Asha de Vos
2023

Asha de Vos

Marine Biologist/Educator

the secret lives of sri lanka’s giants

meet asha

Asha de Vos is an internationally acclaimed Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator, pioneer of long-term blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean, and a strong advocate for diversity and equity in marine conservation. She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia Oceans Institute. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Andrews, a Master’s from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Western Australia, but has eschewed academia in favor of establishing her own nonprofit, Oceanswell—Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organization. Her work integrates fundamental science, conservation, and social justice as powerful tools in the battle to sustain the diversity of marine life globally.

the secret lives of sri lanka’s giants
Nominated by: Milbry C. Polk MED’95 Synnøve Marie Kvam Strømsvåg MI’02
Class of 2023 Location Sri Lanka
de Vos talking to students about the impacts of ghost nets
de Vos talking to students about the impacts of ghost nets

My pioneering research on the blue whales of the northern Indian Ocean, and recognition that they are the only nonmigratory population in the world, made me one of the first researchers to highlight the importance of tropical marine ecosystems in the basic biology of the largest organism on our planet. The success of this research enabled me to build valuable global networks, establish the first dedicated marine conservation organization, and broaden my research to address other marine conservation issues in Sri Lankan waters. Today, I advise the Sri Lankan government on various matters, including marine disasters.

“My challenges have fueled me to advocate for the decolonization of science, conservation, exploration, and storytelling.”

- Asha de Vos
Author: Suada Azmy / Oceanswell

While my journey has been important for conservation and science, as a South Asian woman, coming from a patriarchal culture meant I had to work hard to shift the perception that my gender hindered my capacity. Coming from a country that did not believe we had scope in the marine field, and therefore lacked marine scientists, my journey has inspired a whole generation of marine biologists in Sri Lanka, with a large number being women. I have also experienced firsthand the inequities and non-inclusivity of marine sciences. My challenges have fueled me to advocate for the decolonization of science, conservation, exploration, and storytelling.

Ultimately, 70 percent of our coastlines are in the developing world, but representation at the decision-making table is disproportionate. This is not a reflection of the available capacity in our parts of the world but more a reflection of a system that assumes capacity based on where people come from and excludes rather than includes diverse voices. I hope we will recognize the urgency and importance of building the largest and most diverse team to address our oceans’ greatest challenges if we want to leave them healthier than we found them.

de Vos presenting at The Global Exploration Summit in 2022
de Vos presenting at The Global Exploration Summit in 2022

there are 49 other visionary explorers

read about the class of 2023