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Paleobiologist Melissa Kemp spends a lot of time overturning assumptions. Her excavations don’t involve digging bleached bones out of windswept deserts, but looking for partially preserved lizard fossils in dark, dank jungle caves. Last month, she published a study tracking human-driven species introduction in the Caribbean through the region’s 7,000 years of human habitation—challenging the idea that “restoring” Caribbean biodiversity means taking it back to where it was before Christopher Columbus arrived in the so-called New World around 530 years ago.
Kemp, who runs a lab and teaches integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, opened up on Twitter last week about her experience as a Black scientist and outdoorswoman, under the hashtag #BlackInNature—as part of continuing conversations about race in America following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the harassment of Black birder Christian Cooper. She spoke with NOVA about decolonizing environmental restoration, tropical fossil quirks, and the joys of time outside.