33-year-old Alannah Vellacott is a marine ecologist on a mission to protect the ocean and the waters she grew up with. The native of the Bahamas has been working in marine research, conservation, and education in her home country for over a decade.
She grew up in a home that bordered the canals, with fishermen as neighbors, and asserted that is the reason for her love of the ocean.
“I think I was just born to be this water person,” Vellacott told Essence in an interview. “Ten steps away from my backyard, I had access to turtles, sharks, and fish that would swim up to my feet,” she recounted.
She spent her time swimming and fishing with friends when she wasn’t occupied with school and received educational facts about the aquatic creatures she saw from her father, who was a biology teacher.
“All of that turned into this passion for the ocean. I had no idea that it was teeing me up for a career in marine science,” she remarked.
Today, she works as the coral restoration specialist at Coral Vita, the world’s first commercial, land-based coral farm for reef restoration. Her tasks include cleaning algae off the sessile organisms growing at the farm and replanting new, healthy coral in nearby reefs to help coral “live their best life.”
Vellacott is also a fierce climate advocate after seeing many Hurricanes destroy her island home. She continually reminds her over 26,000 Instagram followers of the importance of protecting the oceans by reducing single-use plastics and voting for politicians who prioritize sustainability solutions.
Apart from her scholarly responsibilities, Vellacott is also an underwater model who has been featured in a campaign for Brandon Blackwood’s first swimwear collection. She also holds the position of the first “Ambass-adiver” for the Bahamian Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), to show the world that Black women can be divers, scientists, and ocean protectors.
Essence noted that even as she fights to protect ocean life, the marine ecologist believes in the importance of representation after finding herself as the only black person several times in her line of work. For that reason, she recently joined Black in Marine Science (BIMS), an organization founded by Tiara Moore, Ph.D., to help more Black Bahamians get scuba-certified.
“Look at me thriving in the water. Black people can swim. The ocean is within all of us,” she expressed. Vellacott also recognizes the power of media representation in motivating Black and Brown youth interested in diving or marine science.
She played a role as a diver in Samuel L. Jackson’s docuseries Enslaved, which explored the transatlantic slave trade via sunken ships on the ocean floor. Vellacott maintains that children of color need to see scientists and divers who look like them in order to believe it’s possible for them to join the field.
She encourages other African-American women who are curious about diving to “be brave,” though she understands that ancestral trauma and lack of access are real when one’s encountering the water.
“The ocean was a punishment or a grave for some of us. But we can reclaim the water.” Vellacott expressed.