From using eDNA to reveal nature’s secrets to shining a light on Black leaders in marine science, forensic ecologist and marine biologist Dr. Tiara Moore is on a mission to use her expertise and experiences to challenge how conservation happens.
WHAT IS eDNA?
Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is released by organisms when they leave behind genetic material such as skin, fur, pollen and excrement. Using molecular methods, scientists test water and soil samples to detect the species present in a specific place.
I was studying to become a pediatrician in college, but I took a tropical biology class because I was excited about the field trip to Costa Rica! Out on a boat, collecting water samples, it hit me: You mean I could do this for a job? Sign me up!
I met Phil Levin, TNC’s lead scientist in Washington, at a marine science conference. He had heard about my work to assess biodiversity in estuaries in Southern California that were impacted by nutrient pollution and algal blooms. I used eDNA to identify bacteria responsible for algal decomposition and water quality impacts. He asked me if I wanted to help with a forest project, which was funny since I’m a marine scientist!
Yes! The Conservancy had reforested some land that had been clear-cut, and they wanted to use eDNA to determine if biodiversity was improving, and understand how the young forest might function in relation to climate change. After analyzing soil samples, we identified more than 800 species in the forest. It was mostly small things like bacteria and fungi, and also worms, bumblebees and wolves. But sorry, y’all, no Bigfoot.
That’s an interesting mix of experiences! What is your personal takeaway?
Thinking that my research can change or impact how we do science and management is mind-blowing. I love adding to the conversation and potentially providing a road map for sustainable and healthy ecosystems.
In addition to the meaningful impact of your eDNA work, you are now working to highlight Black voices and draw attention to the lack of diversity in marine science—tell us more.
When Black birder Christian Cooper was harassed by a white woman in Central Park in 2020, people rose up. Black Birders Week exploded on social media. Campaigns to celebrate Black people working in science caught on—and when I realized marine science hadn’t been highlighted, I posted about it on Twitter. And in no time at all, people from across the country were messaging me. Black in Marine Science (BIMS) grew out of that. Today, I serve in two roles that support each other and TNC: leading the work to increase diversity in marine science and serving as the founder/CEO of BIMS.
Why is that work so important?
No matter how confident you are in your work, it’s tough to be the only Black person in a room—in almost every room. I want to change that dynamic because we need to. Our oceans are on fire. We’re at code red. We need everybody in the fight, and to do that we have to clear the way for Black scientists to focus on their research, to have equal access to support and to amplify their voices.
Black in Marine Science
BIMS highlights and amplifies Black voices while inspiring younger generations. Its goal is "to increase the diversity in marine science while providing a place to uphold the excellent Black scientists who already exist in the field!"