For International Women's Day, we chose to interview six of the women working for the Allen Coral Atlas, Chantel Say, Kathryn Markey, Dr. Alexandra Ordonez Alvarez, Heather D'Angelo, Paulina Gerstner, and Brianna Bambic. Their stories reinforce the truth - women are changing the world. Keep reading to hear from amazing leaders in coral reef conservation.
I've always been curious of and fascinated by mother nature's weird and wonderful creatures, so it was always my dream to become a scientist.
I feel incredibly lucky to play a part in helping create a scientific tool that provides this new perspective on coral reefs, as it has the potential to make a difference for coral reefs.
For me there isn’t just one woman alone that I admire, but many. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing women who are creating waves in our field.
Do what you love.
Knowing that there are passionate people out there who are driven to make a difference.
After traveling around Australia with my family as a teen I fell in love with the reef and knew I wanted to be a Marine Biologist.
The best part of my current job is working with amazing scientists around the world. It’s great to be helping to create a tool for so many to use in the effort to protect a vital resource like the reef.
A woman that greatly inspires me in this field is the late Dr. Ruth Gates.
Trust your worth.
What gives me hope is the people who continue to demand better for the world and put in the effort to create a change.
I have always been curious and passionate about the ocean and all the living organisms that inhabit this amazing mysterious place. I knew I wanted to be a Marine Biologist since I was 14 years old, and my dream was clear at that time. I wanted to study, work and live close to the ocean. I feel truly fortunate to be where I am right now, working in one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Great Barrier Reef.
My favorite part is that I get to go to amazing remote reefs, places where I wouldn’t be able to go if I wasn’t doing what I do. I think one of the best field trips I’ve done was with the ACA mapping team to the Northern Great Barrier Reef. Every day was like a dream, the weather was great, every reef we visited was super interesting, and the biodiversity was incredible. It was also nice to see many reefs still healthy, and to end the trip on a high note, we were surprised by whale sharks passing through! It was amazing!
It would be hard to choose one, I admire all of them. I admire all of the women I work with and all those in my field that have worked hard to get where they are right now. Although I have a special admiration for the woman that gave me the first push in my career, Dr. Elvira Alvarado-Chacon, her passion and tenacity is an inspiration for many young women scientists.
Do not let anyone discourage you and stay focused on what you want to achieve. You are a capable, intelligent, powerful woman that can do anything you set your mind to.
People and the changes we are already seeing. More and more people are caring about the reefs and the problems they are facing. I have had a lot of people come to me asking if there is any hope for the reefs, and I can see they are genuinely worried about coral reefs. As long as people keep caring, there will still be hope!
Heather D'Angelo, Communications Director
I’ve been passionate about the sciences since I was a little kid, but over time I found that I had more of a natural aptitude for the liberal arts than for conducting scientific inquiry and analyses. That realization led me to pursue a career promoting scientific research through public outreach as the Communications Director at the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS). In my role, I enjoy working closely with scientists to understand their research and communicate its impact to the world.
My favorite part about my job is the fulfillment from using my skill set to support critical scientific research. Most scientists don’t have the time or inclination to worry about managing outreach initiatives but doing so is important for increasing public awareness and interest in STEM and raising money for research.
I look up to so many female scientists, it’s hard to name just one—but I especially look up to the scientists at GDCS, who I have the privilege of working with every day.
Communications directors wear many hats from writing press releases to content creation—take the time to really hone a diverse skill set.
Working on a project like the Allen Coral Atlas gives me hope—seeing so many brilliant minds come together to solve one of our planet’s most pressing issues inspires me every day.
I've always wanted to work in social good but didn't think becoming a subject matter expert in a particular field like epidemiology or micro-finance was the right fit for me. Instead, I came to learn that I was good at synthesizing information and turning it into action, like hearing the needs of ocean health practitioners and turning it into concepts for programs and products. In doing so, I discovered I'm also good at (and enjoy) turning grand ideas into tangible and actionable things. Like going from "wouldn't it be cool if we mapped the whole world's coral reefs?" to actually making it happen, with the right team of partners. I've worked in various industries in this type of role and love it.
For someone so curious, I love that I get to learn something new every day in my role, usually from the experts I get to work with. Today it was "biofouling" on ships, which increases fuel usage unnecessarily, further polluting the atmosphere (and costing much more to shipping companies). On a broader scale, I love my job because of the impact we have and our mission. One particular story... when we launched the initial website for the Allen Coral Atlas in late 2018, it was a pretty powerful moment. The whole team had worked extremely hard toward that goal, and to have everyone in the partnership as well as our supporters in conservation, academia, the media, etc. all celebrate that success was super rewarding. Instead of celebrating high profits or beating a competitor, it was a collective celebration of something to further a worthy cause that we all cared about.
Dr. Ruth Gates, one of the original innovators behind the idea for the Allen Coral Atlas, is still someone I strive to emulate even past her lifetime. She was an extremely smart and humble scientist, but also a woman who empowered other women and young scientists. She was fearlessly vocal about bringing diversity into her teams.
Don't be afraid to ask what you might think are stupid questions. I've found that 90% of the time I ask those questions, everyone else was wondering the same thing, or the question brought clarity to a non-concrete conversation that needed to be brought back down to earth.
I've been happy to see that sustainability is becoming more mainstream, despite poor political conditions. Seeing so many auto companies commit to EVs over the past year has felt like a significant shift, despite the checkered past of lobbying by oil and gas companies. Seeing eco-consciousness become even more "cool" over the past few years is another positive sign to me. And the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement - it needed to happen, and hopefully is the beginning of more significant changes to come.
I was fascinated by the sea and the mysteries it held. Early on in my undergraduate program I found that the sea needed more investment into exploration. And if I was to start to understand the ocean, I needed to spend loads of time in it. So I pursued that goal for the next 7 years until I saw that gap in conservation of land compared to the conservation around marine areas. At the position I am at now with the National Geographic Society communicating science to marine managers and the wider public to inspire change.
I love being able to interact with people that are motivated to conserve or protect their local marine and coastal areas.
Recently I spoke with a woman who started an NGO in the Philippines and was overjoyed to see the Atlas maps, the maps allow her team to plan for a new protected area, saving resources and time. Those conversations make me smile because we are truly making peoples lives a little easier.
Dr. Helen Fox, Conservation Director at CORAL and our advisor - she is a conservation magician and paves the way for women in science, communication and conservation! Jennifer McGowan, for her work with MARXAN, regional and local stakeholders to reach management goals is outstanding. And obviously Sylvia Earle, her lifelong dedication and pursuit of saving the oceans is endlessly inspiring!
Keep diving, when you feel like the world is hopeless, look at the big picture and take baby steps to get to the next step.
Corals are resilient, they will survive. It is us, the people who live on them, that will endlessly struggle - if we can show people this link - I am very confident that our oceans will be saved. It takes a million different small acts to make a big movement and I see that happening every week.
Coral reef conservation and the work done by the Allen Coral Atlas is largely thanks to the contributions of trailblazing women. Role models such as Dr. Elvira Alvarado-Chacon, Dr. Ruth Gates, and all six of the women featured above not only push the bounds of conservation, they serve as inspirations to all the young women that progress is possible. Thank you to the women of the Allen Coral Atlas who shared their story.
Connect with us via social media on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Explore the Allen Coral Atlas and check out our blog to learn how conservationist's are using these maps to better support our coral reefs.