Anita Conti, née Caracotchian, was born in Ermont, France, to a wealthy Armenian family. She was educated at home by tutors and traveled in Europe with her family. She went out sailing with fishermen in Brittany and the Vendée, and developed a passion for the sea. In 1914, at the start of World War I, the family retreated to the island of Oleron on the Atlantic coast of France, where she spent time sailing, reading, and taking photographs.
After the war, Anita moved to Paris where she wrote poetry and learned the art of bookbinding. In 1927, she married Marcel Conti, a diplomat. She traveled and wrote articles reporting on the seas, fishing, and fishermen for French periodicals, and observing factors such as water temperature and salinity that had an important impact on fish populations. In 1934, she was hired by the government's Scientific and Technical Office of Maritime Fisheries (OSTPM) to conduct scientific experiments at sea and assess fish resources. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, she served on minesweepers in the Channel and the North Sea, the first Frenchwoman to serve on a military vessel, and took part in the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk to Dover in May 1940. Beginning in 1943, she spent about 10 years studying fish species on the West African coast. She became a pioneering oceanographer and photographer of the sea and a visionary ecologist whose commitment to the protection of the oceans was well in advance of her time. In 1971, she published L’Ocean, Les Betes et L’Homme (The Ocean, Animals and Man).