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.
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.
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.
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.
Kerstin graduated at the Faculty of Philosophy and Natural Sciences of the University of Basel as a bachelor in biology and master of sustainable development studies. For her doctoral thesis at the University of the South Pacific she studied bull sharks and found her second home in Fiji. Kerstin’s areas of expertise included population genetics, identification of bull shark breeding grounds, and local artisanal shark fishing.
A series of key moments made Kerstin’s interest shift from biology towards socio-ecology and fisheries. At OceanCare, Kerstin’s projects include Aquatic Wild Meat and Fisheries. People in many developing countries use long-lived marine animals such as turtles, dolphins and sharks as protein sources due to a lack of alternatives. For Kerstin, finding options and solutions that ensure both the food security of the local population and the protection of marine wildlife is a life task.
Working across topics and disciplines and closing open cycles is central to Kerstin. She was a volunteer at OceanCare in 2008 and now feels privileged to work in an area that combines the different threads of her life.
It is not surprising that her study organism, the bull shark, is her favourite marine animal. This shark species can not only freely switch between freshwater and saltwater habitats, but also returns to the places that were essential for its life cycle.
Science & EducationEven 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.
Assistant, Campaigns & Public AwarenessHanna holds a bachelor’s degree in communication science and is currently studying law at the Universities of Zurich and Basel. Prior to joining OceanCare, she worked in the financial sector, in research and as a teacher, among others. With her multifaceted interests and diversified skills, she supports OceanCare in the area of Campaigns & Public Awareness.
Influenced by great teachers during her school days, who knew how to communicate complex environmental issues in a comprehensible and motivating way, Hanna soon developed the wish to work in the field of environmental protection.
As a sailing fan, paddler and keen swimmer, it was only natural for her to devote herself to marine conservation. As overfishing, uncontrolled waste disposal and raw material extraction take a toll on the world’s oceans, their inhabitants appear to be particularly in need of protection. Hanna has often learned that people misjudge the dangers our oceans are exposed to, or – even worse – close their eyes to reality.
Taking this into account, she sees it as her task to raise awareness for the marine balance and thus to win over as many people as possible to the concerns of marine, animal and species conservation. For one thing is clear: the fate of the oceans and their inhabitants affects us all.
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.