Alannah Vellacott, 33, is a marine scientist on a quest to conserve the ocean and the waters where she grew up. For over a decade, the Bahamas native has worked in marine research, conservation, and education in her home nation.
She grew up in a house next to the canals, with fishermen as neighbors, and she attributes her love of the ocean to this.
“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.
When she wasn’t at school, she spent her time swimming and fishing with friends, and her father, a biology teacher, taught her about the aquatic species she encountered.
“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.
She is currently employed as a coral restoration specialist at Coral Vita, the world’s first commercial, land-based coral farm for reef restoration. Her responsibilities include clearing algae from the farm’s sessile creatures and establishing fresh, healthy coral in adjacent reefs to help coral “live their best life.”
Vellacott is also a staunch climate advocate, having witnessed numerous hurricanes devastate her island home. She is always reminding her over 26,000 Instagram followers about the significance of safeguarding the oceans by eliminating single-use plastics and voting for politicians who promote sustainable solutions.
Aside from her academic duties, Vellacott is an underwater model who has appeared in a campaign for Brandon Blackwood’s debut swimwear collection. She is also the first “Ambass-adiver” for the Bahamian Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), demonstrating to the globe that Black women can be divers, scientists, and ocean guardians.
Even as she battles to safeguard ocean life, Essence believes in the necessity of representation after finding herself as the only black person in her field multiple times. As a result, she just joined Black in Marine Science (BIMS), an organization formed by Tiara Moore, Ph.D. to assist more Black Bahamians in becoming certified scuba divers.
“Look at me thriving in the water. Black people can swim. The ocean is within all of us,” she expressed. Vellacott also emphasizes the importance of media representation in inspiring Black and Brown adolescents to pursue careers in diving or marine science.
She appeared as a diver in Samuel L. Jackson’s docuseries Enslaved, which looked at the transatlantic slave trade through the lens of sunken ships on the ocean floor. Vellacott believes that youngsters of color must witness scientists and divers who look like them in order to feel that they may enter the field.
She advises other African-American women who are interested in diving to “be brave,” even if she recognizes that ancestral trauma and a lack of access are serious concerns when entering the ocean.
“The ocean was a punishment or a grave for some of us. But we can reclaim the water.” Vellacott expressed.