AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. CHELSEA HARMS-TUOHY

Marine scientist, yoga teacher, and fearless female dedicated to protecting our reefs and working to save our oceans.


 Just another day in the office // Photo by Erin Walters

Just another day in the office // Photo by Erin Walters

Dr. Chelsea Harms-Tuohy is a marine scientist, a yoga teacher, and a person that is working hard to protect our reefs and save our oceans while passionately living her truth. She is also someone that I am very grateful to call a good friend. I first met Chelsea through yoga classes at La Paz and we quickly hit it off, connecting over our shared passions of yoga, the ocean, and positive living.

It's been a blessing to be a part of her journey over these past few years as she's taken the steps to become a certified yoga teacher, gotten married to the love of her life, successfully completed her PhD, and alongside her husband started their own business here in Rincon, Isla Mar Research Expeditions, "a field-course coordination and scientific education company with a mission to outfit our upcoming scientists with the skills they need to conserve and protect our natural resources."

Chelsea has a beautiful way of balancing her environmental work with her passion for teaching, while combining her experience with the practice of yoga with the deep roots of her Christian faith. I have so much respect for this woman and what she does,and I'm so stoked she was willing to answer a few questions for the blog!

R e a d   m o r e   a b o u t   C h e l s e a   b e l o w.


 Chelsea and her husband Evan // Photo from  @islamarexp

Chelsea and her husband Evan // Photo from @islamarexp

Name?
Chelsea Anne Harms-Tuohy

Where are you from?
Winona, Texas

What do you do?
Marine scientist and yoga instructor!

#1 Daily Health Ritual you never skip?
I make a smoothie every morning with greens powder to help alkalize my diet. I tend to eat acidic foods, so this really helps balance me out.

Talk about Isla Mar Research Expeditions. How did it begin? What are your goals?
Isla Mar was my and my husband’s (fellow marine scientist) dream career. We got into marine science and just loved working the field more than anything else, but I’ve always had this desire to teach. I started my education to eventually end up in Academia, teaching at a university somewhere. But I discovered along my journey in higher education that being a professor, working inside and being stuck behind a desk was not quite the direction I wanted to go. So instead, I took a leap and started my own company - in the middle of a financial crisis on our island, and now in the face of 4-years of uphill battle for science in the mainland US. Yes, that sounds very daunting and I cannot say that this hasn’t been a constant reminder to find the positive in every situation, and to take an opportunity that would help push us forward. Founding Isla Mar has been about accepting that the start of my career in science education would have very little [financial] stability or routine. As a Type A personality, I usually thrive in situations with routine, so adjusting to this business has been a test of my will and capacity to accept life as it comes each day. But at the end of day, I can lay my head down and smile because I am truly getting to live out my dream.

My goal with Isla Mar is to create a learning environment that encourages active participation from students, where questions and hands-on activities are essential to the learning process and students can engage with our natural world. Building a love and respect for nature empowers the next generation to care about how their actions affect the world around us. I hope that my work and what I can provide through Isla Mar will sustain that goal.

 A fearless female out to make a difference // Photo by Luis Rodriguez Matos

A fearless female out to make a difference // Photo by Luis Rodriguez Matos

We have also had more opportunities to share with our community on topics that affect us all - and even as far as our regional Caribbean community. I recently traveled to Jamaica as part of an outreach initiative to spread awareness about parrotfish and their important role of keeping the reef clean through eating algae. I had the opportunity to chat with local fishermen and hear their perspective on choosing an alternative to parrotfish. This was a humbling and eye-opening experience as I learned how connected these hardworking individuals are to the ocean, and that they and their families livelihoods rely on fishing (and fishing parrotfish too). It brought about a sense of awakening that I as a scientist and conservationist need to spend more time understanding how my actions to protect a resource will have an impact on those who need those resources to survive.

