Women and Girls in Science: The Pull of the Sea

Department of Conservation —  13/02/2022

Today we celebrate women and girls in science whose love of the sea has led them to specialise in a variety of fields, demonstrating the diversity of work in the field of marine science.

From investigating micro-plastics to advising, curating marine specimens to volunteering, discovering new species to publishing – these women have collectively made a huge difference to the health of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana.

Why did you choose marine environment science?

Irene Llabrés Pohl has an MSc in Oceanography and works at DOC as a marine technical advisor.

ILP: It chose me! At some point of my life the pull of the ocean just took over. The American poet E.E. cummings wrote this wonderful short poem: “For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea”, and I could not agree more.

Irene Llabrés Pohl.
📷: Irene

Dr Anastasija Zaiko has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences/Ecology and Environmental Science and works at the Cawthron Institute as a Marine Scientist.

AZ: I grew up at the Baltic coast, in a seafarer’s family, and felt a special connection to the sea since I can remember myself. I wanted to learn more about this still largely unknown part of the planet and contribute to its conservation.

Exploring fishermen catch on a Nelson wharf with school children (the fish was released afterwards)
📷: Anastasija

Marianne Nyegaard has a PhD in Environmental Science and currently as a Research Associate at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

MN: One day when I was about 12 years old I – out of the blue – woke up with a sudden intense wish to know what was in the ocean. I learnt to SCUBA dive and the rest, as they say, is history.

Marianne Obtaining a small skin scrape for genetic from ‘Giant sunfish’ off Nusa Penida, Indonesia.
📷: Johnathan Anderson

Madeline Seaman has a  BSc in Marine and Coastal Ecology and a PGDip in Science and Environmental Management, and works for SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.

MS: I firstly fell in love with a jellyfish, or, well, I sat in on a friend’s biology lecture in 2008 and the lecturer was talking about jellyfish physiology. It opened up a whole new world of curiosity in about ten minutes! I dropped my maths and physics classes two days later and picked up biology and environmental management.

Madeline exploring the marine world.
📷: Madeline

What is the best thing about your job/ the work you do?

Dr Wilma Blom has a PhD in Quaternary Geology and works as a Curator of Marine Invertebrates at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

WB: My work at Auckland Museum is very varied and almost always fascinating. Our collections represent a unique database of taxonomic and bio-geographic data that (with data held at similar institutions) can be used to show how New Zealand biodiversity has changed in space and time. The data are used by a range of stakeholders for a multitude of purposes. A curator needs to be aware of all the ways in which a collection can be used and made accessible to as many people as possible.

Wilma, Curator of Marine Invertebrates in the Marine Collections’ Store at Auckland Museum.
📷: Auckland Museum

Charlie Thomas has just turned 18 and is currently working as a deckhand for Sea Cleaners. She is about to spend eight months on one of the most remote coral atolls in the world, Kure, working as a volunteer to do restoration work to ensure the wildlife there can thrive.

CT: While working at Sea Cleaners, I saw every little bit of coastline that the Hauraki Gulf has to offer. I saw stingrays, birds, dolphins and even the local leopard seal (Owha) almost every day! It was magical being out on the water but also in schools and classrooms teaching the next generation about how important it is to care about our natural environment.

Charlie holding a grey faced petrel chick at Tawharanui.
📷: Charlie

MS: Positive animal welfare is extremely important to me and it’s really great trying to get to know our fish species to be able to provide for them above and beyond what we have been able to do in the past. At Kelly Tarlton’s, animal welfare is our highest priority.

What is your proudest moment/ greatest achievement?

Dr Monique Ladds has a Masters in Applied Science and a PhD in Philosophy (Biology), and works at DOC as a marine technical advisor.

ML: Getting my job at DOC was the greatest achievement of my career so far. In this role I feel like I really get to make a difference for the oceans. I get to travel all around the country and talk to people about what science we should be doing at marine reserves – the highest level of protection we can offer our oceans.

