On International Women’s Day, we asked female change-makers about who inspires them, and what they’d tell their 18-year-old selves.

“Many of us ask what can I, as one person, do, but history shows us that everything good and bad starts because somebody does something or does not do something.”

 Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, oceanographer

Bold and brilliant females have done incredible things for this blue planet for as long as humans have existed to explore, observe and question it. However, they haven’t always been encouraged, or received due credit for their contributions. The problem persists today. Too many of history’s most influential creators remain invisible and silent in the record-keeping. Too many stories have yet to be told.

But the tide is shifting. Especially in the conservation space. In environmentalism, women have been empowered to find their voices and use them in ways that demand to be heard, acted up and echoed by later generations. The roots of feminism and environmentalism are closely intertwined. Both movements have spurred, and thrived in, moments when women unite around shared goals. No wonder they are growing like wildfire.

International Women’s Day is a celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It is also a call to action to continue the push for gender equality in every community, country and industry. This year’s rally cry has been issued and answered across oceans and geopolitical borders in a number of empowering social media hashtags: #TimesUp #MeToo #PressForProgress #TimeIsNow #HerStoryOurStory... The conversation is diverse, inspiring, inclusive and perpetually incomplete. We’ve come a long way, but there is so much work to be done.

Every movement needs its role models, the heroes and heroines who shatter ceilings and champion progress. The fearless among us who walk into labs and boardrooms (or crawl into pressurized suits) to rise (or dive) beyond where any human has gone before don’t just make history, they shape the future.


To honor them and this moment, we asked female change-makers to share who inspires them, and how they'd advise an 18-year-old version of themselves:


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Liz Taylor

President & CEO of DOER marine, daughter of Dr. Sylvia Earle

Who is your ocean heroine?

Wisdom, the albatross. This ocean heroine has patiently and persistently endured for over sixty years. She cannot know what humans know but has been a witness to a changing ocean with fewer fish and more plastic. She has gone from building a nest on sand to building a nest on discarded fishing nets.  She sat steadfast on her nest even as a tsunami wave carried it from the shore and deposited it further inland. She has raised a chick almost every year despite many around her succumbing to death by plastic. She is a beautiful, ancient mariner.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

Tenacity and grit are superpowers – pay no attention when you are admonished to stop being so stubborn. These criticisms are signs that you are getting somewhere.

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Shaahina Ali

Director of Parley Maldives, photojournalist, ocean activist

Who is your ocean heroine?

There are definitely a few women that I look up to and admire as my ocean heroines. If I have to choose one then it will definitely be author Rachel Carson. Her book The Sea Around Us was definitely where my respect for the Ocean became a bit more than just a fun place with a lot of beautiful fish. Her book actually made sense to me even at a very young age (15) and made me more curious and fascinated with the sea that was right outside my door and around us. When I read this book, I realized that the Sea is definitely us. We cannot live without it — and of course — now we believe more of what she knew then.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I would tell my 18-year-old self to do what we are doing today — to lobby, to create this movement then, so that we do not have to at times now feel helpless and wonder if we have gone too far with our thoughtless, careless and disrespectful life towards the ocean.

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Juana Burga

Peruvian actress, model, activist

Who is your ocean heroine?

Ever since I met Sylvia Earle, she has been my inspiration to all ocean protection causes. Maxima Acuña is my environmental idol and fellow Peruvian inspiration.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

Every action and every decision we make, wherever we live on this planet, has an impact on the entire world.

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Oona Layolle

Captain and Campaign Leader, Sea Shepherd and Parley

Who is your ocean heroine?

My ocean heroine and mentor is Sylvia Earle, for being such an inspiring woman, and for all the work and passion that she gave all her life to make humanity understand the importance of our oceans.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

Don't worry about the obstacles, keep your course and be strong. You belong to the oceans.

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Emily Penn

Skipper, direct & co-founder of eXXpedition, Parley collaborator

Who is your ocean heroine?

I want to say Amelia Earhart. Although she's known as an aviation pioneer, she was brave enough to set records crossing oceans, and navigated the world via the stars as we do at sea.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

Follow your heart! Don't worry about what you 'should' be doing with your time. Be prepared to go out on a limb for what you believe in and have the guts to keep going!

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Laura Hampton

Sailor, explorer, environmental journalist

Who is your ocean heroine?

I am presently impressed by Ocean Ramsay,  who is making huge progress with the U.S. government in her plight to protect sharks and rays.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

Find a career you enjoy, and it will never feel like a job. Don’t worry if it takes a time to figure out what it is that you really want to do. Just keep asking yourself the question; what is it I love and how can I help protect it.

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Miranda Wang

Chemical engineer, co-founder and CEO of BioCellection Inc.

Who is your ocean heroine?

Dr. Tierney Thys! I can listen to her talk about Mola mola forever.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I'd tell my 18-year-old self to change majors from biology to chemical engineering, and also take classes in managerial accounting, intro to IP law, and product management at Wharton. I would've studied less for grades and volunteered for non-profits that I admire, like the 5 Gyres Institute or the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I definitely made the correct decision to stay in college to receive the science education that I had completed, given that I draw heavily upon it today. I would've also told my younger self to intern for the CEO of a growth stage social impact startup.


Coralie Balmy

Olympic swimmer, ecologist, adidas Parley ambassador, ocean protector

Who is your ocean heroine?

Sylvia Earle!

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I would tell this young girl to keep in mind that the ocean is threatened by plastic and human pollution. Every gesture counts.

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Carol Devine

Humanitarian, writer, researcher, explorer & glacier admirer

Who is your ocean heroine?

Sea star: I want to honor my ocean heroine Argentinian marine biologist Dr. Irene Bernasconi, who broke her country's all-male Antarctic expedition ice ceiling by joining an expedition in 1968-9.  She was Argentina's first echinoderm (sea stars, sand dollars, sea lilies) specialist and spent 55 years researching these marine animals in the Argentine Sea.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I love this question. I’d tell her that I still have the same dreams I did then (to write, to explore near and far, to try to do good for others and with respect for mother nature), that I am grateful for what I’ve done since then, and to never stop dreaming.

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Zanna van Dijk

Trainer, blogger, author, adidas global ambassador, co-founder of @thegirlgains

Who is your ocean heroine?

My environmental heroine is Joanna Macy, the Buddhist author who fights strongly against nuclear issues. I admire her philosophy on life, not just the environmental elements of her beliefs.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I would tell my 18-year-old self to open my eyes. I wish I had turned vegan and become more environmentally conscious earlier in life. I feel like I have years of mistakes and ignorance to make up for.


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Chelsey Korus

Yoga teacher, 3x major, @Wanderlustfest TV host, adidas athlete

Who is your ocean heroine?

My heroines are the mothers who showed up to the beach cleanup this past week in Oahu. Those little kiddos will get a first-hand experience that will inform the rest of their lives. #familygoals

What would you tell your 18-year-old self if you met her today?

I would tell my 18-year-old self that you are going to move like 30 times in the next decade. Less stuff. More life.


Where women stand in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce:


35.2% of chemists are women;
11.1% of physicists and astronomers are women;
33.8% of environmental engineers are women;
22.7% of chemical engineers are women;
17.5% of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers are women;
17.1% of industrial engineers are women;
10.7% of electrical or computer hardware engineers are women; and
7.9% of mechanical engineers are women. (source)


The median salary for women working full-time is about 80 percent of men’s. (source)


Again, we have so much work to do.


By Mary Grygiel || @parleyxxx