By Charlotte Runzel, DC EcoWomen member
We’ve come a long way in the ocean conservation movement. While there’s still an enormous amount of work to be done, women have paved the way forward and challenged the movement for the better. This list includes women who have studied the marine environment in depth and now lead outreach and communications efforts to promote science, advocacy, and activism in a strategic and inclusive way.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
“The ocean is indeed in deep, deep trouble due to overfishing, climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction, and good science is needed to turn that around. This science doesn’t need to be fancy, expensive, or complicated. Rather, it needs to be thoughtful, targeted, and inclusive.” – Dr. Johnson
Dr. Johnson challenges the way we think about ocean conservation. She’s intermingling equity, diversity, and inclusion with powerful new ideas that bring people together to save the planet. She is innovative, thoughtful, intelligent and the person we need to overcome obstacles in the ocean and our climate.
Her resume includes helping islands Barbuda, Montserrat, and Curaçao regulate and protect their coastal waters and save coral reefs in the Caribbean. She studied environmental science and public policy at Harvard and received her PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She worked at the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was the executive director of the Waitt Institute, and founded the Blue Halo Initiative.
She currently has her own consulting firm, OceanCollectiv, which creates and amplifies solutions for a healthy ocean. She is a New York University professor. In addition to her wide expertise in ocean conservation, Dr. Johnson advocates for social justice in the environmental movement.
Dr. Nancy Knowlton
“We are literally playing Russian roulette with the planet, so in my field at least, it is not enough to just ‘do science.'” – Nancy Knowlton
Dr. Knowlton works to re-calibrate environmental media to spread #OceanOptimism. She aims to inspire people to take action by using positive rhetoric; instead of the “doom and gloom” that is plaguing media. She’s confronting the way the media covers environmental journalism because people are more likely to take action if they are motivated by positive messaging.
Dr. Knowlton has dedicated her life to studying marine diversity and coral reefs. She has a B.S. from Harvard and a PhD from UC Berkeley. Through her research, Dr. Knowlton uncovered the connection between ocean warming and coral bleaching. She was a professor at Yale University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. At Scripps, she founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.
She is currently the Marine Sant Chair at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where she works to combine research and outreach.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
“It’s the ignorance that most people have about why the ocean matters to them. Who cares if the ocean dries up tomorrow? The ocean should and does matter to everyone. Even the people who have never seen the ocean are touched by the ocean with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink.” – Sylvia Earle
Dr. Earle broke down gender stereotypes in the science field. Though extremely overqualified, she was rejected from the Tektite project, a government-funded study that housed scientists on the ocean floor as part of a deep-sea research program. The organizers could not fathom the idea of women and men living together underwater. Instead of giving up, she led Tektite II Mission 6, an all-female led research expedition that added onto the work of the first Tektite project. She is also the first female Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Her education and experience include a bachelor’s from Florida State University, and a master’s and doctorate degree from Duke university. Her dissertation was one of the first robust descriptions of underwater plant life. She was a research fellow at Harvard, directed the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in Florida, participated in various scientific missions to understand undiscovered areas of the ocean, and was the first person to walk untethered on the seafloor 1,250 feet below the surface.
Dr. Earle is currently a National Geographic explorer, leads Mission Blue, a nonprofit aimed to inspire action to explore and protect the ocean, and is working to establish a global network of marine protected areas, or “hope spots.”
If you know a women working to save the ocean, comment below!
Charlotte Runzel is a policy associate at the National Audubon Society in Washington, where she analyzes and promotes marine policy. Prior to working at Audubon, she majored in Marine Science and minored in Conservation Resource Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. As an undergraduate, she interned at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, performed her own climate change research on marine sponges in French Polynesia, worked as a lab and field assistant in UC Berkeley’s marine biomechanics lab, and directed a non-profit organization.
Photo Credits: TED Conference/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0; Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife/Flickr CC BY 2.0