Most of the women in science we have featured through WiSE Wednesday have done their work in a laboratory, but not all science occurs indoors, or even above water! On Melissa Cristina Márquez’s CV: NAUI Advanced SCUBA Diver, Night Diver and U/W Environment certifications. These qualifications are crucial for her work as a marine biologist focusing on shark biology and ecology. No doubt she’s spent plenty of time in the halls of academia (she earned a masters in marine biology from the Victoria University of Wellington) but her true passion lives in the field, where she studies chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras), with a focus on their conservation. Melissa believes these predators are widely misunderstood, and she is on a mission to help the public see the important roles they play in our oceans and why they need protection.
As an undergraduate at the New College of Florida, Melissa was interested in learning about the chondrichthyans in her local area, but realized there was no book to go to. This didn’t stop her – she decided to write one of her own, self-publishing Sharks, Skates and Rays of Sarasota Bay, Florida. This book is a great addition to academic chondrichthyan research but she knew that, if she wanted to get the fascinating information she learned out to the public, she would have to get creative. She started visiting local schools to teach about sharks and shark conservation, an initiative that blossomed into The Fins United Initiative (TFUI), an international organization whose mission is “to provide easy-to-access information on all sharks and their relatives worldwide through partnerships with educational institutions and other programs.” TFUI “unites fin lovers worldwide” through social media, interactive lessons, educational handouts and more. From humble beginnings in Florida, TFUI has expanded its educational services to all 50 states and over 12 countries, and Melissa has become a scicomm superhero, writing easy-to-read articles about chondrichthyan conservation, giving talks to the public and sharing information on Twitter @mcmsharksxx (check out #SharkSunday!). She is also a strong advocate for women in science, writing #STEMSaturdays blog posts for femSTEM. You can learn more about TFUI at http://www.finsunited.co.nz/tfui-origins.html and more about Melissa’s amazing journey at http://melissacristinamarquez.weebly.com/.