MARIS Women in Science Series Part 2

11 Aug 2022
11 Aug 2022

MARiS Women In Science Series | Part 2 | August 2022

In celebration of Women’s Month, we will be sharing a few of the many stories shared by some of the most influential female scientists associated with MARiS. This week we will be focusing on the women who have contributed towards innovative research and advancements in the marine sphere of biological sciences through the University of Cape Town (UCT). 



Dr. Emma Rocke 

Junior Research Fellow, UCT 

Fav Quote: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide 


Emma is a marine microbiologist. Her primary research focuses on microbial communities (so anything not visible to the naked eye) in marine environments. She is particularly interested in how they interact with the marine environment and with each other. 

She grew up in a picturesque country village beside a lake in Canada. Her childhood was spent exploring the outdoors, and this led to a constant sense of curiosity regarding aquatic life. She did not hesitate to enroll as an ecology major for her BSc, which led to an Honours degree looking at copepods in our neighboring lakes. Then was hooked. She watched water quality deteriorate and wanted to make a difference and so she did a combined MSc focusing on Environmental Technology and International Affairs which led to an eye-opening internship at the UN (United Nations) in Vienna. She quickly realized that we simply did not know enough about the oceans to effectively influence policy, so she continued her studies and pursued a PhD. This is where she dove into the world of ocean microbes in our expanding low oxygen zones which in many cases are devastating fish stocks amongst many other resources. Upon completing her PhD, she was lucky enough to find a postdoc at UCT which continued to look at microbes in low oxygen zones but in an upwelling context.  

As we all know there is a gender imbalance worldwide regarding STEM fields. Emma is happy to see that most academics actively involved in MARIS (Marine and Antarctic Research Center on Innovation and Sustainability) are women! This is unfortunately not the case across the country or even worldwide. She is hoping that more women in the field can have a positive influence on today's youth in changing this trend. Overall, Emma states that more female role models are needed - not just in leadership roles, but in teaching, mentoring, coaching, and support roles. Her words of wisdom to young aspiring scientists are “Follow your passion. Do not give up! Surround yourself with people you believe in and look up to.”   

Images were taken by ©Maéva Bardy - Fondation Tara Ocean. 






Associate Prof. Lynne Shannon 

Principal Researcher at UCT 

Fav Quote: “Be Still and know that I am God” 


Lynne’s research interests include Ecosystem-based management, ecosystem approach to fisheries, ecosystem change and global biodiversity. 

She completed her Honours Degree at UCT and started working at the government department dealing with oceans and fisheries (now DFFE (Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment)) for 17 years, during which time she wrote both her Master's dissertation and PhD thesis . She then moved back to academia in 2010 and worked as a researcher and co-lead of the Marine Ecology and Fisheries lab. She has expanded her field of interest to the science-policy interface dealing with efforts to curb biodiversity loss at the global and local scales. She believes that teamwork is crucial to addressing global and local marine challenges and thinks that women can play a strong role in team approaches to societal problems. Her words of wisdom to young aspiring scientists are: 

  1. Learn how to manage your time effectively, so you manage to finish projects on time without placing undue time-pressure on yourself.  

  1. Learn to be "good enough" and not necessarily "the best"; many times, "the best" is what you perceive as being merely "good enough". 

  1. Know your subject, be honest about your boundaries, and never apologize for things you do not know. Nobody knows everything. Use your ignorance as something to build on, not something to be sorry about. 

  1. Acquire interpersonal skills that allow you to operate effectively in women-unfriendly and women-hostile environments. There are skills and tricks you can use to ensure you are heard while maintaining good relations with misogynistic or chauvinistic colleagues. 





Dr. Natasha Karenyi  

Lecturer in Marine Biology UCT 


Natasha’s research focus is on benthic ecology, particularly looking at what kind of marine invertebrates we find, where we find them and why we find them there. We are still in the exploratory phase in South Africa, so Natasha and her team are trying to figure out what drives the distribution of marine species and communities. She is also involved in marine ecosystem classification and mapping, marine biodiversity, and statistical ecology research. 

Natasha grew up in Paarl which is a long way from the sea. Her family and her only visited the sea about once or twice a year and because of that she was not interested in marine life. But once she reached high school and started learning about the different organisms that lived in the sea, it piqued her interest. She then did some research about marine biology as a career at the Career Research Information Centre and interviewed an actual marine biologist telephonically. He was so enthusiastic and that is when she knew that this was what she wanted to do.  

She loved studying marine biology and completed her BSc, BSc Honours, and MSc at UCT. She hit a bit of a snag with her PhD and had to quit the project due to funding difficulties but then worked at Stellenbosch for 3 years as a Science Liaison Officer. This fit well with her passion to communicate science, but it was mostly a land-based position. Natasha then realised that she was most passionate about marine science, so with the help of some amazing women in STEM, she was brought back into the marine science field and started her PhD at Nelson Mandela University (NMU), in Gqeberha. By this time, she was married and knew that she would have to balance family life and her PhD studies, but she was motivated.  