What’s it like to be a female Scientist in such a male-dominated field?
Well, first let me say that I am VERY blessed to have such an amazing group of colleagues in Puerto Rico that see beyond that traditional boundary in science so I haven’t really found that to be an issue for me while living here. But, I have found that being a woman - and being so young - has not helped me push forward in this field when dealing with mainland scientists. In some cases, once folks have seen my photo, or met me at a conference and discover my youth, I am immediately discredited and I can see it on their faces as they try to size me up (which also doesn’t help that I’m 5’1’’). I have really only experienced this when dealing with some mainland, older male scientists.

It is hard to go through all this education and feel like I must compete, work harder, show myself more capable, put in more hours to prove my worth…. But for what in the end? Just some recognition that I’m capable of doing everything my male colleagues can do? Those emotions are exhausting, and I experienced that during my undergraduate education in Florida. In fact, when finishing up my Masters degree, I even had the director of the department question the validity of my research - all because I was able to accomplish it in two years and while working as a Teaching Assistant instructing labs. I know how to time manage, and I put in work during weekends and weeknights. I was proud of what I had accomplished, and when presented to the department head, there was no congratulations only disbelief that anyone could actually accomplish what I did and when I did it. In fact, I was the only student to finish a thesis in this particular “Fast Track” program. This was probably the one encounter where I felt the woman-in-science discrimination the most.

But I have to say that I have been fortunate that my day-to-day interactions are not affected by this stigma.

You have a PhD in Marine Sciences & Biological Oceanography, you’re a Certified Yoga Teacher, and you also remain rooted in your Christian faith. Some may see these three things as contradictory, but you’ve done a beautiful job of combining the three into your life’s work. Can you explain how you’ve managed to do this?
Well, to start out - I am proud of my beliefs and I have a strong faith in Christ that is unwavering. I grew up as a Christian, and to be honest, I have never found the debate of religion and science to be an issue for me at all. I do believe in evolution, and I believe that God created the earth. I see the evolution and creation stories to be more of a continuum where God has had direct influence in the way the world and its organisms have evolved. Because of this, I have been able to balance my faith in science and my faith in God. This is certainly a more contemporary way to view things, but I’m not the only one of my colleagues with this mindset..

My journey into yoga brought about a new element into this web, where I discovered that this practice is a vehicle for spiritual growth. That spiritual growth is what you make of it, and this is what I teach. Yes, yoga in western society was adapted from a traditional Eastern culture’s religious activity that is grounded in the Hindu belief system. But, I believe that the yoga that I practice and teach represents my Western understanding of using this “spiritual tool” (like prayer, which most belief systems use) to strengthen my own faith in Christ.

I think my faith in science, yoga and Christ stem from my innate urge to question everything, and then find solace and strength in what I know to be true.

 Chelsea in her element // Photo by Luis Rodriguez Matos

Chelsea in her element // Photo by Luis Rodriguez Matos

What do you love most about being a “Goddess?”  
I am honored to be considered as such. And my favorite part about being a woman empowering other women is seeing the transformations in my female students -- some come to my field courses a little uncertain of their futures, then I see and hear that they have graduated and landed some amazing jobs or positions in labs at top universities. That just makes my heart soar!

Best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t waste your time doing something you don’t love.

Best advice you can give to other women?
Find the positive in every situation, learn to accept the challenge but embrace what happens on the other end. Expect hardships, anticipate resistance, but stand strong in what you believe.

Why do you think it’s important for women to empower other women?
Because we are in this together! We spend too much of our young lives judging each other and putting each other down, it’s time to change that attitude and empower each other to persevere. It’s important for us as women to know that there is strength in numbers and we are more powerful when we work together. I LOVE hearing stories of strong women who have changed their lives and the lives of others by standing up for their beliefs, demanding respect and attention. The more we encourage this, the more we’ll see change.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this Cait!! I am honored!


Connect

Follow Chelsea and Isla Mar for updates, information + inspiration:
Chelsea // @chiquitachela
Facebook // Isla Mar PR
Instagram // @islamarexp
Twitter // @islamarexp