Today is International Women’s Day – the perfect time to celebrate the contribution women make to conservation around the world. In keeping with the theme of my upcoming release, Turtle Reef, I’m celebrating the life of an ocean hero. Dr Eugenie Clark inspired the character of zoologist Zoe King in my upcoming release.This wonderful woman, who died last week at 92, was an author and pioneering marine biologist known as the ‘Shark Lady’. She dedicated her life to shark research, while defying social expectations about women’s roles in science. When you see a shark underwater, you should say ‘How lucky I am to see this beautiful animal in its environment.’ Comments like this helped dispel widely held fears of this misunderstood predator.
During expeditions around the world since the 1940’s, Eugenie pioneered scuba diving for gathering scientific data and making observations. She beat Jacques Cousteau to the punch by several years. ‘Her work in Egypt prompted some of the world’s first shark protection policies,’ says Ania Budziak, Project AWARE Program Director. ‘That legacy lives on as Egypt emerges as a leading proponent of international shark safeguards, championed by people who still cherish their memories of working with Eugenie Clark long ago.‘ Dr Clark was also a pioneer in communicating her scientific work to the public. She shared the adventures and excitement of her research through lectures, television specials, and articles in popular magazines like National Geographic and Science Digest. She wrote three best-selling books: Lady with a Spear (1951),The Lady and the Sharks (1969) and The Desert Beneath the Sea (1991), a children’s book about a scientist researching the sandy bottom of the sea.
In 1955 she founded the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. This has grown into a major centre for shark, dolphin, dugong and sea turtle research. It’s educated countless visitors and launched careers in shark science and conservation. Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, says, ‘Mote has certainly changed the course of my career by serving as a forum for ground-breaking discussion and collaboration on shark research and conservation.’
Eugenie Clark never lost her passion for diving, making her last dive on her 92nd birthday in the Red Sea. She continued lecturing up to the last few months of her life.She inspired thousands of young women to follow her footsteps, and raised the profile of marine conservation forever. In a world where girls often shy away from science at school, we need more ground breaking women researchers. Dr Eugenie Clark, on this International Women’s Day, I honour you.