Water has been a consistent, in my life for over twenty years. I started swimming when I was three and throughout middle and high school I was a competitive swimmer; strengthening my comfort and skill in the water. Because of my comfort level, I relished going to the beach. Boogie-boarding with my cousin’s or body surfing, I became aware of the peace and adventure the ocean provided. It was not until I spent a summer at the University of Penn as a Teen Research and Education in Environmental Science (TREES) student that I realized the ocean could be a career. I entered Hampton University as a Marine and Environmental Science major and realized through a variety of internship opportunities the multitude of career opportunities in marine science.The nail in the coffin came when I participated in The Diversity Project an initiative through the University of California Office of the President to get a SCUBA certification and travel to one of the most biodiverse regions in the world,Bali Indonesia. Upon seeing my first coral reef in person, I was hooked and knew I wanted to see more. The following year, I entered as a PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCLA, where I worked in the Fong lab. A common sign of coral degradation is the transition from coral to algal dominance. My PhD research focused on the environmental factors influence turf algal proliferation across a gradient of reefs in Moorea French Polynesia. I graduate with my PhD in Biology in 2019 from UCLA. From there I furthered developed my oceanic and research foundations as a postdoc at University of California and the University of Pennsylvania.
Broadly speaking, I am interested in the changes happening to coastal communities. I focus on coral reef ecosystems, which are vital to fisheries globally (It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 fish species spends a portion of their life in a coral reef), local economies (i.e ecotourism, oceanic goods for sale) and shore protection. Reefs, however are not doing well, and we see their demise happening at an expedited speed. Typically reefs are full of corals, fish, invertebrates, and a variety of other organisms. They are underwater cities, however when stressed vital members of the community are loss. A warning sign for reef degradation is the transition from coral dominance to algae dominance. Throughout my career I have focused on the environmental changes that allow algae to succeed, preventing the return of healthy coral-dominated states. For most of my graduate career, I deployed a multitude of field experiment and collected samples for nutrient assays among reefs in the South Pacific. For my postdocs and currently I employ metabarcoding techniques to assess how nutrient enrichment and altered herbivore communities shift algal and bacterial communities in the reefs of French Polynesia.
Being Black in STEM
The society we live in has been unforgiving to Black Women. I navigate professional spaces that were never met for me , a Black Woman and a Marine Scientist, to exists. I want change and use my platform to make the change needed for a more diverse group of scientist to exist. I am cofounder of A WOC Space, (Pronounced A WOKE Space) an organization that focuses on creating a safer space for Women of Color(WOC), the most oppressed group in the workplace to exist. We provide support for WOC and offer trainings to assist employers in changing the culture of their workplaces. Many of the changes we explore in A WOC Space directly apply to my workspaces; we need to create spaces that truly welcome diversity, not snuff it out . In 2020, I was a co-organizer for the first #Blackinmarinescience week, which highlighted the work and experiences of Black Marine Scientist. It was a huge success and the organization has grown legs; bringing on full-time staff, providing professional development opportunities for Black peoples, and spreading environmental awareness. Currently I am the board chair of the nonprofit, Black in Marine Science (BIMS). Check out our YouTube channel for a variety of videos created by Black ocean aficionados that focus on a wide variety of marine topics.
“Those who cannot forget the past are destined to remix it” -Evie Shockley