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Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a Ph.D. marine biologist, policy expert, and independent consultant. Johnson’s mission is to build bridges among science, policy, and people, so we can use the ocean without using it up. Her consulting practice provides integrated ocean conservation strategy and communications support for non-profits, philanthropies, and startups, from Greenpeace, to the NY Aquarium, to XPRIZE. She is also an adjunct professor in the Environmental Studies department at New York University.

As Executive Director of the Waitt Institute, Johnson co-founded and led the Blue Halo Initiative, a science-based overhaul of ocean management undertaken in partnership with Caribbean governments and community stakeholders. Within 18 months of commencing the pilot project in Barbuda, new ocean laws were passed, including comprehensive zoning, with one-third of the coastal area designated as marine reserves. Johnson led a re-brand of the organization and developed the Institute’s model for scaling the initiative — including diplomacy, scientific research, community engagement, education, communications, and legal components. She then launched the initiative on Montserrat and Curaçao.

Previously, Johnson was Director of Science and Solutions at the Waitt Foundation, and held policy positions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She earned a BA from Harvard University in Environmental Science and Public Policy, and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in marine biology. Her dissertation on “Fish, Fishing, Diving and the Management of Coral Reefs” was advised by Dr. Jeremy Jackson, with extensive research conducted on the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire.

In seeking conservation solutions, Johnson takes an expansively multidisciplinary approach. Her prize-winning ecological research proved that bycatch (i.e., unwanted, wasted catch) could be reduced by 80% without reducing catch value. Her sociological research found consensus among fishers and divers in favor of stronger conservation measures. Her behavioral economic research described highlighted the intersections between poverty and conservation.

Johnson’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Nature magazine. Her op-eds have been published in The Guardian and The New York Times. She blogs for National Geographic and Huffington Post, and tweets as @ayanaeliza. She is also a jazz-singing, dance-party–instigating native of Brooklyn, NY, and proud daughter of a retired teacher/current farmer and a retired architect/current potter.


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