‘No day is ordinary’ for Silversea’s Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist
In memory of Robin Aiello, our dear friend and colleague, who passed away in January 2023
She learned to swim before she could walk. She learned to scuba dive long before she learned to drive. And she was among the first women ever to scuba dive in Antarctica. She is Robin Aiello and you’ll meet her on Silversea’s extraordinary expeditions across the world. This Cambridge, Massachusetts, native and Harvard University graduate is now a renowned Marine Biologist. Her path to her profession began with studies in evolutionary biology and paleontology. Her career has taken her on amazing professional adventures: She spent two weeks living in an underwater habitat 65 feet deep in the Caribbean; she spent months living in a tent in Antarctica, diving daily under the 16-foot-thick ice of the Ross Sea. Now, Robin is a peerless member of Silversea’s Expedition Team. Ever on the move, we caught up with Robin to talk about what she does best: bringing extraordinary experiences to Silversea’s guests.
First of all, what was the impetus for you to become a Marine Biologist in the first place?
My mother was the main impetus, sharing her passion and awe of Mother Nature. She encouraged me to always look closely, beyond the obvious, and ask questions about what I was observing. But, to be honest, I never meant to be a Marine Biologist: I really thought that I would follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, father and brother and become an Ophthalmologist. But once I met Dr Stephen J Gould, a well-respected Evolutionist at Harvard University, I fell madly in love with the study of Adaptation – the study of how animals have developed special features to survive within their environments.
What is your specific area of expertise?
My research expertise is very eclectic, spanning many areas that range from temperate coastal ecology, to cold-water jellyfish, to marine cave cryptic animals, to charismatic megafauna (the big animals like whales, sharks and marine turtles). But the main emphasis of my research, for more than 20 years, was coral reef ecology in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in many of the South Pacific Islands. Much of my work focused on what we, as humans, can do to help protect and conserve this amazing ecosystem. I owned my own environmental management business which liaised with federal and state government agencies and stakeholders in the reef and rainforest tourism industry to promote best practices.
How do you use your expertise to enrich Silversea’s voyages for guests?
I have had an amazing career, with many unique, often hilarious, experiences in many remote parts of the world. These early scientific ventures started in the mid 1980s, when few women were working in the field, and facilities were, should I say, very basic. But my work took me to many isolated areas of the world before they became more accessible. So, one of the key ways that I enrich our guests’ experience on board is by sharing my past adventures and demonstrating how the natural world has, or has not, changed over several decades.
It is my breadth of adventures and experiences, combined with the vast changes that I have witnessed in the environment over several decades, that I share with my guests on Silversea’s expeditions. I believe that it gives them a broader understanding of the magnificent environments through which they are traveling.
I have a deep passion for sharing my knowledge with others and highlighting elements of the natural world that they may never have had the opportunity to experience before. I love guiding people to see the world through different eyes – to see what I call the “WOW Factor” in nature. I love showing guests how something we may consider as ‘ordinary’ is, in fact, truly ‘extraordinary.’
What rare experiences can guests expect in the extraordinary places they will travel to?
Every time we set out on a voyage, the unexpected can happen at any time. The ship may become surrounded by feeding humpback whales or the skies may fill with the eerie green lights of the Northern Lights. Thanks to Zodiacs, we are able to access extremely remote places, where nature is relatively untouched and wildlife remains unafraid of human interactions. Out in the Zodiacs, we can witness amazing moments – such as playful sea lions diving all around us, a glacier front calving with a tremendous boom, or thousands of seabirds coming and going from their nests high on a cliff above us. The opportunity for a rare experience is endless as we get out and explore scenic wonders that take your breath away.
Can you tell us some of the most memorable moments you’ve shared with Silversea guests?
Oh, I really don’t know where to start … one certain highlight was sitting in the Zodiac in Svalbard with dozens of walruses surrounding us, bobbing up and down with their quizzical faces and long ivory tusks. Or the time that we had a humpback whale raise its head up and look directly into our eyes. Or the time we watched a baby penguin chick hatch out of its egg with the mother there to greet it. Or the warm greeting and tearful goodbyes from the locals on a remote Pacific Island that has never had a cruise ship visit before. Or being led, hand-in-hand, by small children around a tropical village and sharing in their joy of life. Or swimming with playful sea lions in Argentina. There are really far too many memories to even start listing here!
Because Silversea expeditions are created to unlock immersive experiences wherever they sail, how do you make your enrichment program unforgettable?
When I interact with the guests, I strive to intertwine the most updated research and scientific discoveries with my past personal experiences and stories – and throw in a bit of humor as well. Guests tell me that I get very passionate when speaking, which draws people into the subject – even when I am talking about things like jellyfish, krill and even spiders (animals that they never ever thought they would be interested in). I love to tell stories about animals and highlight the quirky little things that I have observed over more than 3½ decades of experience in the field. Many things that I show people are not found in any book; they are things I have discovered over the years, through thousands of hours of observing animals. It is these little things that I love to share with guests.
Tell us about an ‘ordinary day’ on these extraordinary voyages?
There is simply no such thing: no day is ordinary on our cruises. You never know exactly what you will experience, see or do.
A tall order perhaps, but what remote communities are you particularly fascinated by?
The remote islands and communities of Melanesia (Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu) have always been some of my favorite communities because of their welcoming warmth, humor and the traditional ceremonies that they continue to perform even today. But a recent voyage I was on, across the top of Siberia on the Northeast Passage, brought me to some new remote communities that were truly fascinating. These remote communities are now near the top of my list of incredible and memorable interactions – such beautiful cultures!
How does Expedition cruising enrich a guest’s—and your own—life?
It takes us to places we have only dreamed of, or seen on TV in documentaries and IMAX films, or read about in magazines like National Geographic. It allows us to actually be there in real life, to experience it with all our senses, and engrave it into our memories and hearts forever.
Who do you think a Silversea expedition is perfect for?
For everyone who has a passion for stepping out into remote places of the world and has a keen interest in being surrounded by nature, culture and history.
What adventure aboard Silversea’s fleet are you looking forward to most?
I just accomplished one of my lifetime dreams with the Northeast Passage. What next? Definitely returning to the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The last time I was there was in 1987 when I was part of a research SCUBA Diving expedition to study cold-water jellyfish.
What do you love most about your work on Silversea’s Expedition fleet?
I love everything, but certainly a key element that has kept me working here at Silversea since 1998 is the Team. By ‘Team,’ I mean the entire team on the ship, from Captain all the way down the chain of command. We work together to provide the best customer service of any company I have worked for. But I am also referring to the highly accomplished and professional Expedition teams I work with. Truly, these teams have an incredible breadth of knowledge and have endless levels of enthusiasm and dedication to share top experiences with guests.