In the spirit of Women’s Month (which was recently celebrated in South Africa) I put my Twittersphere feelers out and asked people who they thought was an inspiring women working in the marine environment. From scientists to passionate conservationists, explorers and adventurers. Here are some local and international women, making waves and inspiring future generations of young women to head out into the water and change the way we look at and conserve our underwater world.
The wonderful thing is this list could continue with many other ladies in SA and surrounds that are working tirelessly in their respective fields, so feel free to add to the list anyone you might know of or who inspires you to explore, study and conserve as this list I feel should be much longer.
Lesley is the founder of AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, a non-profit organisation which has achieved major success through the M-Sea Programme, a unique shark conservation campaign. Known as “the Shark Warrior”, she is a marine and shark conservationist, filmmaker, underwater photographer, author, environmental writer, creative director of numerous marine/shark education and awareness initiatives, educator, activist and campaigner. Her work has been credited with two Panda Awards: for the AfriOceans Rethink the shark campaign, created by Saatchi & Saatchi. A member of the Women divers Hall of Fame, she has been an underwater photographer for over 15 years and been instrumental in establishing the Save our seas Foundation in South Africa and internationally.
Hanli is an 11-time South African Freediving Record Holder, filmmaker and avid ocean adventurer. She has a background in acting, documentary filmmaking as well as over ten years of competitive freediving experience. Her documentary work has taken her into the front-lines of social political conflict all over Africa, from Burundi to Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe to name a few. Hanli focuses a lot of her energy on the Ocean, surfing, sailing, long distance swimming, conservation and freediving. She has been nominated for the Cosmo Awesome Women of the Year Awards, Outthere Adventurer of the Year, Gsport´s Women in Sport as well as a ‘strider’ in the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards. She founded the I am water trust committed to sharing total ocean submersion with as many South African men and women as possible. Her trust aims to use education and awareness to endeavour to spread the love and protection of the oceans through introducing South Africans to the ocean environment, while we work untiringly to raise awareness around important conservation issues.
Fiona is a professional photographer with a passion is for images, which include water in all its different guises. Having won numerous international awards, in 2003 she was awarded the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year in South Africa. Fiona has been commissioned as the photographer for South African, German and French productions on underwater life in Southern Africa with her photos appearing in various international coffee table books alongside those of the best underwater photographers in the world.
Research manager of the shark spotter program in South Africa, Alison is a marine scientist determined to help secure the future of sharks through scientific research, awareness and community based conservation strategies. She currently leads research on one of the world’s largest concentrations of white sharks on the doorstep of a major city and is the Research Manager of the pioneering Shark Spotters programme in Cape Town, a community initiative committed to finding a balance between the safety of recreational water users and the conservation of a threatened species, the white shark. She’s a skilled field biologist with expertise in wildlife telemetry, animal-borne cameras, photo-identification and tissue sampling of free-swimming shark, and her work has been featured in hundreds of popular media including the Smithsonian Magazine, CNN’s Planet in Peril and 100 Heartbeats. Fairlady and Oprah magazines featured her in articles about South Africans to be proud of and the City of Cape Town has recognized Alison for her significant role in the development of their shark safety policy.
In 2007, Durbanite Olivia was part of a team that came together on a project of passion to show the world a new perspective on sharks in the Bahamas. After releasing a short film on the Internet the project ignited a movement around the world. Through their collaborative community, positive approach, tools, and shared passion, the Shark Angels are inspiring people around the globe to take action locally and get involved in shark conservation. Over 4000 strong, The Shark Angels raise awareness on the plight facing sharks, changing people’s perspectives on sharks and empowering and equipping advocates to act locally to save sharks.
Bronwen Currie is a Namibian scientist working at the Swakopmund Coastal Research Institute of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources where she holds the post of chief biologist. Driven by a passion to understand how creatures in the sea lived and functioned her work in the near shore environment of the northern Benguela upwelling system, has led to investigation of the intertidal and subtidal ecology, the naturally occurring and unique hydrogen sulphide events, and more recently, harmful algal blooms. She is a highly respected and well known marine ecologist in a very male dominated field working in Namibia.
