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Inspiring Hero In Marine Conservation: Asha de Vos

Isabella Deza



For Women’s History Month, we are celebrating Asha de Vos, a Sri Lankan marine biologist and ocean educator. She is a pioneer in aiding the first long-term research project on blue whales in the northern Indian Ocean. She is also the founder and executive director of Oceanswells, Sri Lanka's first marine conservation research and education organization. Oceanwells is dedicated to helping save the oceans, which make up 70% of the planet, through different projects, educational outreach and conservation research. Her work has been credited by BBC, the New York Times, TED, National Geographic, and various other publications.

She began undertaking her path in marine conservation when she left her homeland of Sri Lanka to study marine and environmental biology at St. Andrews in Scotland. She had to study abroad for her desired field of study because it was not offered in universities in Sri Lanka. In addition to studying in Scotland, she then obtained degrees from Oxford and University of Western Australia. She was the first distinguished Sri Lankan to receive a PhD in marine mammal research. Additionally, she is recognized as the first Sri Lankan woman to have her portrait hung at Oxford University.

Her biography on the official Oceanswells website notes that she “calls the population of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters ‘the Unorthodox Whales’.” She dives into the importance of whales and the job that they have when it comes to maintaining the stability and health of the ocean in features of TED and Shondaland. “Everybody thinks we want to protect the whales because they’re charismatic and magnificent. But we tend to forget the purpose they serve: They’re ecosystem engineers; without them, the oceans wouldn’t function properly,” de Vos tells Shondaland. Whales eat nutrient-rich meals so their feces is vital to the ocean because these nutrients spread on the surface of our oceans so that phytoplankton and other tiny microscopic algae can feed. She tells listeners of the TED talk that saving the whales is “critical to the resiliency of the oceans. It boils down to two main things: whale poop and rotting carcasses.”

She aims to try and save whales as members of Greenpeace, a non-profit organization, did during the Save the Whales movement in the 1970s. However, she strives to do so by addressing the more modern issues that whales face today in our waters including how we must stop them from getting plowed down by container ships when they are in their feeding areas and stop them from getting entangled in fishing nets. She wants people to start to grasp the reality of how these creatures have a true ecosystem value. She tells National Geographic in an interview that a question that keeps her and many others in the field going is: how do we coexist with the rest of Earth’s species? She is concerned about how many of us on Earth forget the fundamental truth about our role as civilization on this planet, “We forget that nature doesn’t need us. We need nature.”



Citations

  1. Oceanswell " sri lanka marine research & education. Oceanswell. (2022, September 28). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://oceanswell.org/ ;

  2. National Geographic. (2022, February 26). Asha de Vos: Dreaming of ocean mysteries to pioneering Whale Research. Impact. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.nationalgeographic...;

  3. Explorer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://explorer-directory.nat...

  4. Asha de Vos, ph.D.. The Ocean Foundation. (2021, April 14). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://oceanfdn.org/staff/ash...;

  5. Asha de Vos is changing the landscape of Marine Biology. Shondaland. (2021, August 18). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.shondaland.com/liv...;

  6. Chicoine, C. (2020, August 7). Asha de Vos. Center For Ocean Life. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.andersoncabotcente...

  7. YouTube. (2015, January 5). Asha de Vos: Why you should care about whale poo. YouTube. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?...;

  8. Mackenzie, W. (2020, March 6). A brief history of commercial whaling and Greenpeace. Greenpeace International. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.greenpeace.org/int...


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