Black History Month – Marine Biology edition

While reading many great articles about #BlackExcellence this month I thought about how I might contribute to the conversation, if at all. I finally settled on doing some research on one of my favorite topics: Marine Biology. Specifically, I was looking to learn about Black Marine Biologists and what work they were doing. Given the issues with discrimination in STEM I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of information available. Still, I have yet to meet a research rabbit hole I didn’t like, so down I went.

Bellow you will find information on several Black, primarily American, Marine Biologists. I imagine there are more, certainly around the world, and hopefully in the US, but this is my start on the topic. Additionally there are links to several articles that I found helpful and some of the programs available to Black and other minority students interested in getting into the marine sciences.

I have not touched on any of the reasons why there are so few Black Marine Biologists, or why the information is not simple to find, that is a much larger and longer book that I am not currently educated enough to write. Suffice to say, as with so many other areas of discrimination and structural racism, we have a lot of work to do still to empower people with the knowledge that they can in fact study what they love and share that love with the rest of the world.

Marine Biologists

Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., in oyster bed

Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D.

“Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., is a change maker. When she was approached about a need for a summer pre-college experience for students interested in marine sciences, she created Coast Camp. When she saw that Savannah-area students weren’t as prepared as they could be when entering college, she sought a position on the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) Board. And most recently, when she realized how strong the connection was between her beloved field of marine sciences and local coastal African-American communities, she joined the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.” – Savannah State Faculty Spotlight – her Youtube page “Invertegirl” with lots of videos of marine invertebrates!

Dr. Dijanna Figueroa speaking at William & Mary

Dr. Dijanna Figueroa

“Dijanna Figueroa has made a career of exploring the mysteries of the deep. In 2005, she was featured in James Cameron’s documentary Aliens of the Deep, which follows Cameron and NASA scientists as they explore the some of the deepest parts of the ocean and learn about the unique life forms that inhabit those spaces. Recently, Figueroa has become an advocate for STEAM education—adding art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math equation. She’s spent more than a decade teaching STEAM to grades K–8 in the greater Los Angeles area, formerly served as global director of the National Geographic Society’s Green STEAM program, and has advisory roles with many STEAM nonprofits. If that isn’t enough, Figueroa is a committee director for Blue Ocean Sciences, an organization of scientists conducting high-level research that addresses the needs of the global community.” – Beyond Curie

Dr. Daniel Pauly

“Dr. Daniel Pauly is a French and Canadian citizen who completed his high school and university studies in Germany; his doctorate (1979) and habilitation (1985) are in Fisheries Biology, from the University of Kiel.”

“Since 1999, Dr.Pauly has served as Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, based at the Fisheries Centre(now the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries), UBC. This initiative, which is devoted to studying the impact of fisheries on the world’s marine ecosystems, was supported mainly by funds he secured from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, USA, and since 2014, from a number of philanthropic foundations.” – Sea Around Us

Robert K. Trench

Robert K. Trench

“While a professor of biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Robert Kent Trench earned the reputation as the world’s leading expert on corals and their symbiotic algae, more specifically strains of zooxanthellae adaptation to certain coral species.  Born on August 3, 1940 in Belize City, British Honduras, he studied at the University of the West Indies, Oxford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on invertebrate zoology in 1969.  

“Trench’s areas of expertise encompassed coral reef ecology, physiology, biochemistry, phylogenetics of symbiosis, and intercellular recognition phenomena.  He taught for four years at Yale University before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 1976.  The author of several dozen scientific papers, in 1994 his groundbreaking description of metabolite flux from kleptochloroplasts to host won him the coveted Miescher-Ishida Prize for outstanding contribution to the field of endocytobiology.  A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Trench retired from university teaching in the year 2000.” – Black Past

