Since she was young, Tanasia Swift has been interested in marine life. After entering a career in the environmental field, however, she noticed she was one of a few women of color. As a result, she’s committed to becoming an example for others, particularly in teaching young students in her city about environmental work.
“If they aren’t exposed to different careers,” she shares, “they don’t know that it’s something that’s obtainable and reachable and something that they can do.”
Meet Tanasia: marine restorer
Brooklyn, New York
Tanasia Swift: My dad is an avid fisherman, mostly crabbing. In exchange for me going with him, I would always keep a crab as a pet for the day. I take the crab, and it’s usually a big blue crab — I would pick the biggest one (laughs). And then I would take this crab and walk it around with me. That’s what sparked my interest in other living things and what’s living under the water.
Over the last 100 years, New York Harbor’s entire oyster population has been wiped out. Tanasia works with the Billion Oyster Project to restore them. The project has now restored over 30 million live oysters.
If no one is advocating for their environment, it falls to the wayside. It’s not going to be a priority for anyone. We’re going to lose a resource that’s precious, and generations after are not going to see what it was like. And that’s happening faster than it should.
I remember when I went into the environmental field, one of the things that I was looking for was a role model. I found that there were not many like me. So I had to change my expectation. Instead of expecting someone to have done or led this path before me, I see it as a way for me to be an example for other young girls of color. Like, “Hey, there are other opportunities. There are other ways that you can interact with nature.”
It’s about exposure. Most students, they know about doctors and firemen and things that they see every day. But if they aren’t exposed to different careers, they may not know that it exists. And if they don’t know what exists, they don’t know that it’s something that’s obtainable and reachable and something that they can do.
[Talking to group of young students] You guys want to see a crab? Raise your hand. If you want to see a crab. Let’s see who wants to see a crab, all right? Let’s see. Can you see his claws? Can you guys make a claw with your hand? Yeah. That’s a big claw.
I enjoy teaching students about the joys of nature and about being around New York Harbor because it reminds me of my childhood.
(Students look at organisms in water samples)
Student 1: Ew, what is that?
Tanasia: Let’s see, let’s pick up this one first. Yeah. Let’s try that one.
Student 2: Oh, it unlatched.
Tanasia: Seeing the questions and how excited they get about learning that there’s fish in their backyard and all the wildlife that’s here in New York City that you don’t normally think about. That brings me the most joy.
They filter water, which is what they’re known for besides being delicious. They create habitat for other fish and critters. So if you have oysters, you have reefs. And so oysters provide habitat for fish to hide, for them to find food. And then they can also protect shorelines.