Group of Black women scientists come together on Virginia Key Beach to encourage inclusion in important field

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – On a windy January morning, a clean-up took place on the plastic littered shores of historic Virginia Key Beach.

The participants weren’t just volunteers, they’re scientists, members of the Black Women in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Science, a nonprofit called BWEEMS.

“I’ve always said that I think that in order for us to fight climate change, we need to have diverse perspectives. We need to have diverse people at the table,” said Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles.

Traylor-Knowles, a coral biologist and assistant professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, is the creator of BWEEMS.

The idea came to her after noticing a lack of Black women working in science.

“It just kept coming up that they were saying that Black women don’t exist in the space, so we can’t hire what isn’t there,” said Traylor-Knowles. “That was always the common excuse. And I just was like, I cannot be literally the only one.”

So Traylor-Knowles sent out a tweet that said: I am a Black woman marine biologist looking for other Black women marine biologists...are you out there? Please help connect me!”

And the responses poured in.

“People started to retweet and connect us,” Traylor-Knowles said. “And then it was like, well, we’ve got 100 plus people on here. Why don’t we have a meetup?”

For two years those meet-ups were virtual via Zoom, sharing ideas and building a community.

That is until last week, when these dynamic women from all over the world finally came together in person, at RSMAS on Virginia Key.

“Some of these people I spent hours talking with, so to finally be able to give them a hug and talk with them one-on-one and see them, it just fills me up,” said Traylor-Knowles.

And those were just a few of the nearly 400 women who have joined the movement.

Adrianne Wilson, a Marine Science PHD candidate at RSMAS was one of them.

“I think this is my first time in that auditorium specifically, where I can look out and see a bunch of people that look like me, and also talk to them about science in a different way that I think I can typically talk to with other scientists,” said Wilson.

Studies show that less than nine percent of people working in STEM, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are Black, and less than two percent are women.

“I’ve definitely felt not welcome, and not valued,” said Traylor-Knowles. “To me, (it’s) extremely important that if we want to cause change, we have to come together.”

Especially with the stakes so high to find urgent solutions to existential problems that will affect Black communities more. According to the EPA,

it is underserved populations who will disproportionately feel the effects of climate change, specifically when it comes to air quality, extreme temperatures, and flooding.

“I think it’s really important to expose younger generations, younger generations of people of color, to the field of Marine Science, as well as ecology and evolution so we can better look at the problems that are affecting our communities directly,” said Wilson

“It’s about having inclusion and being able to also bring a different perspective, to a problem that affects everybody,” added Naiyiri-Blu Brooker, Wetlands Project Associate for NYC Parks and Recreation.

Together the women of BWEEMS will continue to push boundaries overcoming historical exclusion, to drive innovation and find solutions to address all the challenges our planet is facing.

“Being able to bring together all of these Black women scientists from all over the world, to be together to talk about these issues, to share our science to bring out new ideas is just extremely exciting,” said Traylor-Knowles. “And the promise to me is huge.”

BWEEMS supports its members through mentorships, meetups, and access to research funding. If you’d to learn more about BWEEMS, how you can support them or even join them, click here.

About the Authors:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.