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UWA and me

I submitted my PhD thesis on marine biology and physical oceanography in 2013 and a couple of months after, I started my postdoc research at the University of California Santa Cruz. Two years later, I knew I had had enough of the nomadic lifestyle and returned home to Sri Lanka to fulfill a promise to myself and my country – to serve from within. In 2017, I launched Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education non-profit organisation. It’s been an amazing adventure of science, engagement, collaboration and changing the planet! While I launched The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project (now the flagship project of Oceanswell) back in 2008, I started conducting comprehensive science on this whale population through my PhD project. I was then able to identify certain needs that I proceeded to address in my postdoc. So my time at UWA allowed me to formalise my research and take my project further.

The next generation of diverse ocean heroes

My passion is changing the way the world sees and interacts with the ocean and helping people be the best version of themselves. We are incredibly privileged to be alive and to live on this planet – but we only inherit it, we never own it. I am well aware of this and my work is about leaving the planet a better place than I found it with a focus on saving our oceans. I choose to do this by nurturing and training the next generation of diverse ocean heroes, students from typically under-represented nations, and other unlikely heroes like fishermen. I also like to engage people in stories about the magic of our oceans because the more people know about the ocean, the more likely they are to care and become part of the army that we need to drive change. They will become part of the solution and not just part of the problem.

Ripple effects around the world

Through Oceanswell we are changing the current marine conservation trajectory. Seventy per cent of our coastlines are in the developing world, yet representation from this part of the globe is very low in the field of marine conservation. I believe that if we want to save our oceans, every coastline needs a LOCAL hero – someone who speaks the language, can see the problems and can help to address the solutions - someone who is invested in the long-term. I want to change the existing parachute science model – where western scientists come to countries like ours to do their own science and leave with no investment in training or infrastructure – this is an unsustainable model and has no lasting positive impact. I want to bring in expertise to train our local students so that in the long-term, we don’t have to depend on the outside world. I established Oceanswell in Sri Lanka because I also want to show the world that you don’t have to leave your community to create change, you can in fact live in your community and have ripple effects around the world.

Words of Wisdom

Life is an incredible adventure – brace yourself for the ups and downs, but revel in every minute of it!

Dr Asha De Vos PhD '14

Asha de Vos portrait by Spencer Lowell.

Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator and pioneer of blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean. She has degrees from the Universities of St. Andrews, Oxford and Western Australia but escaped academia to establish her own non-profit, Oceanswell. Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organisation is home to the ‘Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’ the first long-term study on blue whales in the region.

Asha is the first and only Sri Lankan with a PhD in Marine Mammal research, the first Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation and the first National Geographic Explorer from Sri Lanka. Asha has a series of fellowships under her belt and in 2018 was recognised with a prestigious WingsWorldQuest Woman of Discovery at Sea award, was a winner of the UK Alumni Awards in the Professional Achievement category, named a Woman in Management Inspirational Woman of the Year, an Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year and placed at number 23 in the BBC 100 Women 2018.

You can keep up-to-date with Asha and Oceanswell via the links below.


Cover image: copyright of Oceanswell