Andy Casagrande IV is at peace in the ocean, where he claims he spends more time than he does on land. And somewhat hard to fathom, he feels safer swimming with sharks than he does on city streets.
You Had Me at “Shark”
Born in New York and raised in a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy experienced a transient secondary education (even spending a semester at sea), eventually graduating from California State University, Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in biology. He has always been fascinated with predators, from eagles to polar bears to lions to killer whales; he particularly loves sharks though. He aspired to being a scientist as a young boy, but after realizing that most spend their days in sterile labs, he decided he wanted a job that put him out in the field with the very creatures that so intrigued him.
Andy’s father suggested he find a career that would pay well and therefore allow him to spend his free time in the wild. He found a position as a customer service representative in the computer science industry; whenever he had a spare second, he researched sharks. He corresponded with numerous shark scientists, offering to volunteer during his vacation time, working for no pay. Along with his inquiries, Andy sent an MP4 recording of a song he wrote and sang about great white sharks.
A scientist in South Africa responded, offering him food and lodging in exchange for his time. He did not bother reading Andy’s résumé until the day before he was to arrive; he had only listened to the song. When he learned Andy had no experience, he wasn’t too worried. On a boat where a crew shares close quarters, it is always nice to have someone fun along. Based on his witty shark song, Andy would provide—if nothing else—entertainment.
He took on the responsibility of photo identification of every shark the crew encountered. The three-month voluntary assignment turned into three years where, while living his dream of swimming with sharks, Andy made pocket money busking on boats playing his guitar and singing his shark song. “I was in heaven,” he recalls.
On one excursion when everyone was sick due to rough weather and water, Andy competently assumed the role of videographer. The film crew, who were along on assignment from the National Geographic television network, were so impressed that they announced they were going to offer Andy a job on staff. To his surprise, they did.
Diving Deep into a New Career and Relationship
Andy began his tenure with the National Geographic television network, where he was based in Washington, D.C. Always on the road, he kept only a bike in the capital city and could jam all he owned into a backpack. On assignment in the Serengeti Desert to film lions one year, Andy met a hairstylist from Sweden named Emma. Emma’s cousin, whom she was traveling with, had secured a few nights of accommodation at a research station where Andy was staying. With few visitors at the remote center, Andy was eager for conversation with the travelers.
“It was completely random,” Emma explains about meeting Andy and spending two days visiting and chatting. When she left, Emma scribbled her telephone number on a piece of paper and passed it to the itinerant videographer, certain she would never hear from him again.
Amazingly enough, the two kept in touch and six months later decided to meet in Costa Rica. Emma describes herself as an adventurer. “I love to travel,” she says. “I’m a diver and a horse girl.”
In fact, Emma even lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her family for a short period when younger. As an established hairstylist at only 24 years of age, she explains she worked hard and saved her money, enabling her to fly around the world to visit Andy. She began requesting longer absences from work to visit exotic locales, admitting the couple had “zero plans, illusions, or goals” about their future.
When Andy was sent to film king cobras in India, he informed Emma he was going to visit Sweden en route. It was Emma’s boss who alerted her that Sweden was not on the way to India. There was an ulterior motive—Andy really wanted to see Emma. It dawned on her the two were more than adventure travel companions.
In 2010, after dating for three years, the pair married, and Emma moved to the United States. Andy proposed they move to Naples, where his Nana (the matriarch of the family) owned a few homes. The Casagrandes have made Naples their home for the past 13 years and have two children—Ace (10) and Nova (8)—who attend Lake Park Elementary School.
From the time they first met, Andy quite literally threw Emma into the deep end—sharing his knowledge, love, and admiration for sharks, teaching her camera skills and how to manipulate the massive amounts of equipment needed for his job. As Andy’s career successfully continued, Emma’s blossomed. Today she is an integral part of the team, working alongside Andy as a photographer and dive partner.
After three years on staff with National Geographic, Andy, who did not wish to spend time sitting at a desk—“everyone has an obligation at some point in their career with the organization,” he explains—started his own company, ABC4EXPLORE. He continues to work with National Geographic and films for such networks as ABC, BBC, NBC, FOX, Animal Planet, and Discovery Channel, where his career-defining work to date was filming for Shark Week.
With more than 100 film credits to his name, the freelance videographer always seems to be working. In fact, his first scheduled interview with Naples Illustrated had to be cancelled when Andy had to fly to South Africa, where a whale carcass floating close to shore was attracting sharks—presenting a serendipitous filming opportunity.
The family frequently travels the world together on assignment, leaving town for most of the summer. “Andy does a great job of keeping the family together,” says Emma. About Naples, Emma says, “I love it here. It’s an amazing place to raise children. I believe we will always have a presence in Naples.”
Swimming with the Locals
Andy inevitably inspires people to care about our oceans through his copious body of work documenting marine life. He is thrilled to bring his passion for conservation to his hometown.
“This is my backyard. I need to do something,” he comments. “I live here and enjoy it, so I should protect it.”
In 2016, Andy and Emma shot the underwater sequences in Paradise Reef, a documentary film detailing the story of Naples residents working together to install more than 30 artificial reefs off the coast of Collier County. The film won a 2016 Suncoast Regional Emmy Award in the tropical documentary category.
In December 2022, Andy and Emma embarked on a baseline study to monitor the presence and movements of the shark species that live and migrate in our nearby waters. Seven listening devices known as VR2Ws, a global standard of ultrasonic receivers used by shark researchers around the world, were placed at various locations 15, 25, and 40 miles northeast from Collier County’s coast.
Collected data will provide an understanding of local shark movement and will be shared with the Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry Network, a grassroots collaboration of marine scientists using acoustic telemetry to understand and conserve the region’s fish species. It will also be made available to any scientists or organizations looking to collaborate on research efforts.
Andy’s company self-funded this baseline study with the help of his social media followers, which currently number 240,000. He hopes to expand his work alongside local conservation groups and is actively seeking additional funding to recruit a team of researchers and university students to help analyze the data and further expand the study.
Pursuing his passion has positioned Andy, at age 47, firmly on the shark side of life. As 70 percent of the planet is covered with water, the future looks bright for the Casagrande family, promising many more years swimming in the ocean—documenting and protecting Earth’s oldest creatures, ensuring they never go the way of the dinosaur.