Monique sitting with a rescued Subantartic fur seal who now lives at Sealife Aquarium in Australia. After her no longer being able to forage for himself, Nelson was trained to participate in experiments to identify different behaviours they would display in the wild.
📷: Monique

Dr Olga Pantos has a PhD in the molecular microbial ecology of coral disease, and currently works for ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research).

OP: One of my greatest career highlights was discovering a new marine species that lives symbiotically with reef-building corals. As I was the first person to both discover it on the Great Barrier Reef and also fully describe it I was able to name it. I named it Zanclea margaritae after my mum, Margaret.

Studying the environmental factors linked to the occurrence of toxic algal blooms in Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia.
📷: Olga

Dr Jenny Hillman has a PhD in Marine Science and works as a soft-sediment ecologist specialising in shellfish restoration at the University of Auckland.

JH: Achieving my PhD as a culmination of three degrees was a proud moment – they all involved a lot of hard work and late nights! But my friend’s ten-year old coming to watch me graduate and telling me she wanted to go to university as a result is still one of my proudest moments.

Jenny getting ready to do some underwater research.
📷: Jenny

MN: A career highlight was describing a new species of ocean sunfish from New Zealand – the Hoodwinker sunfish, Mola tecta.

AZ: When I see the results of my research being demanded either by the peers who read and cite papers, or (even more precious) by practitioners on the ground – who apply these results to better understand marine ecosystem, develop science-based policies, and improve environmental protection strategies.

CT: One that I am particularly proud of is when I rescued a pied cormorant, not far from Rangitoto Island. It was entangled in a large amount of fishing line and hooks and it required 20 minutes of very delicate snipping and untangling to free it. There really was no better feeling than being able to release it and watch it fly away.

What would you say to girls and young women about working in marine science/ marine environment?

Carina Sim-Smith has a PhD in Marine Sciences, and works as a consultant in the areas of marine biosecurity, aquaculture, environment effects, shellfish restoration and sponge taxonomy.

Marine Science is a hugely rewarding career. It can vary from diving in tropical oceans, wading in knee-deep mud and meticulous laboratory work, to complex maths, reading and report writing.

The lake weed monster – Scientific dive training in Lake Okaro with colleague Evan Brown.
📷: Rod Budd

Mel Tupe has a Masters in Marine Science and Diploma in Environmental Management, and works at Auckland Council in both marine science and marine biosecurity.

ML: Being a marine scientist gives you the opportunity to work all over the world, from soaking up the magic of being close to marine mammals, to working in the lab with microscopic organisms, to contributing to political decisions. Follow your passion and know that you are making a difference in protecting the ocean for future generations.

Out on a Marine Biosecurity Pest Survey in the Kaipara.
📷: Sam Happy

WB: Remember that more than 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Nowhere should we be more aware of this than in New Zealand. It is hard to overstress the vital importance of marine science to understanding our oceans and their influence on literally everything on our planet.

ILP: I’d tell them that you don’t necessarily have to be a marine biologist (or scientist for that matter) to work on marine issues. Having a healthy environment affects all aspects of our lives so you can work with a marine conservation focus in virtually any career: lawyers, economists, teachers, artists, computer modellers… you name it.

ML: What we need right now is more education around the state of our world’s oceans and how we can help to get its health back. We need people to learn about the oceans and then tell people about it to initiate behaviour changes.

JH: We do it because we love it. It is not the glamorous life it is often portrayed as, but you never stop learning and it never stops being completely fascinating. Most importantly, the possibilities are endless – my job has enabled me to work in the deserts of the Middle East, the tropics of the Indo-Pacific, and to dive under Antarctic ice.

MN: Love it, but be prepared to frequently experience despair and frustration as your work will – in one way or another – deal with the devastating effects of modern human lifestyle on our oceans. Be determined to turn that frustration into positive action.

For our final blog post tomorrow, we will look at the women and girls who work in the field of social science, where people and the Park interconnect.

One response to Women and Girls in Science: The Pull of the Sea


    Super inspiring stuff! I hope I can end up doing something like that in the future 🙂