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Five Female Ocean Activist

Five Female Ocean Activist

Here are five incredible women who are working to save our seas

Where can you find nearly 20 million tons of gold, food and medicine for millions of people, over half of Earth’s oxygen, fuel for clean energy wind farms, and about eight million metric tons of annual plastic waste? You guessed it—the world’s oceans.

For Women's History Month, we're highlight a few of the leading female ocean activists. Together we can make the change for cleaner tides.

VIVIEN LI has spent 25 years as an advocate for clean and accessible urban waterfronts. She started her advocacy career in Boston, Massachusetts, where she became president of The Boston Harbor Association (TBHA), a nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up what was once one of the nation’s dirtiest harbors. Li also helped to construct the HarborWalk, a 38-mile public walkway that lines Boston’s waterfront. In 2015, the long-time activist left TBHA to become president and CEO of Riverlife, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization dedicated to reclaiming and restoring Pittsburgh’s riverfronts.

ASHA DE VOS founded Oceanswell, a non-profit organisation, which is working to change the trajectory around oceans. They are educating diverse young students from underrepresented nations in how to conduct marine conservation research, as well as, promoting to raise the conversation about our oceans. Asha also founded the ‘The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’, which is the first long term study on blue whales within the Northern Indian Ocean. This work is protecting the rare population of whales and has informed policies on a local and global level.

EMILY PENN co-founded eXXpedition, the all-women sailing crew that looks at the environmental and health impacts of plastic. After a biodiesel-run sailing expedition a decade ago, she saw plastic waste piled up on remote beaches in the middle of the Pacific, miles from human civilisation. Here she has taken the helm at multiple scientific sailing trips, all around the world. She has undertaken research examining ocean acidification. More notably, her research on toxins in the water has shown that they end up in the food chain and affect hormones. Suggesting an impact on women’s issues such as puberty and breastfeeding. She is also the youngest and only female to receive the Yachtmaster of the Year, awarded by HRH Princess Royal, and the Seamaster of the Year award. 

SHANNON SWITZER SWANSON has been in areas with Sama-Bajau fishers for nearly a year. She has been researching why marine conservation has had little success in these areas and why destructive practices are still in play. Shannon prides herself in the psycho-cultural approach undertaken to her marine ecology work. For the Sama-Baju people, fishing is both for subsistence and trade. So, Shannon has been underpinning how they relate to the environment on a philosophical level and this will aid an understanding of future conservation efforts. As well as this, she is a photojournalist - spreading activism through photographic storytelling - engaging community members as part of the research process which empowers marine communities. 


KRISTAL AMBROSE founded the Bahamas Plastic Movement (BPM). In 2012, Kristal went to study the Western Garbage Patch and it was worse than she had ever imagined. Upon returning she felt impassioned to raise awareness around the concentration of plastic on the beaches and in the seas - in her home of The Bahamas - so launched the BPM. It is a youth-led initiative, which aims to educate the next generation. They run free summer camps, with activities including trips out to sea to investigate how many micro-plastics are on the sea surface. They have also dissected mahi-mahi - a popular Bahamian fish - to find plastic in the stomachs. Not only is it inspiring youths, but because of Kristal, the Bahamian government has committed to banning all single-use plastics.



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