Volunteerism to protect Sri Lanka’s marine environment

Ocean Watch with The Pearl Protectors


A beach clean-up carried out by volunteers

Volunteering is when an individual(s) solely or collectively contributes for the greater good of sustaining a community through labour, skills, and expertise, while not expecting any gain in return other than the satisfaction the positive impact creates.  Volunteerism is accepted all around the world as the best reflection of selfless commitment.

In Sri Lanka, volunteerism has flourished for centuries, where volunteering is engraved in its traditions, culture, and religions. Through traditional initiatives such as “shramadana”, “dansal”, and Ayurvedic practices, traditional volunteerism can be significantly highlighted. In 2019, Sri Lanka was globally ranked to be the leading nation of “Volunteering by Time” by the World Giving Index, with 46% of our population being volunteers.

Being nested in the middle of the Indian ocean, Sri Lanka has a very unique and beautiful marine environment. With many endemic marine life, marine mammals, and corals, the island nourishes its marine environment through 103 rivers that flow to the sea. Sri Lankans depend on the health of the ocean for fishing, tourism, shipping, water sports, agriculture, and seasonal monsoon weather.

Volunteers making a Christmas tree out of plastic waste

Sri Lanka being positioned in the strategic crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa highlights the ever-growing importance of protecting its oceans and the marine environment. In the past decade, our oceans have faced many threats and challenges – from climate risks, ocean acidification, and degradation of corals to depletion of ocean fisheries and plastic pollution in the shoreline and seabed, the negative impact on the ocean is very significant. The increase in plastic pollution has created a detrimental impact, as it is estimated that by 2050, there will be more weight in plastic in the ocean than marine life. The urgency to cut down on plastic pollution is now felt by many countries, but Sri Lanka is yet to provide incentives, stronger regulation, or awareness to curb the ever-growing pollution.

The blessing the island nation has received through the concept of genuine and selfless volunteering can be redefined to protect the marine environment of Sri Lanka. The Pearl Protectors, which is a volunteer platform and marine conservation organisation, has this in mind when mobilising volunteers to create awareness and advocate towards sustained, healthier, and protected marine habitat. The intention through this platform has been to utilise volunteer contributions based on skills and experience in launching various projects. The projects are mapped so as to increase the impact on protecting the marine environment, while increasing the incentives a passionate volunteer can harness through the volunteer contribution.

Simple initiatives such as volunteering to clean a shoreline as well as much dedicated initiatives such as conducting research, surveys, and awareness content have seen volunteering individuals excel much faster in gaining experience and learning various skills than otherwise. Volunteering to protect a unique environmental asset such as our ocean also helps in getting to know other individuals who are likeminded and passionate while utilising an individual’s thinking process to find simple, unique impactful solutions to urgent crisis situations. Volunteerism also has other benefits such as stronger and wider networking, team capacity-building, gaining leadership skills, gaining co-ordination skills, and being recognised for selfless actions.

As our ocean’s resources deplete and its health degrades, Sri Lanka’s only hope for a healthier, safer, and protected ocean may depend on the commitments made by volunteers. A true selfless act can inspire many others to be ocean heroes while helping a nation love its beautiful ocean and the marine environment.

(This article is written by the volunteers of The Pearl Protectors to inspire volunteerism in Sri Lanka)

IG: @pearlprotectors