Meet Tharaka Sriram, who was a crew member on the eXXpedition Round the World Virtual Voyage to Fiji. As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to share Tharaka’s Superpower Story.
Can You Tell Me A Bit About Yourself?
Hi, I’m Thara, and I am currently based in Frankfurt, Germany. I studied Spanish and Politics and first got started with the ocean in 2008, whilst I was volunteering in Peru, educating women to organise themselves into unions. A lot of my work now focuses on the intersection between social issues on land, environmental issues at sea, and animal rights.
Photo credits: Ilham Nur Prabowo
During that period in Peru, I heard about domestic violence in a fishing village on the coast. Speaking to women in the community, the interconnection between domestic violence and fish stock became clear. As the supply of fish coming from the village’s coastline decreased, domestic violence was increasing. It was my quest to understand why there were no fish, environmental pollution and overfishing were amongst the many answers I found.
This moment was probably the first time I really became interested in the environment. I began to see that what was happening to the ocean was deeply imbricated in violence and female rights abuses taking place on land. I couldn’t keep looking at the land and ocean in separation. I needed to start appreciating their interconnection.
“I couldn’t keep looking at the land and ocean in separation. I needed to start appreciating their interconnection.”
So I started to investigate – I attended lots of marine biology conferences, I listened, I researched, and I read – I read a lot! And the more I learnt, the more I wanted to know, and the more I wanted other people to know what I was learning.
In 2010, my research took me to Bolivia, where I began investigating the potential of using Aquaculture – whilst mobilising women specifically with the skills to raise the fish – as a way to both replenish fish stocks, and address female rights abuses.
Photo credits: Tharaka Sriram
However, I quickly realised that this could not be the solution – it just felt illogical to be raising these animals, only to then take their lives to provide for other animals – for us, for humans. I knew I needed a different solution. It was in 2013, in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that I found my answer. Rather than destroying nature – or eating it – MPAs were, and are, preserving nature; replenishing the ocean by showcasing and respecting its beauty.
Since then, I have channelled my efforts into education and raising awareness about the value of MPAs through my platform Ocean Education, which I use to advertise and deliver workshops and talks to people about the importance of protecting Marine Environments and stand up for the rights of marine animals.
Photo credits: Wolfgang Schmidt
“The more I learnt, the more I wanted to know, and the more I wanted other people to know what I was learning.”
How did you end up Joining an eXXpedition Voyage?
In 2017/2018 I committed to completing a world trip to marine protected areas. I visited 17 countries in 11 months. My plan had always been to travel by boat, but circumstances meant that I had to cancel the sailing aspect of the trip. When I saw eXXpedition RTW advertised, I knew I could not turn down an opportunity to see the ocean by boat, made even more enticing by the prospect of sailing with such a supportive and empowering all-female crew.
Photo credits: Tharaka Sriram
How would you describe your superpower?
To connect humans and ocean, to link the ocean and plastic pollution to sexism, racism, animal cruelty, the list goes on – can be powerful. Without the ability to link things together, our solutions become one-dimensional. As Emily says, there is no silver bullet when it comes to ocean plastic pollution; We need to think widely, and collaboratively. My superpower has allowed me to do that.
What did you learn that most surprised you?
Realising the interconnection between plastic pollution and the other issues I tried to tackle during my early career. I realised that disconnecting the ocean and the land from one another was not only an allusion, but also a consequence of short term thinking. Learning this has taught me the value of thinking holistically rather than one-dimensionally.
“Without the ability to link things together, our solutions become one-dimensional.”
How has the voyage influenced your work since?
I talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. Given everything eXXpedition taught me, it’s now my responsibility to communicate what I have learnt, and inspire others to take action.
Photo credits: Susane Lencinas
“We need to think widely, and collaboratively. My superpower has allowed me to do that.”
What are you most proud to have achieved?
I am proud to have become an Ambassador for both eXXpedition, and the Blue Parks of Marine Conservation Institute. Being able to represent two international organisations – with such broad scope and networks – to grow momentum for something I am passionate about, is something I will always be proud to have achieved. I love that I can go out there, and speak, knowing that in those moments I can inspire more people to act and make a change.
What are your plans going forward?
I want to continue to educate people through my workshops and presentations. COVID put the brakes on this somewhat. It is a privilege and an honour to be able to speak with people of all walks of life, across the globe. My aim is to make them pause in their busy lives, offer them new perspectives on marine life and stir empathy and action for marine animals. Only if humans understand deeply how plastics not only affect them, but also other animals, can we find solutions that work for all life on the planet.
Photo credits: Tharaka Sriram
“It’s not the facts that make people change, it’s the emotion; make your audience wonder, make them laugh, make them disgusted.”
So, what’s your recipe for inspiring an audience?
Communicating your message through stories or metaphors is always useful. It’s not the facts that make people change, it’s the emotion; Make your audience wonder, make them laugh, make them disgusted. Only once you have initiated that emotional connection, can you expect to get their attention.
What keeps you hopeful about the future of the Ocean?
The beauty of the ocean. The fact that there are so many amazing animals – you only need to look at them to feel inspired. Unlike us, there are animals out there who can’t speak for themselves – and they’re being captured, tortured, and killed. I feel a responsibility to speak for them, and to honour their beauty. I am not talking about their surprising shapes, or colours, but simply their beauty of existence – that is enough to keep me hopeful.
Photo credits: @Marco Valdi _Marine Conservation
If you could give one message to the world what would it be?
For people who can afford other sources of food, stop eating marine animals. Overfishing is one of the biggest destructors of our ocean – whether that be artisanal fishing or industrial fishing. Sustainable fishing, in my opinion, is not sufficient. I say this not only from an environmental perspective, but also an ethical one.
Photo credits: Andre Hinkson & Orvin Junior
Read more about Tharaka and her amazing efforts here.