Kerry is incredibly committed and passionate about marine conservation. Instrumental in kick-starting SASSI several years ago she has been driving initiatives for offshore marine protected areas and spatial management in SA. She led the Offshore Marine Protected Area project that identified priority areas for offshore conservation and spatial management and recently completed a report on “The potential impacts of South Africa’s demersal hake trawl fishery on benthic habitats: Historical perspectives, spatial analyses, current review and potential management actions” and also is the lead author on the marine chapter of the recent National Biodiversity Assessment 2011. A passionate and dedicated marine conservationist.
Dr. Marshall lives in Mozambique and has a passion for Manta Rays. Her PhD research on the population ecology of manta rays was the first ever-doctoral thesis to be completed on the species, leading her to found the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Megafauna. This world-leading manta ray research program lead her and her team to discover a new giant species of manta ray in 2008 – one of the largest new species to have been described by any scientist in the last 50 years. When she is not discovering a new species or contributing to world wide manta ray conservation efforts she uses her passion to run marine education programs, using photography as a tool to inspire children and scuba divers alike.
The “Shark lady” is known for her research on sharks and poisonous fishes. She has caught and studied over 2,000 sharks over her long 30 year career diving with and studying the different shark species. Although she is now retired she still holds the title of Senior Research Scientist and Professor Emerita. Dr Clark is the recipient of three honorary D.Sc. degrees and awards from the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club, the Underwater Society of America, the American Littoral Society, the Gold Medal Award of the Society of Women Geographers, and the President’s Medal of the University of Maryland. She has authored three books and over 160 scientific and popular articles. With her research, she has given the world a better understanding of why fish behave the way they do.
Dame Ellen MacArthur raced single-handedly non-stop around the world in the Vendée Globe when only 24 years old. In 2004 on board the 75ft trimaran B&Q she become the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed. She was knighted by the Queen in 2005 and has received the Legion d’Honneur from French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. She is a founder of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, a charity, set up in 2003, which works with hospitals across the UK to take young people aged between 8-24 sailing, helping them regain their confidence after treatment for cancer & leukemia. She is a Patron of the The Big Bang Fair – the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.
Having logged thousands of dives Anne is an incredibly accomplished underwater explorer, writer and photographer. A member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Anne has worked in many different costal areas, becoming an Ambassador for the sea and a fellow of the explorers club. She now lectures at various national and international venues, speaking to the issue of oceans in peril as seen through her 40 years of working underwater.
Ruth Dixon Turner , who passed away in 2000 ,was a renowned marine biologist who researched widely on teredos, a species of mollusk, that creates havoc on docks and boats. She graduated from Bridgewater State College and went on to take a doctorate from Harvard. One of the most academically successful female marine researchers, with over 200 scientific articles published she also became the first female marine biologist to make use of Alvin, a deep ocean research submarine.
No list like this would be complete without the grand dame of ocean conservation. Sylvia Earle has for many years been a world renowned oceanographer, logging some 7,000 hours under the waves. She has set several diving records (including diving while pregnant) and a solo dive down to 1,250 feet. She was the first woman scientist to gaze through the porthole of a submersible in 1968 and in 1970, she led the first team of women aquanauts to research eco-systems. Best-selling author and affectionately called “Her Deepness,” or “The Sturgeon General,” she is at the forefront of Ocean conservation on a global scale, creating Project Blue whose purpose is to explore and care for the ocean. Deeply committed to inspiring a sea change in public awareness, access and support for marine protected areas worldwide, she has ignited public support for a global network of marine protected areas and brought awareness to global issues facing the ocean like no other person before her.
And finally our own dear lady of the sea, the SA Agulhas, South Africa’s ice strengthened polar research vessel. Having been in service for almost thirty years she has been used to service the three South African Antarctic Programme research bases in Gough Island,Marion Island and SANAE IV in Antartica.After conducing various research voyages over her career she was officially retired form service in 2012.
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