Meet Aaniyah Martin, a science facilitator at Homeward Bound who has 15 years of experience in the conservation sector with a strong emphasis on finding the balance for what is good for the Earth and good for the people. Aaniyah lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Photo: Jacki Bruniquel

Tell me about yourself. What do you do and how did you get to this point in your career?

My name is Aaniyah Martin and I was born in Camissa now known as Cape Town which translates to the place of sweet waters.

Camissa is where mountains meet the ocean and I am lucky enough to have been born here even though I have only been able to access certain natural spaces since 1990 because of South Africa’s apartheid legacy which still lives with us today.

Fortunately, my parents fostered my love for being immersed in nature and they transgressed the then laws by taking us to certain places illegally.

Post-apartheid I attended an ‘open’ school and had the privilege of joining the school hiking club. All of this is what led me to studying Environmental and Geographic Science and Oceanography at University. I have a massive family – 40 cousins on my dad’s side alone – and being in community is something I have grown up with all of my life. This is how the connection for what is good for the earth and good for the people has manifested in me and the work I am involved with today.

My career started at WWF South Africa initially in the conservation department and with time I managed the Marine Programme.

I am now the founder and director of a non-profit organisation called The Beach Co-op that builds communities that care for our marine environment. Additionally, I am part of the delivery team for Women for the Environment in Africa and am currently completing my doctoral research in Education at Rhodes University.

Aaniyah is the founder and director of The Beach Coop, communities that care for the environment. Photo: Jacki Bruniquel.

What are you most proud of in your current work/project/life?

I am most proud of creating and providing access to places and spaces that marginalised communities have been denied because of our apartheid legacy. It will take many different voices to protect and care for our environment and in order to demonstrate why these environments need protection we need to share their magnificence with as many people as we can.

The work I’m involved with at WE Africa and Homeward Bound also brings me much joy as it amplifies the voices of women in leadership positions.

Please share a few of your personal motivations, everyday life, and daily routines.

These are two of my favourite current quotes and motivations:

“When we love the Earth, we are able to love ourselves more fully. I believe this. The ancestors taught me it was so.”
― bell hooks

“It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.

Photos: Jacki Bruniquel

What is some of the best leadership advice you have been given/seen/read … and/or that you have to offer personally? 

Leading with a strong back, soft front and wild heart which Brene Brown proposes is something that has stuck with me since I participated in the first cohort of Women for the Environment in Africa in 2021. The ability to be strong and vulnerable at the same time is not easy but it is authentic and this encourages others to show up in this way too.

Aaniyah collectively mended a social sculpture titled Hydro-rug. It involved engaging in citizen-led public storytelling around invisible and erased histories and relationships local South Africans have with the ocean. Photos: supplied.

What are the key issues in your field that need addressing with visible female leadership?

Caring for our hydrocommons is critical for the health of our ocean, planet and the humans and more-than-humans that reside here.

Our oceans provide oxygen for us to breathe and survive. Yet we do not all share in our responsibility equally to care for this common resource.  

Muddling through how we overcome this is important for understanding care and privileged irresponsibility both globally as well as in a South African post-apartheid context. Creating opportunities for marginalised communities especially women to access places and spaces that they have been denied in the past is a priority.

Photo: Jacki Bruniquel

How do you feel that Homeward Bound can help other women to become a more effective leaders and what are your hopes for your involvement?

The Homeward Bound program is a phenomenal first step in introducing women in STEMM to becoming effective leaders- an array of modules have been carefully curated to achieve this. My role as science co-facilitator is to open up conversations and thinking to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet, the humans and more-than human entities that reside here, and that considers social-justice issues alongside environmental issues.

Read more about Aaniyah on our website.

Read about Aaniyah’s artwork Hydro-rug which featured in a Cape Town art gallery last year, and read about the background and context to the rug.

Read about the beach clean up Aaniyah organised for World Environment Day last year.

Follow Aaniyah on LinkedIn.