Meet Melisa Cristina Marquez


Meet Melissa, a bright marine scientist advocating for shark conservation.

Tell me about yourself (where did you grow up, how was your childhood like, what are your hobbies, where do you work/what do you currently do) AND How did your career as a marine scientist start?

I grew up in the tropics in the Caribbean and this heavily influenced my love for marine life as a child.  I grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries and The Wild Thornberry’s on Nickelodeon. I guess you could say that Eliza Thornberry was who got me interested in biology, as I was envious of her ability to communicate with animals. I wanted that super power- to ask animals where they went, why they did what they did, etc. David Attenborough brought it to life for me. Suddenly it was no longer just a cartoon I watched after school but an actual subject I could follow.

My introduction to science was through my mom, who was a scientist, and she encouraged me to develop my own passion for science, as well - although my parents might have been happier if I had stuck to something manageable with less teeth instead of sharks!  My small, liberal arts university (New College of Florida) allowed me to tailor my education to obtain a unique degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation. There, I was able to get hands on experience with a number of shark species, which really cemented my desire to pursue studying them.

I’m now a marine biologist and conservationist who studies Chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras). I also hold a Marine Biology degree from Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. I currently working on my PhD at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

Could you tell me about one of your favourite diving experiences or anecdotes?

I think one of my favorite diving experiences has been my most recent- cage diving with great white sharks in Guadalupe Island off of Mexico. It was surreal to be in water so blue and so clear, and to see these massive sharks come from the depth to check you out. They are absolutely beautiful!

How challenging it was to get to the place you are?

I am not alone in that I have faced incessant racism, sexism, ageism and more. I had a hard time learning how to turn rejection into motivation. As an early career scientist, and I’ve heard a lot of “no,” “this won’t work,” and “I’m not interested” which I at first took personally. But I now use them as fuel to get me fired up!

Could you give any tips to early career scientists or to students who are considering pursuing a career as a marine scientist?

There will be hurdles (just like in any industry) but just continue to be persistent, passionate and ask many questions, and you’ll be successful in what you choose. You need to define what "success" is to you, as well. Surround yourself with people who have a zest for life and don't sweat the small stuff!

What would you suggest to someone who is reading this on ways to be involved in marine conservation?

There is a lot you can do for marine conservation. Read up on the current issues and sign petitions as well as vote for politicians who have these issues in mind. You can donate money (and time) to reputable marine conservation organisations, too, and be conscious of where your seafood that is on your plate is coming from. And of course, use less plastic!