most recently, in 2015, OceanCare received invitation from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to be accredited as Major Group to UNEA, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on environmental issues.
Sigrid’s profound knowledge about the seas and the legal basis of international ocean conservation is self-taught and a credit to her many years of experience. With her visionary sense for upcoming issues and her well balanced combination of pragmatism, knowledge, commitment, courage and perseverance, she was instrumental in making OceanCare an organisation widely respected by international bodies and scientific professionals worldwide.
The well-being of humans, nature and animals have always been close to Sigrid’s heart. Outside of the OceanCare office Sigrid can often be found walking in the tranquility of the Swiss mountains with her husband Ed, and their beloved dog.
Co-Director International Relations
Fabienne was captured by the travel bug early in her life. In addition to numerous journeys, she has made a home in many places, including Vancouver, San Diego, Melbourne and London before returning to her home country of Switzerland.
Before joining OceanCare, Fabienne dealt with complex financial structures in the private sector. She completed a part-time study at the HWZ University of Applied Sciences which resulted in a Bachelor of Science in Communication in Zurich. Fabienne joined OceanCare in 2009, initially supporting the organisation as a volunteer. OceanCare played a pivotal role in her life and inspired her to complete a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and Sustainability at Monash University in Melbourne. Until 2017, Fabienne was heading OceanCare’s public relations. Given her scientific background and her communicative vein, she is increasingly working in many of the international fora which are so critical to OceanCare’s work.
A passionate surfer, Fabienne McLellan is addicted to the sea. There is nowhere she feels closer to nature than on her surfboard. Sometimes she encounters marine wildlife while surfing, such as a pod of porpoises passing by and she feels thoroughly blessed. However other times she experiences the reality of the marine plastic debris problem first-hand. Plastic pollution is an issue particularly close to Fabienne’s heart and whenever she is out on her surfboard following the call of the waves, she also engages in beach cleans.
Sandra Ludescher holds a Masters Degree in journalism and communication science from the University of Zurich and has acquired substantial practical knowledge as a student trainee in digital communication and online marketing. After working for more than two years as a media planner at an international advertising agency, she decided to dedicate her skills to her passion, which is animal protection. She brought OceanCare’s communication into the 21st century in every respect. One important aspect of her job is to keep track of how effective OceanCare’s online petitions or campaigns are, ensuring that the organisation continues to learn and grow, reaching and engaging as many people as possible with the ocean protection message. As protectors of wildlife, some people say humans should be cared for fist, however Sandra feels strongly that the future of humans is so closely intertwined with that of nature that we must inspire people to care for it. Sandra enjoys teamwork at OceanCare very much and the feeling of many small cogs working together to create something big and worthwhile.
Sandra discovered her enthusiasm for marine wildlife during a boat trip, when she encountered a pod of dolphins. However humans, chickens, whales – all animals are important to her. After Sandra visited a slaughterhouse during a seminar on animal welfare legislation in 2012, the passionate cook became vegan and the welfare of farm animals became one of her heartfelt wishes which she is pursuing in her spare time.
Coordinator Science & Education
Already as a little girl Susanne Hagen felt an intense and intuitive connection to nature. Together with her twin sister, two dogs and two cats, she made daily forays along the natural banks of the Reuss. As she grew older, she became aware of how fragile and endangered life on our planet is. This realisation awakened in her the desire to work for the well-being of all living beings. This was the decision to study biology.
In accordance with her diverse interests, Susanne Hagen worked in a wide variety of areas after completing her studies. Among other things, she supported those seeking advice as a consumer advisor and, as a consultant for scientific writing, ensured that students were not desperate about their final theses. Before joining OceanCare, she worked for several years as Co-Managing Director at fair-fish, where she acquired a broad knowledge of various questions on the subject of fish.
