• Kate Quigley

A Champion For Our Oceans: Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

In honor of Women's History Month, this article is dedicated to Dr. Ayana Johnson, a marine biologist, policy expert, and writer. She specifically specializes in ocean policy and conservation, and is, in my opinion, one of the most influential marine biologists of our time. Ayana is a true champion for the health of our environment.


Ayana grew up in Brooklyn, never having been to the ocean until she was on vacation as a young girl in Florida, where she fell in love with everything beneath the waves. Later she attended Harvard University where she studied environmental science and public policy. She didn't want to be in a lab or limited to collecting data in the field, but rather focus on how to influence policy changes at a much bigger level around marine conservation. As a Harvard undergrad student, she applied for a job at the Environmental Protection Agency, and against all odds, got the position. She began as the only black employee and the only person without a graduate degree, and she felt like an imposter. From there, Ayana immersed herself in the world of conservation and environmental policy.


Dr. Johnson founded Urban Ocean Lab, a non-profit working to create ocean policy for coastal cities. As Climate change rapidly advances, and our oceans continue to rise, coastal communities are slowly being forced underwater, economically and physically. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), almost 40% of the United States population lives in coastal cities. Urban Ocean Lab is fighting for the policies needed to protect these communities from floods, storms, and rising sea levels. They are currently focused on a policy plan for offshore energy in the U.S. Not only will this create jobs for those in coastal areas, but it will also help move the U.S. towards a more clean energy-based economy.


Dr. Johnson also created Ocean Collectiv, an organization that works to create and impose constructive solutions for a healthier ocean. It includes a team of scientists, lawyers, artists, politicians, teachers, fishermen, and a variety of other professions. Experts from all around the world collaborate to create a legal framework for sustainable oceans and ocean conservation. In addition to creating programs, Ocean Collectiv also hosts public conversations on the world of science. They conduct research and surveys, speak about environmental challenges, and support global campaigns to end plastic pollution.


How to Save a Plant, is a podcast co-founded by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and journalist Alex Blumberg. Each episode features an engaging conversation where they question each other, search for climate solutions, and invite fellow environmentalists to share their perspectives. Don't miss the next episode, listen to How to Save a Planet on the podcast app or Spotify!


To learn more about Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and her work visit her website, Ocean Urban Lab, Ocean Collectiv, and listen to her podcast.



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