NEAQ Ocean Conservation Fellow Dr. Asha de Vos will be our keynote speaker on May 15th at Think Big: A Passion Lived. An Ocean Saved
Marine biologist Dr. Asha de Vos speaks quickly. An innate teacher, she has a lot to say and wants to make sure to get it all in. She is a celebrated scholar, National Geographic explorer and world-renowned marine biologist and is often referred to reverently as the “whale poop girl” because of her extensive research on the Northern Indian Ocean’s blue whale and her passion for what she calls the “the most beautiful poop in the animal kingdom.” She will challenge you to find poop more interesting than the brilliant red krill enriched poop of the whale. “Whale poop is our ocean fertilizer for the plants we depend on to breath. What could be more important than that?”
She has a casual cadence to her voice and that beautiful Sri Lankan accent. Growing up, Dr. de Vos’ parents celebrated curiosity and encouraged Asha and her brother to follow their passion. Her love for the ocean has brought Asha around the world as a research scientist and educator and then right back home where she says she is the happiest as a mentor to her community and country and as one of the few marine biologists in all of Sri Lanka. “My country doesn’t offer degrees in marine biology,” she says, “but I have found students, young and old, with a thirst for knowledge asking about our ocean. It is my obligation to respond and make this information available for everyone.”
Dr. de Vos’ response was to start Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first research and educational organization, to facilitate conversations about our ocean. With informal talks centered around a predetermined topic from a scientific paper, Asha leads a book group type of event creating what she calls “peer community engagement,” increasing awareness and enjoyment of ocean learning. “Communicating scientific research is the backbone of what we do,” Dr. de Vos says. Her Oceanswell website provides those scientific papers to anyone interested and all focus on the animals of the Northern Indian Ocean surrounding Sri Lanka. Oceanswell is growing and is now looking to hire interns and paid staff to support the team fostering new opportunities for Sri Lankans that want to take their interest to the next level.
Dr. de Vos rejects what she calls “parachute science” described by her as when scientists travel to countries around the world, do their research and then pick up and leave, never training or engaging the citizens that live where that research takes place. “You don’t have to have a degree to protect the ocean,” she comments. She believes that through storytelling and shared ocean experiences people can become interested in the magic below the waves.“People from underrepresented nations need to be given the opportunity to build a movement of passionate citizen scientists to protect our ocean.” A favorite project features Dr. de Vos as a muppet-type puppet in an animated TedEdu about the blue whale. In the talk, she describes the secret to why whales are so big in an approachable way that doesn’t leave out the science. Her mission is to include everyone and she believes that the next generation of ocean heroes can come from any corner of the globe.
Join us on May 15th to hear Dr. de Vos speak about her journey, her passion for whales and how you can join in protecting whale species.