I fell in love with the ocean growing up fishing with my family. Once I learnt you could get paid to study fish, I sought out a marine-science degree at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where a mentor’s enthusiasm for sharks rubbed off on me. I then went on to study another predator — sawfish — for my master’s degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Predators keep fish numbers on a reef in balance, which prevents overgrazing and disease spread. Sharks have been on the planet longer than trees or dinosaurs, and I study how the millions of years of evolution have led to the weird faces of animals such as hammerhead sharks and sawfish. I also conduct surveys of predators to document them in the wild. In this photo, we are about to release a blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus). In just a couple of minutes, we had measured it, taken a fin sample for genetic analysis and a muscle biopsy to look at mercury levels and tagged it for identification.
Another part of my job at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, is to increase diversity in marine science. I train researchers to be allies of interns from minoritized groups by being mindful of how identities affect peoples’ experiences.
As president and chief executive of Minorities in Shark Science, a non-profit organization that I co-founded in 2020 and that has 489 members from 33 countries, I instruct institutions and individuals on how to overturn oppressive systems. We focus on removing barriers — often financial — that exclude women of colour from marine sciences. We provide funded field experiences, professional development and diversity training.
Organizations still do a lot of box-ticking to add ‘diverse’ people rather than addressing root causes of inequality. My colleagues and I highlight the importance of a strong code of conduct, accountability and training. Having an army of allies drowns out the bad players.