Alumna Deborah Santos de Azevedo, a marine biologist and multicultural shark researcher, works as a research assistant for the American Shark Conservancy and is the project manager for their Shark Surveys project. She earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Florida Atlantic University in December 2021.
That same month, Santos de Azevedo was named as one of 25 changemakers selected by the National Geographic Society — between 16 and 25 years old — to join their cohort of 2021 Young Explorers .
“This is an amazing honor,” Santos de Azevedo said. “This gives me a platform to reach and impact a diverse group of young scientists, and it will help to build a new generation of marine biologists from marginalized communities to champion marine conservation.”
The Young Explorer grants build on the National Geographic Society's 132-year history of investing in bold individuals with transformative ideas — innovative scientists, explorers, educators and storytellers.
“I am delighted that Deborah was named a National Geographic Young Explorer,” said
Biological Sciences Professor Stephen Kajiura
, Ph.D. “Deborah has been volunteering in my lab for the past year assisting with our shark tagging work. She has demonstrated her enthusiasm and willingness to work hard baiting hooks, pulling the lines and handling the sharks. It’s always rewarding to see a dedicated student receive the recognition that they deserve.”
Over the next year, Santos de Azevedo said she plans to use her grant to fund shark surveys up and down the coast of Florida, primarily in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, to study species diversity and human interaction. As shark populations are subjected to pollution, unsustainable fishing pressures and habitat degradation, the data from her study will provide critical information to help ensure their sustainable management and conservation.
“Sharks are top of the food chain – they are a keystone species,” Santos de Azevedo said. “If you have healthy sharks, you have a healthy ecosystem.”
To conduct her research, Santos de Azevedo is using a citizen science approach and has enlisted the help of the American Shark Conservancy to carry out the shark survey research.
“In addition to the scientific aspects of Deborah’s grant, she is working to increase representation in marine biology and specifically shark sciences,” said Biological Sciences Associate Professor Marianne Porter , Ph.D. “She aims to give field experiences to high school and college students. Experiential learning is a powerful pedagogy, and I think Deborah’s work will have positive wide-reaching impacts.”
Deborah is also using this grant to involve underrepresented minorities from local high schools and those just starting a college degree program.
“This grant provides young people the chance to build research skills, gain experience performing studies in the field and have the opportunity to do this with someone from who looks like them and came from a similar background,” states Santos de Azevedo.
“It’s important to have a diversity of thought, backgrounds and experiences in this field because it introduces different views of how the world works,” said Santos de Azevedo. “It changes the way you approach problems, and how you see the ripple effects of environmental impacts in ecosystems and communities.”
Santos de Azevedo became passionate about caring for the world’s oceans when she was in middle school and saw the impacts of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I was in awe of the power and the vulnerability of the oceans,” Santos de Azevedo said. Shortly thereafter, she joined the marine magnet program at her high school.
Santos de Azevedo is also currently working with Minorities in Shark Science (MISS) to co-edit a book. The organization works to promote diversity and inclusion in shark science and encourage women of color to work in the field.
In the future, Santos de Azevedo hopes to attend graduate school, stay involved with shark research, continue to work with MISS and co-edit a book with women scientists from around the world.