Meet the trailblazing women collaborating to save the ocean and increase gender diversity in STEM

In Mauritius, Scotland, Manchester, London, and Australia a group of award-winning women scientists and experts are collaborating to protect the ocean and its vital role in fighting climate change. 

Blue Marine Foundation is an ocean conservation charity composed of a diverse collective of marine biologists, data analysts, project managers, technologists, business leaders and more, who are setting industry standards in providing more access for women in STEM careers. 

In what has historically been a male-dominated industry, these women are pushing boundaries and changing the face of science for future generations. 

The Marine Tech Expert 

Originally from Perth, Western Australia, Sophie Locke has a Masters in Climate Change from King’s College London, and as Senior Research and Projects manager at Blue Marine Foundation (Blue) leads the science, impact and innovation team.

She explains “My MSc thesis looked at what happened to marine life inside and outside marine reserves during extreme climatic events and heatwaves. I focused this on Wadjemup (Rottnest), a stunning island off the coast of Perth – this island was where my fascination and love for the ocean started at a young age. 

My job involves quantifying our conservation impact, supporting international projects in regions such as the Mediterranean and South America, and looking at nature recovery opportunities in the rapidly expanding offshore wind sector. 

Sophie reveals “We have the privilege of supporting our project managers and partners who live and work all around the world. One day I’m looking at data from shark tagging projects and another we’re working to communicate the science underway in incredible regions like Chilean Patagonia. One interesting area I’m working on with the team on is ocean tech and how we deploy this to achieve conservation goals. 

Blue has used technology within our projects for many years, such as deploying underwater cameras to assess marine biodiversity, or mapping habitats around our project areas. Now, we’re also really interested in the use of AI tools, drones, sophisticated monitoring buoys and other technology that can help us monitor protected areas, track migratory species or gather hard to hard-to-reach data. 

We want to see how Blue Marine can integrate the use of technology more, helping us and our partners to deliver better conservation on the ground. It’s not just buying a drone, it’s thinking about all the steps on how to implement this – training, data analysis, working with students – looking at the long-term role and how it can be a long-term investment for communities and project partners. 

People assume if you are working for an organisation like Blue you need a marine biology degree and that’s not the case. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from the most phenomenal women – about economics, finance, governance, policy and the media.

There’s a real sense of ambitious urgency to get stuff done. We can only achieve this if we are supporting each other and I’m so proud to work in an organisation that champions this. We all know we stand on the shoulders of phenomenal scientists, conservationists and activists, many of whom are women, and it’s inspiring.”

The Marine Protected Areas Expert 

Fiona Llewellyn, in Manchester, Senior International Project Manager, Blue Marine Foundation. 

With an MSc in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Fiona is passionate about creating systemic change to ensure the future of our ocean. Fiona is currently focusing on working with local partners to restore and protect marine biodiversity in the Caribbean region.

Fiona has completed a Masters’s thesis on “Human crocodile conflict in the Caprivi Region in Namibia” and an undergraduate Biology dissertation, “Analysing the predatory behaviour of Great White sharks.” 

For Blue Marine Foundation, Fiona is currently working in the Caribbean region,  in close partnership with the Dutch Caribbean Islands to improve their marine protection. Fiona liaises with local stakeholders and environmental groups to ensure a collaborative and inclusive approach to marine conservation. 

She explains “In Curacao, we’re working with the government to develop a policy plan for nature. They currently don’t have a policy in place, so this is a really important step for Curacao in setting out their ambition to understand and safeguard the incredible nature they have. It’s great to be able to work closely with the Curacao government and local stakeholders to assist them in developing a plan that will ultimately help protect their marine ecosystems and biodiversity.” 

“There is a lot of appetite for improving marine protection in the Caribbean region, both within territorial waters, but also for the creation of larger, transboundary marine protected areas. This is fantastic news as the region is home to some amazing marine ecosystems – such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seamounts, as well as globally significant populations of species, such as reef fish, sharks, cetaceans, and turtles. By working in partnership with islands in the Caribbean, Blue is supporting a combination of ‘top-down’ government-led interventions, and ‘bottom-up’ locally-led projects, all contributing to a healthier marine environment.”

The Coral Reef Expert 

Award-winning ocean conservationist, Shaha Hashim worked for the United Nations before joining Blue Marine Foundation as Maldives Programme Manager. She has been awarded the Rehendhi Award, a national accolade for Maldivian women. Hashim has been recognised for her contribution to marine conservation through the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) category. During her time with Blue, Hashim has led projects protecting Maldivian seagrass meadows, designed a citizen science programme and managed the #FishForTomorrow campaign in response to the excessive fishing of vulnerable species during lockdown and is currently working towards establishing marine managed areas in the Maldivian Atoll of Laamu.

Her work generates the resources and capacity for the Maldivian community to make an effective change in marine conservation in the Maldives.

She explains “As an island nation, all our economy is connected to the reefs. Climate change is one of the biggest issues for resilient reefs. We work on projects that will help protect and conserve more areas, and support a just transition to sustainable fisheries and responsible tourism while strengthening local capacities to do this work”. 

