Black Women Shark Scientists Create Network to Encourage People of Color
When Jasmin Graham describes her research on smalltooth sawfish, a critically endangered ray with a unique "saw" at the front of its face, she explains how "nothing else looks like this in the ocean; those species evolved to do something no other shark or ray can do." It resonates, and people understand why diversity matters in sharks, she said. She expanded on this same concept to emphasize how diversity also matters in finding solutions to the challenges that threaten elasmobranchs and in those scientists doing that work.
As a result, Graham, a young, black female shark scientist, found herself chatting on Twitter via the #BlackInNature hashtag with Amani Webber-Schultz, Carlee Jackson and Jaida Elcock, three other young, black female shark scientists from around the country.
They were excited to find each other and soon created a space for other women of color in shark science — MISS — to connect and not feel as alone.
"MISS means Minorities in Shark Science, and it really started because we didn't see representation in the sciences, and that matters a lot when you're young," said Jackson.
"We need to start acting to address these disparities if we don't want to exclude yet another generation of talented scientists," said Rahma Elmahdi, an inclusion expert, reported BBC.
Graham told EcoWatch how she "didn't know marine science was a thing" growing up. Her family fished and enjoyed the beach but never ventured below the water's surface for fear of sharks and the inability to swim. When the scientists first showed interest in marine biology, her parents were supportive but could not provide her access to an actual marine scientist.
Graham had to figure it out on her own until a collegiate advisor went out of his way to mentor her in shark science and encourage graduate study.
"One of the reasons we started MISS is we recognized that we all are very lucky we had someone who stepped in and guided us," she said, "but what happens to the people who don't have someone step in? Do they just fail? That isn't fair."
MISS wants to become that "someone who steps in and helps," Graham explained. Beyond that, the founders, who also serve as the executive board, envision the organization becoming a community of minority scientists who can rely on each other and provide the type of support that none of them experienced until they found each other a month ago.
Jasmin Graham downloads data from an acoustic receiver. Jasmin Graham
"We strive to be seen and take up space in a discipline which has been largely inaccessible for women like us," the board stated. "We strive to be positive role models for the next generation."
Each of the scientists emphasized the importance of innovation for science and of diversity for innovation.
"We believe diversity in the field creates more diversity in the knowledge and solutions," said Jackson.
Life experiences and world views have a huge impact on how people think about and address global problems, Graham added. More perspectives leads to more creative ideas and solutions. Homogeneity in problem solvers leads to homogeneity in thought patterns and, often, to dead ends.
Fisheries science is grappling with this challenge, she said, often "running in circles" until they ask local indigenous communities to share their knowledge.
"If you don't have everyone at the table, you don't have all the information," Graham said, "And science is all about data."
Representation in policy decisions and research is paramount to creating the most inclusive, effective and long-lasting solutions, the board postured.
MISS is quickly gaining traction, already fundraising $20,000 of their $25,000 initial goal. The money will fund travel stipends and professional development workshops to 18 new minority women shark scientists next March and April.
Many people of color struggle with financial barriers to gain access and develop skills that would make them successful marine biologists, Elcock said, because most internships are unpaid or require payment for participation. The founders intend for the hands-on workshops, which will take place on the Field School research vessel where Webber-Schulz is a current fellow, to provide participants with critical field experience and to kick start their networks of minority shark scientists.
They also will focus on outreach to the younger generation, to be the role models they didn't see for young, budding scientists of color.
"We want to make it clear that women of color belong in shark science, even if you don't see them yet," said Webber-Schulz. "We do exist and we are here to stay."
Elcock summarized, "If we don't have diversity, science loses. Everyone loses."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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