Not many people know what it’s like to see the blue iris of a great white shark up close and personal. And yes, their eyes are actually blue! – just take it from photographer and author Matt “The Shark Guy” Marchant. For years, his love of sharks has taken him all around the world, but recently, the Irving High graduate returned to his hometown to share his ocean adventures with hundreds of Irving ISD students.
During a two-day tour, Matt visited several elementary and middle school campuses with his Learn About Sharks book series. Students listened intently as he shared stunning photos and infographics, covering everything from anatomy to geography, physiology and more. Matt, who describes himself as the kid who never grew out of the shark-loving phase, has seen more than 40 different species of sharks face to face as a photographer. Now, he’s on a mission to educate the next generation about shark life and, more importantly, shark conservation. With his first book, released in 2018, young readers get an in-depth look into the notorious great white shark. The second book of the series is near completion and will explore the tiger shark.
Like many of the students he met during his presentations, Matt’s fascination with sharks and ocean life started at a young age right here in Irving. He became a certified scuba diver at the age of 13 and took his first dive as a 14-year-old. As a student at Good Elementary and Austin Middle School, he never could have imagined that his passion would one day lead him back to his former schools as The Shark Guy!
“I had goosebumps,” he says about returning to Good. “Being able to stand on the stage where I did The Ant and the Grasshopper in the first grade, teaching about something that I loved at their age in the same school was surreal.” To top it off, Matt had the opportunity to meet fourth-grade shark enthusiast Ronny Martinez and several of his friends during a special one-on-one lunch. “This is the coolest thing I’ve done, and this my 24th year in education,” exclaims Good librarian Lori Bierschwale at the sight of her students’ reactions.
“I had to hold back tears. It was the sweetest interaction I have ever had,” says Matt. The students came filled with questions, oohing and ahhing as Matt passed around his gear and equipment to the group. Their excitement reached another level when they each received autographed books from the author with the message, ‘Dream big. Save sharks.,’ written on the inside cover.
Matt knows a thing or two about dreaming big. “Not quitting,” he says was – and is – the key to how this self-confessed shark nerd turned passion into a career. What began with diving grew into photography and has now produced a published book and school presentations for the masses. The process was slow and organic he admits but above all, rewarding.
“I’m hoping to inspire kids. Maybe it’s not sharks but something else they really enjoy,” he explains. Whatever that love may be, Matt’s message to every student is, “you can do anything you put your mind to!”