Tropical coral reefs are threatened by the rising global temperature. 70% of the reefs wouldn’t survive if the global temperature exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius – and we are nearly there. Our coral reefs are bleaching more frequently and this is expected to worsen over the coming years. Coral reefs would cease to exist if the global temperature reaches 3 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the rising sea levels are threatening our small precious islands. We are heading in a direction where most of our islands wouldn’t be habitable by the time our generation is old!”

She continues “Even though we are small islands surrounded by the ocean, most people don’t have opportunities to access the ocean, especially women. So, we run school programmes to get children to see their backyard reefs, do snorkelling – and for some, it’s their first time seeing the reef. We invite their parents and teachers to join and it’s their first time too. 

A lot of people get emotional when they see the reefs – the adults find it to be a life-changing experience”

“People are nervous of the sea and when kids go swimming alone as there have been incidents in the past so it’s seen as a dangerous place. We are trying to take the fear out of it.

The Communications Expert

A former journalist at The Guardian, Jo Coumbe leads digital innovation and global storytelling for Blue Marine Foundation. Working from her coastal home in Cornwall she has delivered some of Blue Marine’s most successful campaigns including #BackTheBlueBelt, #LocalFishForDinner and #FishForTomorrow.

She explains that Blue Marine’s mission is to see at least 30% of the world’s ocean under effective protection by 2030 and the other 70% managed responsibly. One of the biggest challenges we encounter is a lack of understanding. Many people are unaware of the ocean’s vital role in mitigating climate change and it’s my job to help increase awareness and educate – specifically the next generation on the hugely important and life-preserving role of the ocean.” 

The Blue Carbon Expert

Gabriella is a marine scientist having studied in Hawaii, Plymouth and Cadiz. Specialising in shark ecology and marine microbiological ecosystems, she has over twenty years’ experience in environmental conservation and public engagement in science. At Blue Marine Foundation Gabriella manages the Convex Seascape Survey, 

She explains “ I have followed the blue carbon transition for over a decade and now at Blue Marine Foundation, we have partnered with the University of Exeter and Convex Group Limited on an ambitious, five-year global research programme called the Convex Seascape Survey. This will provide critical data and insight on what the world needs to fully incorporate the ocean into efforts to slow climate change. “

Gabriella continues “The Convex Seascape Survey turns the focus onto an immense but neglected and misunderstood region of the ocean – the continental shelves – which could be a crucial ally in action against climate change. As an insurer, Convex’s business is about managing risks, which means that robust data sources have enormous importance. For this reason, Convex, working with Blue Marine Foundation and the University of Exeter, has identified the need for a significantly greater understanding of the properties and capabilities of the ocean and seabed in the Earth’s carbon cycle. The Convex Seascape Survey brings together the interdisciplinary depth, global reach, bold ambition, and resources needed to tackle such a challenge. Over the course of five years, it will undertake sixteen major expeditions across the world, employing satellites, drones, ship-based sampling, submarines, remotely operated underwater vehicles, scuba, and high-powered computers. The survey will provide timely, accurate, open-access data on the world’s shelf seabed carbon stores, giving them long-overdue international attention and prominence. Many of the scientists working on the survey are young women – such as the Phd students at Exeter University – it’s fantastic to see more women coming into science and marine biology, helping redress the gender imbalance the industry has experienced for so long.” 

The International Relations Expert

Originally from El Salvador, Sofia Regalado is now based in London and joined Blue Marine Foundation after finishing her MSc in Environmental Sustainability at UCL. Previously, Sofia worked at eXXpedition, an organisation researching oceanic microplastic pollution. Having grown up in El Salvador and next to the Pacific, Sofia had a fascination with marine biodiversity and from a young age aspired to dedicate her career to its preservation. 

Sofia speaks fluent English and Spanish and proficient French and puts these languages  to the test in her role at Blue as research coordinator in the Science and Impact and Innovation Unit (SII)  where she provides research support across the organisation and to various international project teams

Currently, Sofia is working with local partners in Latin South America. In Patagonia, she is working with her colleague Sophie to showcase the important research being carried out by local scientists. In Uruguay, she is working with local NGOs and tech partners to promote marine protection efforts. 

More locally, she has recently been involved in Mediterranean projects focused on protecting seagrass meadows and raising local awareness. Sofia says, “Like plants on land, the seagrass meadows provide a home for marine life, prevent erosion and produce oxygen. Beyond this, seagrass captures carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and acts as a nursery for juvenile marine species.”

On working with an international team of expert women Sofia says “There is never a dull moment working at Blue. It’s so intellectually stimulating – every day I’m amazed and inspired by everyone  I work with. The team is so passionate and committed and everyone is an expert in their field. I’m always absorbing knowledge from my colleagues and from the dynamic work we’re all doing. This is an industry where it could be easy to get disheartened by the enormity of the threats facing our oceans but I feel so lucky to work with such a bright and motivating team of friends and mentors. At Blue, everyone celebrates the big and small ocean wins and it’s not in our spirit to shy away from a good challenge..”

Sofia is looking forward to her upcoming expedition to the Silver Bank region of the Dominican Republic, “a hot spot for humpback whales to breed and an important migration pathway for other cetaceans”, where she will be taking seawater samples to get further insight into the biodiversity of the region.

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