Women in the Aquatic Sciences

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In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, today’s blog post will highlight some amazing women who have contributed to the aquatic sciences! This is by no means a comprehensive list. Instead, I’m simply hoping to provide some inspiration for a future generation of incredible female scientists.

Here are just a few achievements of female aquatic scientists:


Dr. Sylvia Earle

  • First woman to walk on the ocean floor
  • Nicknamed “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times because she has spent nearly half of her life underwater
  • Founder of Mission Blue


Dr. Marie V. Lebour

  • Published original research on mollusks in 1900 before she started graduate school
  • Renowned for her accurate, detailed research on the life cycles of aquatic species
  • Authored at least 141 publications throughout her lifetime


Harriet (Hattie) Bell Merrill

  • Traveled solo to South America twice to conduct her research
  • Best known for her studies on zooplankton, including beautiful illustrations and painstakingly detailed descriptions
  • Appointed assistant professor of Zoology at University of Wisconsin in 1900


Dr. Minna Jewell

  • Expert in freshwater sponges, publishing research on them that has not been improved upon to this day
  • A charter member of the Ecological Society of America
  • Contributed some of the first research on prairie streams, groundwater, and acidic aquatic systems


Rachel Carson

  • A successful marine ecologist who was one of the first two women to be hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (now U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
  • Author of Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book that began the American environmental movement
  • Winner of three awards in 1964 for her work: Conservationist of the Year award from the National Wildlife Federation, National Geographic Society Medal, and the first woman to receive the Audubon Medal


Dr. Emmeline Moore

  • First woman elected as president of the American Fisheries Society
  • First woman biologist for the New York State Department of Conservation
  • Famous for her work on fish productivity studies and surface watershed surveys, both of which are still used today


Each of these women, and many more, have made significant contributions to the aquatic sciences and beyond, paving the way for today’s women in science.  While White women are finally gaining traction when it comes to pay equality and access to jobs historically reserved for men, the playing field is by no means even. People of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and others are still at a disadvantage when it comes to pay and employment, particularly in the sciences. Let’s keep working together toward an inclusive, sustainable future!


Cover image: Dr. Sylvia Earle and a fellow diver, Wyland, diving together for the first time. From USFWS Flickr.