Coming Soon: My Adventures in Ocean Conservation

Hi. My name is Ayana. I’m a marine biologist, and I’m thrilled to join National Geographic’s stellar group of ocean bloggers. Big shoes to fill.

My plan is to use this space to share stories of what I have begun to call my “adventures in ocean conservation.” As Director of Science and Solutions at the Waitt Foundation, I travel the world on a mission to collect, create, curate, actualize, and amplify the best ideas for sustainable use of ocean resources. In my travels I have the privilege of spending time with impressive fishermen, brilliant scientists, savvy politicians, successful entrepreneurs, and devoted NGO leaders.

I am liable to look both of these ways in a single day.

Each trip I make reinforces for me in some way the fact that effective ocean management is only in small part about having the scientific evidence to support a policy. As a natural scientist, I strongly believe in the importance of gathering and then making decisions based on the best available data. But as a social scientist and policy nerd, I know that it’s rarely that simple. So I want to talk here about that nuance, about the intricate relationships between science, culture, dollars, fish, votes, and sustainable use of the ocean.

The Waitt Foundation, under the leadership of founder and Chairman Ted Waitt, has a simple goal: to end overfishing. The premise for our work is that overfishing is a tractable problem that can be solved by a combination of (1) science-based management, (2) engaging communities and policy makers, (3) establishing marine protected areas, and (4) raising public awareness. I’m all in. In future posts I’ll write about the great projects we are funding and my work with grantees to ensure their success.

So who is this Ayana person and what does she care about? I expect much of that will be revealed here over time. For now, my bio is here (CliffsNotes version: Brooklyn, Harvard, Turks and Caicos, Environmental Protection Agency, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 300+ SCUBA dives, artisanal fisheries research, Curaçao and Bonaire, NOAA, Washington, DC, Waitt Foundation), previous blog posts are here, and I’m @ayanaeliza on Twitter.

Adorable baby trunkfish.

But all you really need to know is that my primary motivation for this work is to ensure sustainable seafood for the approximately 1 billion people who depend on the ocean for the their nutrition, livelihood, and culture. I believe collaboration of all types is critical to achieving that. And I haven’t yet become so jaded that I don’t utterly enjoy a swim in the sea, a walk on the beach, or a baby trunkfish sighting.

Please stay tuned and let me know in the comments section what you think about what I’m thinking about. The Waitt Foundation and I are looking forward to learning from all who stumble upon and read this blog. More soon…



Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, conservation strategist, and Brooklyn native. She is founder and president of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for ocean conservation strategies grounded in social justice. She teaches at New York University as an adjunct professor, and was co-director of partnerships for the March for Science. As executive director of the Waitt Institute, Ayana co-founded the Blue Halo Initiative and led the Caribbean’s first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort. Previously, she worked on ocean policy at the EPA and NOAA, and was recently a TED resident and Aspen Institute fellow. She envisions and works toward a healthy ocean that supports food security, economies, and cultures. Find her @ayanaeliza.