The journey of a queen isn’t easier than that of a king. Asha de Vos is the first and only Sri Lankan to earn a PhD in Marine Mammal Research. This is the story of her path to becoming the Sea Hero of the Year.
Two decades ago, everyone told her that she was foolish to enter a field that seemingly had limited opportunities in Sri Lanka. They assumed she would leave the country to pursue her studies and never return. They told her she was too young and too female, claiming it was a man’s domain. They insisted that she wear long skirts to gain respect while working. They said she would never succeed, that no one would want to follow in her footsteps and that her work was unsustainable. They conveyed that no one cared, and she wouldn’t secure funding. They argued she could not establish a long-term project because she hailed from a developing country. They believed her work would only gain recognition if led by an older man, preferably a foreigner. They criticized her for engaging with the public and children, thinking it diluted the seriousness of science. They said a true scientist should focus on tenure and not worry about impact. They even threatened to stop her. They told her she had failed unless she was married and had children, expressing pity for her parents. (We Are Brown Buddies, 2023)
Breaking all the barriers, she was awarded the Golden Alumni Award in the Professional Achievement category at the first edition of the British Council Golden Alumni Awards. Later that year, she joined the BBC 100 Women list.
Asha’s victorious journey began with the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project in 2008, which marked the first long-term study on blue whales within the northern Indian Ocean. Through her research, she discovered an unrecognized unique population of blue whales, previously thought to migrate every year, that stayed in waters near Sri Lanka year-round. Her groundbreaking work led the International Whaling Commission to designate Sri Lankan blue whales as a species in urgent need of conservation research, leading to collaboration with the Sri Lankan government on whale ship strikes.
Asha de Vos is an invited member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group. She was a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a guest blogger for National Geographic.
She is the founder and director of Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organization.
Asha firmly believes that the health and future of coastlines depend on local people. She argues that “parachute science,” the practice of Western scientists collecting data in developing countries and then leaving without training or investing in the locals or the region, is unsustainable and hinders conservation efforts.
Furthermore, Asha has emphasized that women should define themselves by their capacity and not let their gender limit their potential.
Asha de Vos is a TED Senior Fellow, a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation, and has been selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
In 2013, she received the President’s Award for Scientific Publications. In 2015, she was a Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow, and in 2016, she became a Pew Marine Fellow. In 2018, she received the WINGS WorldQuest Women of Discovery Sea Award.
She is the woman who has shattered countless barriers; there’s no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise. A real-world wonder woman, she stands as the guardian of marine life. Her journey is a testament to inspiration.
The ocean is our lifeline, and protecting it is not an option but a necessity.
Dear Asha, thank you for being an extraordinary example and for continuing to inspire us.
Dare to dream and strive to achieve it!