All professional activities had in common that only meaningful, constructive tasks were possible for her. Therefore, she is very enthusiastic to work for OceanCare as Coordinator Science and Education. Her work at OceanCare is an enormous privilege for her, because only a few people have the opportunity to work for the concerns that are important to them and to have optimal conditions in an appreciative environment in order to be able to give the best.
If Susanne were a marine animal, she would see herself as a sea cucumber – a rather inconspicuous animal that tirelessly searches for food in the sediment and is indispensable for the functioning of its habitat.
Silvia Frey, PhD
Senior Conservation Scientist
Silvia Frey studied environmental science at the ETH Zurich and also holds a PhD in neurobiology from the Faculty of Science of the University of Basel. Motivated by her love of nature, Silvia already knew at an early age that she wanted to work for animal, species and nature protection and she feels privileged that she is able to live her passion.
Silvia has been working with OceanCare since 1997. She is heading OceanCare’s science and education department and the whale and dolphin research programmes. She is a strong advocate of using non-invasive research techniques in order to minimise disturbance of the animals.
Silvia is particularly passionate about responsible whale and dolphin watching tourism and environmental education. She gives talks and workshops, and supports high school and university students with their theses. As a conservation biologist, she is interested in using scientific knowledge as a sound basis to better protect marine species and their habitats. By publishing scientific papers, she promotes marine wildlife conservation and supports OceanCare’s broad recognition in the scientific world internationally. Raising public awareness is another essential focus for Silvia as she is convinced that changes in people’s behaviour can be brought about by increasing awareness about the diversity of life in the oceans and about existing human generated threats.
Within her scientific work, she is particularly fascinated by and interested in the way of life and the distribution of sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea.
Science & Education
Even as a child, Rahel was taken with animals. In her early years it was mainly snails, insects and mice that aroused their enthusiasm, but the animals grew bigger with her age. In the course of her master thesis in behavioral biology, she observed elephants in the zoo to find possible improvements in keeping. Besides her professional activities, Rahel’s free time is always accompanied by animals: various pets have already enriched her life and created her awareness for a responsible treatment of animals.
At OceanCare, Rahel works in the field of science and education. Rahel is passionate about passing on the phenomena of nature to younger generations, inspiring and motivating them. Already at the Sempach Ornithological Institute and later at Zurich Animal Protection Association, she was able to introduce people to the wonders of nature and its fragility. Driven by her curiosity, she enjoys reading into new topics, carrying out studies and producing reports.
The affection for the oceans is recognition for nature. Studying biology taught Rachel that everything is interlinked. Humans are also part of this network and even small changes can bring about large-scale changes. Whether algae, flies or sharks: all living beings should be treated with respect and not be classified and exploited on the basis of their benefit to humans.
Despite the many obstacles this work brings with it and her love of black humour, Rahel does not see the future gloomy. Of course we are all part of the problem, but without a healthy dose of optimism and humour we would never find a solution together. Therefore Rahel would like to be a deep sea squid and would dive into black depths and experience adventures that nobody else has experienced.
Ed Lüber was among OceanCare’s first supporters. He loves the sea and diving, sailing and wind surfing have long been part of his life since 1967. From 1970, he worked as a diving instructor in Turkey, East Africa, the Maldives and the Mediterranean, in addition to working as a construction manager in water engineering and a professional diver in all Swiss waters. Ocean conservation has always been an important issue to him, and he prefers – as he generally does in life – action to lots of words. For example, during his time in the Maldives he returned mussels and corals collected by tourists to the sea every night.
After completing his training as a high seas skipper, Ed became head of the technical aspects of OceanCare’s cetacean research programme, which he was actively involved in for more than ten years. Further, for many years he acted as the editor of the former news publication for OceanCare members and advocated ocean conservation through written articles. One of his greatest experiences was encountering a whale shark which boat staff mistook for a tiger shark and became concerned that Ed would enter the water! Now, as an active retiree, Ed remains committed to OceanCare. If he is not out walking his dog, he takes care of the shop and is the good soul of the team.