In her recent New York Times essay, LPF Patron Asha de Vos writes about the barriers faced by the very people who have the skills and knowledge to best meet ocean conservation challenges.

Asha de Dos is a highly respected marine biologist, celebrated for her ground-breaking work on blue whales. She is also an ocean educator, and founder of the Sri Lankan marine conservation research and education organisation Oceanswell. But her path to success wasn’t an easy one. 

Asha is also part of the “tropical majority” – one of the 1.59 billion ocean-dependent people who live in low- to middle-income countries in the tropics. In her NYT essay, Asha outlines some of the practical challenges of being a South Asian woman of colour, living and working as a marine conservationist in the global south.

“Because of my background, I have encountered innumerable and unnecessary challenges to have my abilities acknowledged and gain a seat at the decision-making table with regard to marine conservation — despite graduating from top universities, conducting pioneering research on the ocean and its inhabitants and winning local and global recognition for my efforts,” Asha writes.

Last year, Asha was named the British Ecological Society’s Equality and Diversity Champion. On accepting the award, she said, “I have chosen to dedicate myself to breaking glass ceilings so others will not face the same discrimination and naysaying as I have. As the task of ensuring that these spaces are more inclusive, diverse and equitable falls squarely on the shoulders of a few of us, primarily those of us from minorities, that care to do more than grow our own individual careers with no compensation or applause, to be recognised for this component of my work and journey is a win not just for me, but for everyone who believes that we can and must do much better.”

In her NYT piece, Asha  argues that ocean conservation will succeed only when everyone is part of the effort. “The assumptions that come with being a person of colour from the global south — that we, for instance, lack the knowledge, know-how and interest to participate in marine conservation — have historically been reasons to exclude people like me from participating in efforts to change our ocean’s future trajectory,” she says. “But it is precisely our background and our localized commitment that makes us critical to this process.”

Equity and inclusivity in marine conservation have never been more crucial. Asha emphasises the importance of listening to, empowering and uplifting local and Indigenous people, “who live and breathe the challenges of their patch of the ocean.” 

Asha says we are at a crucial turning point in the history of our relationship with the ocean. “We know more about it than ever before, and we also know that without significant change its future, and ours, looks bleak.”

“Most of the world’s coastlines are in the global south — where talent is equally distributed while opportunity is not,” she writes. “Success in preserving the ocean will come only when we recognize that protecting the world’s largest ecosystem requires the world’s largest team.”

Asha believes that we have the human capacity to make the necessary shifts before it is too late, but asks, “What’s stopping us?”

To find out more about the issues and the solutions to be found in equity and diversity, read Asha’s New York Times piece: The Oceans are Diverse. Their Champions Should Be, Too. You can learn more about Asha’s work at Oceanswell or follow her on social media.

Photo credits: Asha de Vos, Ryan Lash, Ruvin de Silva and Oceanswell