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Ocean Currents

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion

© Marja Diaz / Ocean Conservancy

It’s fitting that today—the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples—is when I get to introduce you to three remarkable young people who are part of Ocean Conservancy’s commitment to bring more diversity into marine conservation. Through the Roger Arliner Young Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship, we are honored to host Emily Okikawa, Melia Paguirigan and Derek Segars at Ocean Conservancy this year.

Emily “Emi” Okikawa grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii surrounded by the beauty of the islands. Inspired by her childhood spent exploring tide pools, snorkeling over the reef and hiking in the mountains, she went on to graduate from Franklin & Marshall College with a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in East Asia Area studies. Her background in community outreach and environmental justice combined with her passion for storytelling prompted her to apply for the fellowship at Ocean Conservancy. “I am excited to be part of a new movement in environmentalism that recognizes the strength of diversity and commits itself to uplifting the voices of underrepresented communities,” she said. “I am truly inspired to be part of an initiative that highlights the narrative of our shared ocean experiences.” Emily will be working with our Communications team to help tell community-based conservation stories.

While exploring the Puget Sound in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, Melia Paguirigan discovered starfish and an interest in the interactions between humans and the natural world. This early fascination flourished in college where she studied Ecology at the Evergreen State College. Her after-school project? Helping her dad build a Polynesian voyaging canoe called vaka. “It was during this time that we talked about the intersection between my interest in ocean science and our Filipino roots,” said Melia. “This strengthened my determination to study and protect the ocean.” Although culture played an important role in her educational pursuits, Melia found ocean research lacking in diversity. The goals of the RAY Fellowship and Ocean Conservancy’s science-based solutions were a perfect fit for her needs. Working with the Ocean Acidification team, Melia hopes to combine and develop her skills as a researcher and advocate for our ocean and the communities that depend on it.

Derek Segars is a fourth generation Detroiter who is passionate about environmental reform and sustainable growth. Derek’s interest in policy took root in high school in the suburbs. “Going from an environment where my peers were minorities from diverse backgrounds to a homogenous suburb where my peers took a lot of things for granted sparked a passion to bring equity to my community,” said Derek. “Gaining a broader understanding of the different ways legislation can be influenced is a skill set I am adamant about building.” A recent graduate from Western Michigan University (BA ’17) with degrees in Political Science and Sociology, Derek will be part of our Government Relations team where he is gaining a broader understanding of the different ways legislation can be influenced. In the future, Derek plans on attending law school. And someday, he plans on taking Ocean Conservancy’s initiatives to the Great Lakes region.

Why this matters to Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is fiercely committed to being open, inclusive, fair and representative of all the people who love and rely on the ocean. As a marine conservation organization, we pride ourselves on working with and for communities to solve the greatest threats to our ocean using science-based solutions. Sea level rise and climate change, declining fishery catches and coastal pollution are not academic issues—especially for indigenous peoples as well as underserved communities in many coastal communities.

The Roger Arliner Young Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship was a direct response to a report that found the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken the 12 to 16 percent ‘green ceiling’ that has been in place for decades. Named in honor of the pioneering African-American female marine biologist, this fellowship, with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation, equips recent graduates from diverse backgrounds with tools and support systems to launch rewarding marine conservation careers.

Ocean Conservancy is incredibly honored to be part of these fellows’ efforts to break the “green ceiling” and we look forward to working with them on their conservation journeys.

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