Samuel Milton Nabrit

Samuel Milton Nabrit

“A celebrated marine biologist who specialized in studying the ability of fish to regrow their fins after injury or disease, Samuel Nabrit was the first black representative on the United States Atomic Energy Commission. In a long career, Nabrit found success on many fronts. He was the first alumnus of Morehouse College to receive a doctorate and the first black to be awarded a Ph.D. at Brown University. He served on various committees under three United States presidents and as president of Texas Southern University he steered the institution through many years of civil rights protests and change. Commenting late in life on the difficulties he experienced in advancing his own career, Nabrit is reported to have said that “no kite can rise unless it’s going against the wind.” – Samuel Milton Nabrit Biography – Selected writings

Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Just

“Born in 1883 in Charleston, S.C., Just attended the Kimball Union Academy, a boarding school in Meriden, N.H., graduating in 1903. He then enrolled at Dartmouth College and graduated magna cum laude in 1907 as an esteemed Rufus Choate scholar. He immediately accepted a teaching position at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he quickly rose through the academic ranks, becoming full professor in 1912. He chaired the department of zoology at Howard and, with the help of the Rosenwald Fund, established a master’s program in that field.

“In 1909, Just began making annual summer excursions to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., where he worked under renowned embryologist Frank R. Lillie. Almost from the beginning, his work was significant. His first paper (5) showed that the sperm entry point determines the first cleavage plane in the egg of the marine annelid Nereis limbata. The body of work for his doctoral degree, which he obtained from the University of Chicago in 1916, was based on his study of the breeding habits of N. limbata and Platynereis megalops (another annelid) and the fertilization reaction of the sand dollar Echinarachnius parma. While at the MBL, he rose from student apprentice to internationally respected scientist.

“Just was known at Woods Hole and beyond for his uncanny ability to coax marine invertebrate embryos to develop normally, and many sought his advice on the proper handling of marine animal eggs and embryos. He compiled a set of indices of normal development based mainly on the timing and quality of fertilization envelope separation, allowing him to predict with great certainty whether or not development would be normal for a given egg. In 1939, he published a laboratory manual, “Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals” (6), which applied his deep storehouse of knowledge on egg handling.” – American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / ASBMB Today Feb 2010

Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young

“[B]orn in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology and to conduct research at the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Young conducted research on the anatomy of paramecium and the effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs.

“Young enrolled at Howard University at the age of twenty-seven, intending to major in music.  After struggling through a biology course with African American biologist Ernest Everett Just, she changed her major to that subject, earning a B.S. in 1923.  Just hired her as an assistant professor at Howard while she attended graduate school.  The next year, Young enrolled at the University of Chicago in Illinois part-time and published her first article on paramecium which achieved international recognition. She received her M.S in Zoology in 1926 and was elected to the honor society Sigma Xi.” – Black Past

And FYI the Urban Scientist who wrote the second link on R A Young is a black scientist herself, Danielle N. Lee. Check out her blog at Scientific American:


Minorities in Marine Biology: The Dearth of Black Professors
An old but interesting piece about the lack of minorities in the marine sciences with a focus on black students and teachers in particular. This is one time the comment section is worth reading several of the names and organizations I have linked came from information in this comment section.

African Americans in Marine Sciences
“African Americans have made contributions to maritime history and the sciences from the colonial period forward. The first wave of academically credentialed African American marine scientists, however, would not be born until toward the end of the 19th century. HarborLAB serves budding African American scientists through its youth programs each year, and for Black History Month honors trailblazers from years past.”

Minorities in Water Sciences
“As with so many other scientific fields, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders are poorly represented in the ranks of practicing water science professionals. Minority students interested in becoming oceanographers, marine biologists, fisheries scientists, hydrologists, ecologists, aquatic chemists, or limnologists have few role models to emulate. In part, this reflects a history of a lack of minority science and mathematics teachers in the K–12 schools. A number of institutions, such as Northern Arizona University and State University of New York at Oswego, are trying to correct that by offering programs that are directed towards elementary and secondary environmental education.“

The article includes many links of interest for minorities wanting to explore and/or get started in the marine sciences.


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – undergrad minority summer fellowship

American Elasmobranch Society 2019 Young Professional Recruitment Fellowship Diversity Scholarship award winners

(Sharks!! – Also, their website is not well updated but the general information about applying for the award is still on the site)

Additionally see the many links as part of this article at Water Encyclopedia

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