Marine expert calls for sustainable shift in SL’s tourism focus


  • Asserts biodiversity is in bad state and industry isn’t even aware of damage caused

  • Says need to stop attitude of offering whatever country has

  • Points out there is harassment of wildlife with several boats chasing a single whale and illegal swimming with ocean giant

  • Stresses need to stop being afraid of standing up for what we are custodians of

By Nuzla Rizkiya 

Dr. Asha De Vos


Sri Lanka’s tourism industry requires a major shift towards long-term thinking and a collective approach to protect and promote the country’s natural resources, a prominent marine scientist said. 

Citing the self-driven and selfish processes that dominate the country’s tourism sector, Oceanswell Founder and marine biologist Dr. Asha De Vos stressed the need to instill a change in attitude that facilitates awareness, courage, and self-confidence among those involved. 

“Our biodiversity is in a bad state but many will not agree because we don’t even know what we have and the damage we’ve caused. As a nation, we have a lot to offer but we need to stop this attitude of offering whatever we have. I think we need to start that by being courageous,” Dr. De Vos said, while addressing a panel at an ADB forum on tourism and biodiversity conservation in Colombo last week.

She pointed out the mismanagement of the Hikkaduwa National Marine Park as a prime example of the nation’s deplorable state of prioritising checkbox tourism, overshadowing the patriotic need to protect the country’s natural resources. 

“The park is the easiest marine resource to manage but is very unproductive, with dead coral reefs and few fish. People still walk on the reefs. If we can’t protect what’s on our doorstep, what hope do we have for the vast ocean around us?” Dr. De Vos questioned.

She went on to detail the blatant ignorance and incompetence practised in Sri Lanka’s whale watching avenue in tourism. 

While whale watching is a growing industry in Sri Lanka, the marine animals are under severe stress, according to Dr. De Vos. 

Frequent ship strikes, entanglement, and ocean noise pollution have significantly disrupted the species' natural habitat. 

“Today you’ll see around 30 boats chasing a single whale, sometimes separating the mothers and calves. To top it off, we have illegal swimming with whales. This is harassment of wildlife,” she stressed. 

Tourism marketing also came under scrutiny for creating unrealistic expectations among the travellers, leading to disappointment and a tarnished reputation for the country.  

Therefore, honesty, accurate information, realistic expectations and responsible practices are vital to ensure sustainable tourism development. 

“We cannot guarantee nature. We have to be realistic and sensible in marketing our products. We have to have the courage to say it, to inculcate the tour operators' self-confidence to stop tourists from engaging in bad practices. We must convey our unified message of not endorsing activities that harass the wildlife, which is actually the natural resource that belongs to the nation,” Dr. De Vos said. 

“We need to rethink our priorities. We’re too focused on numbers; how many millions of tourists can we attract? Quantity over quality. But we should stop, brainstorm, and reconsider how to grow tourism without commercialising every part of our land. We need to stop being afraid of standing up for what we are custodians of,” she emphasised. 

Moreover, Dr. De Vos went on to advocate the incorporation of respect and empathy among children, in their education system, to facilitate a future generation that would take pride in valuing and protecting the environment. 
“Our lives in marine space ends at the shoreline. We teach kids to pass exams, instead of teaching them marine life or monsoons. But we need a broad shift in our mindset to bring kids in and show how to treat the system. It’s not impossible but we need the endorsement to do it on a larger scale,” asserted Dr. De Vos.

  Comments - 8

You May Also Like