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Blue Parks Ambassador Spotlight: Meet Tharaka Sriram

This ongoing series of spotlight blogs profiles our Blue Parks Ambassadors: a group of ocean champions across diverse spheres who care deeply about safeguarding life in the sea. Blue Parks Ambassadors build the momentum toward the Blue Parks aim of securing effective protection for 30% of the ocean by 2030 by communicating the value of these protections for revitalizing the health of the ocean. They connect government leaders, protected area managers, ocean enthusiasts, ocean-related businesses, and future generations of ocean-lovers with resources for understanding and celebrating effective marine conservation practices.  What unites them is their passion for marine wildlife.

This week, meet Tharaka Sriram: a marine conservationist, educator and activist for women’s rights and against racism.

Tharaka has an academic background in Spanish, International Relations and Gender Studies (B.A.) at the University of Mannheim and an M.A. in Governance, Public Policy and Environmental History at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Tharaka has lived and worked on six of the seven continents, in the fields of marine conservation, diversity and youth empowerment, e.g. the UN (Bolivian National Commission UNESCO COMINABOL and United Nations Volunteers UNV /UNDP Côte d`Ivoire), NGOs and other development cooperation institutions.

In 2008 she volunteered with women’s organizations in Latin America. It was in a small- scale fishing community in Peru, where she discovered that depleted fish stocks were the cause of domestic violence against women. That was the moment when the curiosity and passion for the ocean was ignited in her.

In 2015 she founded the ocean literacy initiative “Ocean Education,” giving talks and workshops on Marine Protected Areas, in order to fight for the creation of a worldwide network of highly protected MPAs.

In November 2017, Tharaka travelled to 17 countries in 11 months to visit Marine Protected Areas, which was the first ever world trip with the focus to find out more about MPAs around the world. She spoke with Ministries, NGOs and individual marine conservationists on the challenges and best practices. The journey showed, that around the globe, there needs to be a stronger political commitment geared towards the conservation of marine biodiversity: By „putting the money where the mouth is“, with quicker establishment of MPAs, passing laws to designate and then follow up with the  active implementation where financial support for proper enforcement is crucial.

She is one of the 300 women in the EXXpedition team, a female citizen science research mission, sailing across the globe to draw attention to the effects of plastics and environmental toxins.

We asked Tharaka “Why did you become a Blue Parks Ambassador?”

Tharaka: It was the Marine Conservation Institute and their wonderful people behind it, who inspired me to work for Marine Protected Areas.

Thanks to the magic of Google, when I started to research back in 2013 on marine conservation, I first came across articles from Lance Morgan, where I read about [Blue Parks] for the first time.

After having realized in 2008 the interconnectedness between the natural environment, its dwindling resources, and the wellbeing of the women in the small Peruvian fishing village, I wanted to give those women a better future. I wanted them to be the ones making a living through selling fish.

When I lived in Bolivia, I visited aquaculture farms at Lake Titicaca, to plan my next steps. The following sight will always remain engrained in my brain: A bucket full of dead trouts on shore, waiting to be processed. That was the moment when I realized, that I wanted to work for fish being alive and healthy instead of being seen as a mere food for humans. The happiness and life of one being should neither be traded for nor pitted against each other. I sensed that there had to be another, a wholesome way of bringing both “worlds” together, the one of humans and other animals.

So I scrapped the aquaculture idea and got more interested in marine conservation, specifically to bring awareness about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). As I grew in my role as an ocean conservationist, I grew tired of seeing the ocean as a place that was solely there to supply us humans with resources.

That’s why I started my own initiative “Ocean Education” which is focused on teaching people about MPAs as a means for biodiversity conservation, with the being the source that I used since the very beginning of my marine conservation talks to show how much of our ocean is protected. The best moments are when I see people’s faces lighting up, when they realize that there is life “out there,” beings with feelings and a desire to be free and protected, just like us.

Being a Blue Parks Ambassador is an honor and responsibility. It gives me the opportunity to globally spread the word about and, at the same time, pay tribute to effective marine protection.

As science has shown, Fully and Highly Protected MPAs have shown the best results in biodiversity conservation. They also have a stronger potential for adaptation to climate change, which we can already witness and which will have a stronger impact in the foreseeable future.

So we need to act now, through the Blue Parks initiative, to incentivize a global ocean refuge system to safeguard biodiversity in at least 30% of the ocean. Together we can ensure the creation of a global network, consisting of marine protected areas in the right places with the right rules and the right management to safeguard wildlife.

Working in conservation humbles and teaches me every day, that we are not the only beings on this planet and just a small part of the puzzle. My journey has taken me from fighting for human and especially women`s rights to now, where, I try to give other animals a voice when they cannot speak up for themselves.

It is a crucial and exhilarating journey towards a global refuge system, a safe haven for flora and fauna. And I look forward to being part of this journey as a Blue Parks ambassador.

Follow Tharaka’s extraordinary journey as an educator and Blue Parks Ambassador:

Twitter: @TharakaSriram

Instagram: @oe_oceaneducation