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Preserving Oceanic Ecosystems

Oct/01/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

South Asian women are shaping the future of marine sustainability

Woman scuba diver under water surrounded by fish
Photo via Shutterstock

September 28, 2023, was World Maritime Day, an occasion that underscores the significance of maritime industries in global trade and sustainability. To honor this, we highlight some exceptional South Asian women working hard toward saving oceans and marine life.

Asha de Vos, Champion of Marine Mammals

Hailing from Sri Lanka, marine biologist and educator Asha de Vos has not only contributed significantly to our understanding of marine mammals but has also pioneered a unique approach to marine conservation. Her work primarily revolves around the blue whale.

Blue whales, the largest creatures on Earth, roam the oceans but remain relatively enigmatic due to their elusive nature. Asha’s groundbreaking research on the pygmy blue whales in the Indian Ocean has not only shed light on their migratory patterns and behaviors but has also underscored the urgent need for their conservation.

Asha de Vos’ efforts have inspired the establishment of the “Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project,” which focuses on the conservation of blue whales while also promoting marine education and awareness among local communities. Her work is a testament to the power of community engagement in conservation, emphasizing that it’s not just about protecting species but also about fostering a harmonious relationship between humans and the marine environment.

Dr. Divya Karnad: Balancing Fisheries and Conservation

Dr. Divya Karnad, an accomplished marine biologist from India, brings a holistic perspective to marine conservation. She also breaks ground by being the first Indian female to bag the Future for Nature award in 2019. Her work is dedicated to finding sustainable solutions that balance the needs of coastal communities dependent on fisheries with the imperative of marine conservation.

Through the organization she co-founded, ‘InSeason Fish,’ Dr. Karnad promotes responsible fishing practices and advocates for policies that protect endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems. Her approach combines science, policy, and community engagement to create a lasting impact on coastal conservation.

One of her notable projects involves engaging local fishing communities in the conservation of the endangered olive ridley sea turtle. By working closely with these communities and implementing measures like turtle excluder devices in fishing nets, Dr. Karnad is not only protecting the species but also supporting livelihoods.

Dr. Diva Amon, Deep-Sea Explorer

Marine biologist Dr. Diva Amon, hails from the Caribbean and has South Asian roots. She has dedicated her career to exploring the mysterious depths of our oceans. Her work has led to discoveries in the field of deep-sea biology.

The deep sea, an otherworldly realm characterized by crushing pressures and frigid temperatures, is home to countless unknown species. Dr. Amon’s expeditions have led to the discovery of numerous new species, including strikingly colorful corals and bizarre deep-sea creatures. Her work provides critical insights into the effects of human activities on the deep-sea environment, including the impact of deep-sea mining.

In addition to her scientific endeavors, Dr. Amon is a passionate advocate for ocean conservation. She tirelessly shares her deep-sea adventures with the world, inspiring others to appreciate and protect these often-forgotten ecosystems. Amon has been mentioned in CNN International, the BBC, and National Geographic for the research excursions she has participated in throughout the globe. She also founded SpeSeas with the goal of increasing awareness and appreciation for the need to protect marine habitats in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.

Suneha Jagannathan, Coral Conservation

Jagannathan’s research as an autonomous Indian marine ecologist is concerned with marine habitat conservation, socio-ecology, and teaching about the environment. Suneha looks at the environmental impact of man-made reefs. Reefs, she says, provide protection for marine species and are part of a marine ecosystem that has developed through thousands of years of development, so protecting them is crucial.

India has a large coastline and many marine resources, but they are typically overlooked in favor of land-based conservation activities. Global warming, rising ocean temperatures, coral bleaching, and different types of pollution are wreaking havoc on India’s marine ecology, causing the reefs to die and destroying marine life.

Aditi Pant, Oceanographer Extraordinaire

In the world of marine biology, Aditi Pant is unraveling the mysteries of the tiniest life forms in our oceans. Within the framework of the Indian Antarctic Programme, Pant was the first Indian woman to explore Antarctica to research geology and oceanography in 1983. After completing her doctorate at London’s Westfield College, Aditi worked at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, India.

She has explored the whole western coast of India and is an expert on coastal issues. After working at the NIO, Pant joined the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune in 1990. Here, she delved into studies on salt-conducive microbes. Fifty percent of the total photosynthesis on earth occurs in marine microbes. These use sunshine and carbon dioxide to produce glucose and oxygen. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the seas serves as a climate regulator, and this carbon cycling process is driven by microbes. Pant’s work not only expands our understanding of marine ecosystems but also opens up new avenues for studying and harnessing the potential of these tiny organisms for environmental conservation and biotechnological advancements.


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