This article was written for the Rewriting Women into Maritime inititative by Elizabeth Oliver, Digital Content Producer at Royal Museums Greenwich.
Stories of incredible women at sea
Making Waves is an interview series produced by Royal Museums Greenwich, which champions the achievements of women connected with the sea.
From sailors and scientists to surfers and environmentalists, the online series profiles trailblazing women working on, in and for the ocean.
Today, women continue to be underrepresented in the maritime industry and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Here, meet the women forging their own paths through the waves:
Ashley Mullenger – the award-winning female fisherman
“We need to normalise seeing women in this industry”
Since swapping her office job for life at sea, Ashley Mullenger has never looked back. Known as @thefemalefisherman on Instagram, her commitment to raising awareness of fishing and encouraging more women into the industry has seen her amass nearly 9,000 followers.
In 2022, Mullenger won ‘Under-10 metre Fisherman of the Year’ at the Fishing News Awards – the first time the accolade has ever been awarded to a woman.
Emily Penn – the ocean advocate
“At the moment, I’m optimistic about the future of our ocean”
While sailing to Australia, Emily Penn began to see plastic in remote areas of the Pacific Ocean and islands. Her experiences led her to found eXXpedition: all-women voyages that support scientific research missions into marine plastic pollution.
From clean-up operations to microplastics data collection, Penn has been involved in projects all over the world, working with partners such as NASA.
Her pioneering work has seen her receive a British Empire Medal and the Royal Yachting Association’s Yachtmaster and Seamaster of the Year awards.
Inka Cresswell – the wildlife filmmaker and marine biologist
“We need to understand and appreciate that the ocean of the future will not be the ocean of yesterday: we have to move towards something different”
Balancing shoots for Netflix alongside ocean advocacy projects, Inka Cresswell is a wildlife filmmaker, underwater camera operator and marine biologist who is empowering the next generation to save our oceans.
Her scientific background, coupled with an MA in Wildlife Filmmaking, gives her a unique perspective on the stories of our ocean – a skillset she is committed to use to bridge the gap between science and public awareness.
Melissa Reid – the Paralympic medallist and triple surfing world champion
“The ocean is where I feel equal to everybody else”
There are not many people who achieve elite athlete status across two sporting disciplines, but Melissa Reid is one of them.
A bronze medallist in triathlon at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Reid became the first ever visually impaired women’s world champion at the International Surfing Association World Para Surfing Championships in 2018 – a title she has since retained twice.
Reid is passionate about raising awareness of adaptive surfing and the mental health benefits of the ocean.
Cathryn Spain – the Senior Harbour Master
“The maritime industry has got better for women – but there’s more to be done”
As Senior Harbour Master at the Port of London Authority, Cathryn Spain oversees navigational safety on 95 miles of the River Thames.
It’s a varied role, with responsibilities including enforcing rules and regulations around the management of traffic and incident investigations.
Spain is also part of the UK Harbour Masters’ Association and Maritime UK’s Diversity in Maritime programme. She is keen to increase mentoring opportunities for young women working in the industry.
Fazilette Khan – the environmentalist and seafarer
“I’ve seen the effects of the plastic pollution crisis first hand”
Drawn to a life at sea from a young age, Fazilette Khan began her career in the Merchant Navy. In response to her experiences at sea and the rubbish she encountered in coastal areas, Khan set her sights on a new adventure.
In 2003, she founded the GreenSeas Trust, an organisation that aims to stop plastic entering our seas through environmental programmes.
Khan’s unwavering commitment to the marine environment was recognised with a Merchant Navy Medal.
To find out more, visit rmg.co.uk/makingwaves
Making Waves is generously supported by the Port of London Authority.