This March, we are celebrating Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the significant contributions women have made to our lives and culture. It’s also time to recognize the contributions women make in many fields – especially to our oceans.

Today has a double meaning as it marks International Women’s Day. I would like to take this opportunity to honor three little-known pioneering women who helped shape the way we view ocean science and policy today.

They are just a few of the many incredible women who broke barriers, pursued their love of the ocean, and laid the foundation for the science-based work we do today.


mary sapp women in historymary sapp women in history
© Library of Congress

Mary Sapp is one such woman. When Tharp discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and demonstrated the validity of continental drift, she made one of the most important bathymetric discoveries in underwater depth. It was the 1950s, and her work was largely reduced due to gender stereotypes. When she reported her discovery, her own supervisor, Bruce Heezen, noted that he “took it as girl talk and didn’t believe it for a year.” Though not recognized at the time, Tharp’s famous map still hangs in many oceans today. in the scientist’s office. The current map produced by NOAA is rooted in Tharp’s work.

Rosa Smith Eigenman, 1889Rosa Smith Eigenman, 1889
© BR Strauss/Wikimedia



Another trailblazer was Rosa Smith Eigenman, one of the first widely published female ichthyologists. She began her career collecting specimens for the San Diego Natural History Society, during which time she met renowned ichthyologist David Starr Jordan, who encouraged her to join him as a student at Indiana University. Over the next few years, she toured Europe with the lab, collecting and documenting species of fish. She has published nearly 20 papers herself, and later 15 with her husband. Although she faced many obstacles, her work has greatly advanced our understanding of fish species and lineages. She writes: “A woman should be judged by the same standards as her brother in science as anywhere else in the field of thought. Her work cannot simply be done for a woman.”


Young Women Ph.D. in HistoryYoung Women Ph.D. in History
© ASU HPS Repository

Last but not least, Dr. Roger Arliner Young was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in Zoology in 1940. She is a researcher and activist who has fought racism, sexism and classism throughout her career.She was the first black woman to publish in a prestigious journal science, but was also excluded as the author of numerous papers she was involved in during her master’s and doctorate. Learn. Part of her legacy is now reflected in the Roger Arliner Young Fellowship Program – a one-year paid fellowship for recent undergraduates with a focus on conservation for the United States Increased opportunities for communities historically underrepresented in the department, which has historically been overwhelmingly white.

These three women represent a small fraction of women’s broad and diverse contributions to science, which have historically been overlooked in the field of marine conservation.

They paved the way for future generations of female scientists, researchers, marine cartographers and more to follow their passion for ocean exploration and conservation.

We know that our destiny is tied to the oceans, and that everyone who aspires to save them—regardless of gender, race or identity—must have the opportunity to pursue their passion. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I invite you to reflect on the women who have served as mentors and role models in your conservation journey.

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