Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D.

Founder, Ocean Collectiv

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To inquire about bringing Ayana to speak, contact her agency Fresh Speakers. Videos of her speeches are available here.


  • Ocean zoning/marine spatial planning
  • Fisheries management
  • Science communication
  • Public speaking, facilitating, and moderating

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, conservation strategist, and Brooklyn native. She is founder and president of Ocean Collectiv, a strategy consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice. Ayana envisions and works toward a healthy ocean that supports food security, economies, and cultures.

Apart from client projects, writing, and public speaking, Ayana teaches at New York University as an adjunct professor and mentors next generation ocean leaders. Previously, as executive director of the Waitt Institute, Ayana co-founded the Blue Halo Initiative and led the Caribbean’s first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort, resulting in the protection of one third of Barbuda’s coastal waters. She then led the growth of this initiative, launching it on Curaçao and Montserrat, in partnership with the governments and stakeholders.

Ayana volunteered as co-director of partnerships for the March for Science, building a coalition of over 300 organizations that inspired over 1 million people around the world to take to the streets to support the role of science in policymaking. Prior, Ayana was Director of Science and Solutions at the Waitt Foundation, and held policy positions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Ayana earned a BA from Harvard University in Environmental Science and Public Policy, and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in marine biology, with a dissertation on the ecology, socio-economics, and policy of sustainably managing coral reefs. For her research, she was awarded NSF Graduate Research, NSF IGERT, Switzer Environmental, and American Association of University Women fellowships. The fish trap she invented to reduce bycatch won the first Rare/National Geographic Solution Search.

In 2016, Ayana was an inaugural member of the TED Residency program, as well as an Aspen Institute Scholar. She is also the proud daughter of a retired teacher/current farmer and a retired architect/current potter. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Nature magazine. Her op-eds have been published in LA Times, The Guardian, and The New York Times. She blogs and tweets about how we can use the ocean without using it up on Scientific American, National Geographic and @ayanaeliza. You’ll find her at the nexus of science, policy, and communication, passionately advocating for coastal communities.



Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative (initiative co-founder, WI executive director & board member), 2013-2016

March for Science (co-director of partnerships), 2017

World Ocean Festival (science advisor, speaker curator/moderator), 2017

Foundation Center’s FundingtheOcean.org (rollout strategy consultant), 2017

XPRIZE Big Ocean Button Challenge (creator of competition guidelines), 2017



LA Times,  What the Trump administration doesn’t understand about ocean conservation, January 2018.

Scientific American, We Need to Kick our Addiction to Plastic, October 2017

Scientific American, In a Time of Hurricanes, We Must Talk about Environmental Conservation, October 2017

National Geographic blog, Will the Ocean Ever Run Out of Fish?, August 2017

National Geographic blog, Climate, Oceans, the United Nations, and What’s Next, June 2017

Scientific American, I Never Thought I’d Be Marching for Science, April 2017

National Geographic blog, How to use the Ocean Without Using it Up, February 2017

National Geographic blog, Top 10 Ocean Conservation Victories of 2016, January 2017

The Guardian, Op-Ed The Key to Halting Climate Change: Admit We Can’t Save Everything, February 2016

New York Times, Op-Ed We Can Save the Caribbean’s Coral Reefs. September 2014



Time, A New Generation of Oceanographers, November 2017

Outside, Meet the Most Influential Marine Biologist of Our Time, August 2017

ABC News, Why whales are returning to New York City’s once polluted waters ‘by the ton’, August 2017

Refinery 29, Why We Need The World Ocean Festival Now More Than Ever, June 2017

New York Times, Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science, April 2017

Observer, Meet the Brooklyn-Born Marine Biologist Co-Leading the ‘March for Science’, April 2017

Politico, New York Playbook interview with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, April 2017

WNYC, The Brian Lehrer Show, Scientists Take D.C., April 2017

2 Scientists podcast: March for Science Special — The Advocate, April 2017



Ruttenberg B, Caselle JE, Estep AJ, Johnson AE, Marhaver KL, Richter LJ, et al. 2018. Ecological assessment of the marine ecosystems of Barbuda, West Indies: Using rapid scientific assessment to inform ocean zoning and fisheries management. PLoS ONE 13(1).

Hind EJ, Alexander SM, Green SJ, Kritzer JP, Sweet MJ, Johnson AE, Amargós FP, Smith NS and Peterson AM. 2015. Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states. Frontiers in Marine Science 2:86.

Johnson AE, and Jackson JBC. 2015. Fisher and diver perceptions of coral reef degradation and implications for sustainable management. Global Ecology and Conservation. 3: 890-899. (Link to high-res version.)

Johnson AE and Saunders D. 2014. Time preferences and the management of coral reef fisheries. Ecological Economics. 100: 130-139.

Jackson JBC, Donovan MK, Cramer KL, Lam VV (editors). 2014. Executive Summary – Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970 2012. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Johnson AE, Cinner J, Hardt M, Jacquet J, McClanahan T, and Sanchirico J. 2013. Trends current understanding and future research priorities for artisanal coral reef fisheries research. Fish and Fisheries 14(3): 281-292

Schep S, Johnson A, van Beukering P, Wolfs E. 2012. The fishery value of coral reefs in Bonaire.

Jacquet J, Boyd I, Carlton JT, Fox H, Johnson AE, Mee L, Roman J, Spalding M, and Sutherland WJ. 2011. Scanning the oceans for solutions. Solutions 2(1): 46-55.

Johnson, AE. 2011. Fish, Fishing, Diving, and the Management of Coral Reefs. Dissertation for PhD in Marine Biology PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.

Johnson, AE. 2010. Reducing bycatch in coral reef trap fisheries: escape gaps as a step towards sustainability. Marine Ecology Progress Series 415: 201-209.

West J, Julius S, Kareiva P, Lawler JJ, Enquist C, Johnson AE et al. 2009. Natural resources and climate change: a synthetic review of concepts and approaches for management adaptation. Environmental Management 44(6): 1001-1011.


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