Michelle Ridgway served on the Alaska Marine Conservation Council board of directors from 1995 to 2001. She brought tremendous integrity, energy, and warmth to our work and our family of coastal Alaskans committed to community-based conservation. Michelle gave generously to AMCC, to marine conservation overall, and to the people whose ways of life are closely intertwined with the ocean. Perhaps the most important beneficiaries of Michelle’s single-mindedness were the youth who were inspired by her zest for life and learning, the children who would need to be equipped to carry on the job of care-taking the ocean into the future. Michelle was a force of life. She was an ocean explorer, an invincible advocate, and a beautiful writer and speaker. She was happiest underwater in a wetsuit or piloting a research submarine, being part of the ocean. But she was also a fierce voice in the policy arena promoting sustainable fisheries, protecting clean water, and safeguarding living seafloor habitats. She used her marine ecology acumen to scrutinize decisions that most others at the table considered from narrower perspectives.
We are ever grateful to Michelle’s dedication to conservation and the spirit that she brought to our collective efforts.
I was lucky to have served with Michelle on AMCC’s board in its early years. I was constantly in awe of her positive energy and enthusiasm for our work—and for everything that had to do with marine science and conservation. Michelle made things happen. One fond memory I have is from a board meeting in Sitka during the spring herring spawn. Michelle (of course) had friends with boats, and soon we were all on the water collecting and eating roe on spruce boughs. It was a celebratory time, a spontaneous outing, during which we could all appreciate the values of coastal Alaska we were working to protect. I’ve seen little of Michelle in recent years but continued to admire her deep commitment to and involvement in conducting science, communicating science, and—perhaps especially—working with young people to share her love for science, exploration, and the providing ocean.
— Nancy Lord
I had the honor of assisting Michelle at the Nuniaq Marine Science Camp in Old Harbor. We spent a week together, sleeping in a wall tent, leading children in a range of science activities which culminated in “deep sea exploration” with the launching of an ROV to view what lies beneath the ocean. Thanks to Kodiak’s Mark Blakeslee, who supplied the “Phantom HD2,” every child had the opportunity to operate the ROV. Michelle made us all scientists and near the end of camp all the children worked late into the night to catalog the species we encountered and the habitat where we found them. Not a moment was wasted — we were all scientists on a very important mission and Michelle did not let us forget that.
Michelle may not have lived a long life, but she lived life more fully than many who live to a ripe old age. She lived with zest, passion, commitment, and unflagging energy.
— Diana DeFazio
Michelle was an amazing marine biologist. Her favorite activities, other than exploring the world’s oceans and discovering their secrets, were sailing those oceans and teaching coastal children how to discover those secrets too.
… and needless to say, she was an awesome and true friend. She had done so much and survived so much, that I always thought I would see her again. Whenever we would depart each other’s company, for our “normal lives,” I would have this fleeting vision of us in our 70’s and 80’s laughing and looking back on all that we had done, filling in the details of adventures … no embellishments required.
— Bob Mikol
— Theresa Peterson
Michelle was both fierce and fearless in defending Alaska’s marine life and life ways. I always thought of her as Alaska’s own ocean amazon. She inspired and challenged us all to do more.
I remember her telling me about some project samples she was working on, from around Kodiak, I think. She was totally focused and excited about the results when she casually mentioned she almost did not get the samples. When pressed she said it was at the end of the day when some sea lions showed up and decided to take a closer look. They kept coming up to her – curious or aggressive, maybe both. That’s when I realized she had been diving, near dark, among sea lions, in cold water – alone. Apparently this wasn’t remarkable enough for her to even mention. Absolutely fearless both in water and out.
— Nevette Bowen
Michelle came to AMCC right after the group was formed. She brought science credibility and a new wave of enthusiasm. What strikes me is how young we all were. When Michelle came on board were all in our early 30s working on some really big policy issues — ‘96 Magnuson Act reauthorization, ending wasteful by catch and discards, American Fisheries Act pollock rationalization, and others.
Michelle was a scientist, but she had passion and would take risks. I remember her at a Homer AMCC board meeting holding court for first time admirers. Everyone was instantly attracted to her. She was telling us all about her underwater dare-devil exploits. She played hockey with the boys and rode in a submarine. What more can I say. We were friends for life!
Michelle was savvy politically and new what it takes to get things done. She was a scientist with an edge. She must have felt like a lone wolf on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel on many issues — like calling out the importance of habitat protections for special areas. She was tireless in advocating for clean water in Southeast Alaska as she battled the cruise ship industry lobby.
I spoke to Michelle a couple weeks before she passed away. She was worried about the warming ocean and cod declines. She made a comment about us on the NPFMC being slow in response. And we talked about hockey.
— Buck Laukitis