Becoming a mom changed her world, priorities, goals, and everything. Her daughter was born in year 3 of her PhD, though she was working, and lost a year and a half. But once things settled for her again, she completed her PhD through the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and NMU. Thereafter, she pursued a postdoc in statistical ecology at UCT with the Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment, and Conservation (SEEC). During this period, Natasha learned a lot about statistics and gave birth to two sons during that time. Finally, she was employed as a lecturer at UCT. Along the way, there were many obstacles, obstinate attitudes, lots of fear and insecurities, many challenging situations and sometimes work responsibilities had an impact on family time. But she learned, grew, and became more self-aware in the process. Through her achievements and successes, Natasha became a great example to her children, so in their eyes, it is normal for a mom to have a PhD. Along the way, she had some amazing experiences, made some great friendships, and developed a great research network. There is still so much to do, and she is happy to help others set off on their own career paths. The future holds many more exciting secrets and adventures, and she is looking forward to it. 

Her views and hopes for women in STEM are for women to face whatever challenges in life with courage. Women should realise that their voices are valuable and needed in the scientific space and that their perspectives can change the direction of marine and polar research. Having women in senior positions in government agencies, academic institutions and research centres are necessary. Collaborations within and across disciplines is another important step  moving forward. 

Natasha’s advice to young aspiring scientists is to work in a field that they are interested in and passionate about. There will be setbacks and challenges along the way, but they need to learn to be resilient enough to face those. On the other hand, they will also have amazing and unique experiences that will make them feel awe, curiosity, wonder, and joy. It is their choice, and they can direct their career in whichever direction they would like in the future. Another important fact to consider is that permanent jobs are not as common in this field, but they do exist. 





Associate Prof. Coleen Moloney 

Associate Professor UCT 

Fav Quote: "Just do it!"


Coleen’s research interests include marine ecosystem functioning, with an emphasis on the microbial component of marine food webs. 

She studied at UCT and completed a BSc, BSc Hons, MSC and PhD. She thencompleted a 2-year Postdoc at the University of California, Davis in the United States of America. She has 5 years now as Research Scientist at now Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment. She has been an academic at the University of Cape Town for 21 years. 

Her views and hopes for women in STEM are to have more women in leadership positions and better systems of support for people with family responsibilities. Women in science tend to be hands-on and to take on responsibilities and roles that are to the benefit the broader community, and not necessarily for self-promotion. She thinks that this way of doing things is good and should continue. However, people need support systems to help cope with the "extramural" responsibilities. 

Coleen had to take her children to the UCT's on-campus childcare during their early childhood and holiday care during school holidays, and this was incredibly important as it allowed her to work more effectively. Without these, she would have had big challenges in balancing childcare with work. 





Dr. Louise Gammage 

Junior Research Fellow UCT 

Fav Quote: “Fate whispered to the warrior "beware, the storm is coming''; the warrior whispered back "I am the storm.


Louise is an environmental geographer, specializing in marine sustainability. She works in inter-and transdisciplinary contexts and is interested in developing transformative methodologies and tools to promote system-based governance in marine and coastal systems. Louise’s current research focuses on marine social-ecological systems (SESs) and fisheries in South Africa. Her research interests include exploring innovative methodologies to address challenges related to scale and decision-making in complex adaptive systems; understanding drivers of change in SESs to improve present and future decision-making; and exploring ways for local stakeholders (such as fishers) to build capacity to enhance well-being, while informing governance and policy at the larger decision-making scales. 

She has always loved science. It was her favorite subject at school, although a career in science was never the plan –Louise initially wanted to become an Advocate! She joined the South African Navy straight after school, where she eventually mustered as a Survey recorder. She was barely 18 and sailing the seven seas (more like the South African coast, but seven seas sound cooler). The plan was always to study after school, so within 2 years of joining the Navy, she enrolled for a BSc in Environmental Management with a major in Geography and Zoology through UNISA. She also completed her BSc Honours in Geography through UNISA while working. After 14 years of service, she decided a change was on the cards and she joined the Marine Ecology and fisheries lab at UCT in 2013 as a (first time!) full-time MSc student. She has been with the group since then - completing her PhD in 2019. It may seem like a very 'meandering' career path up to now, but she would not have had it any other way!   

Women unfortunately still face so many barriers in science (and society at large) - Louise mentions “we need to display a united front and we must keep on forging ahead, proving through our efforts that we are more than capable enough to occupy any space (even those 'traditional' male spaces). It is time to make people sit up and listen to us”. Her words of wisdom to young aspiring scientists are to “take up your space, forge ahead, and do not allow yourself to get distracted from your goals”. 



Yours seancerely, 

MARIS Comms Team 

If you have any specific questions for these remarkable women or us, please contact us at