Seven Women Protecting Oceans and Sea Life

Seven Women Protecting Oceans and Sea Life

The amazing thing about aquatic animals is that they are at once so different and yet so similar to us.


Human activity is taking its toll on marine environments and threatening these fragile ecosystems. From pollution and overfishing to the impacts of our over-dependence on livestock farming, oceans and sea life are suffering.

But through sheer determination and dedication coupled with their wealth of experience, women all around the globe are offering hope for oceans and the animals who live in them. By exploring our relationship with marine environments and nurturing compassion within their communities, these female ocean warriors are tackling the issues head on, challenging our current attitudes and behaviours, and bringing us closer to this vital part of planet earth.

Meet seven women protecting the oceans and sea life:

Madison Stewart/aka ‘Shark Girl’

Australian filmmaker and conservationist, Madison Stewart, aka ‘Shark Girl,’ began scuba diving at the age of 11. By the time she was 14 years old, the sharks in the Great Barrier Reef that she knew and loved had been reduced to a mere few by government-approved gill net vessels. Stewart uses film as her medium to raise awareness and spark conversation about sharks and the issues affecting these highly misunderstood creatures.

“I always aim to either stop or change something happening to sharks but mainly to raise awareness in the hope that people join me in fighting for the change we so desperately need.”

Learn more about Stewart’s work and follow on her Facebook and Instagram.


Becca Franks/Visiting Assistant Professor with the Environmental Studies department of New York University 

Becca Franks is an environmental research scientist with a mission to tell the world why fish matter! In 2012, Becca Franks joined the Animal Welfare Program at The University of British Columbia, where she began studying fish and aquatic animal protection. Throughout her career, Franks has been interested in fundamental patterns of well-being. She is especially fascinated by the evidence that regardless of species, well-being is linked to learning, exploration, and discovery.

“My goal is to generate scientific information about aquatic animals that helps society see their true value. By true value I mean giving them the chance to express their behavioral and psychological potential so that we can appreciate what we have in common and celebrate what makes them unique. I believe that science can contribute to achieving this goal, but only if we study animals living in environments in which they can thrive.”

Learn more about Franks’s work.

Dr. Supraja Dharini/TREE Foundation

Dr. Supraja Dharini, founder of Trust for Environment Education, Conservation and Community Development (TREE Foundation) in India, is bringing awareness and commitment to protecting nature through biodiversity and conservation work with sea turtles, environmental education, and community development.Since its inception, and with the drive of Dr. Dharini behind it, TREE Foundation has seen significant successes for the threatened sea turtle populations with which it works.

“I was originally inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall who made me see and understand that each and every one of us can make a difference through our actions. Having been greatly saddened by seeing a deceased Olive Ridley sea turtle on the beach near my home, I decided there and then to establish TREE Foundation to address this problem and reduce sea turtle deaths. My job is to ensure that TREE Foundation makes lasting positive change for humans and marine life alike.”

Learn more about Dr. Dharini’s work and follow on TREE Foundation on Facebook.

Mary Finelli/Fish Feel

Mary Finelli is president and founder of Fish Feel, the first organization devoted to promoting the recognition of fishes as sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion. Fish Feel works to educate people about and advocate for fishes as sentient beings, but they also draw attention to the ways in which our own future is inextricably linked with that of fishes.

“Most people are so uninformed about fishes, many deny that they are sentient and some claim they are not even animals! I want to disabuse people of faulty notions about fishes, and help enlighten them as to how wondrous they are. I especially want them to realize that fishes suffer fear and pain, to be aware of the immense cruelties being inflicted on these many animals, and how it also harmfully impacts so many other species, including our own.”

Learn more about Finelli’s work and follow Fish Feel on Instagram and Facebook.

Puja Mitra/Terra Conscious

Puja Mitra, founder and director of sustainable tour operator Terra Conscious, is a professional conservation practitioner revolutionizing the tourism industry in Goa.

Mitra’s vision for the future of Goa’s rural communities and environment is inspiring local businesses to take collaborative action towards more sustainable and responsible tourism. By empowering rural communities through awareness and capacity-building programmes, Mitra and her team are helping those whose livelihoods depend on a thriving marine tourism industry to tackle conservation challenges.

“There is definitely more awareness about oceans and coasts now due to many initiatives and programmes established by a growing community of researchers and organisations across the country. But there is still lots more to do. Nurturing a more sensitive relationship with our oceans and coasts is key to enabling any lasting change in policy, the type of activities offered, and better representation for coastal communities.”

Learn more about Mitra’s work and follow Terra Conscious on Instagram and Facebook.

Dr. Lori Marino/The Whale Sanctuary Project

Neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence, Dr. Lori Marino is the founder and president of The Whale Sanctuary Project. Dr. Marino has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and magazine articles on brain evolution, intelligence and self-awareness in other animals, human-nonhuman animal relationships, and captivity issues. Her mission with The Whale Sanctuary Project is to create the first permanent seaside sanctuary in North America for captive orcas and beluga whales.

“We want to create a permanent sanctuary for captive orcas and beluga whales who are living in concrete tanks.  There are permanent sanctuaries for all kinds of wild land animals and none yet for dolphins and whales (cetaceans)… on a broader level, the sanctuary will be a model for change in our relationship with cetaceans from one of exploitation to one of restitution. I hope that in addition to providing a better life for a few whales we will represent and catalyze a cultural shift that will lead to the end of keeping these animals captive for our entertainment and a move towards a more humble and respectful relationship with them in the future.”

Learn more about Dr. Marino’s work and follow The Whale Sanctuary Project on Facebook.

Dr. Sylvia Earle/S.E.A. – Mission Blue 

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, founder of the Sylvia Earle Alliance (S.E.A.)/Mission Blue and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (D.O.E.R.) is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer. Her contributions to the fields of scientific research and conservation have had an huge impact on our understanding of complex ocean processes and marine ecosystems. Through her work, Dr. Earle is inspiring global awareness and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – known as ‘Hope Spots.’

“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed so much loss of biodiversity and a human population that has grown from around 2.5 billion to almost 8 billion. From the surface, the ocean seems to be in pretty good shape but once we get below the surface, we readily see the impacts of warming waters, abandoned fishing gear, discarded plastics, ship noise, and more. We also know that nature is resilient, if we stop actively damaging it.”

Learn more about Dr. Earle’s work and follow Mission Blue on Instagram and Facebook.

Sarungbam Yaiphabi Devi

Sarungbam Yaiphabi Devi

Helping the Free Roaming Dogs of Delhi: Dr. Devi and Animal India Trust

Dr. Sarungbam Yaiphabi Devi with one of the Animal India Trust mobile vet clinic vehicles.

Dr. Sarungbam Yaiphabi Devi with one of the Animal India Trust mobile vet clinic vehicles.

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do.” –Amelia Earhart

In March of 2002 Dr. Sarungbam Yaiphabi Devi decided to follow her dreams. As a veterinarian she had always been driven to help animals, but she had made up her mind to quit her job in order to begin a new venture, one that would allow her to specifically focus on helping the large populations of free foaming dogs in India. “I had this vision of a controlled canine population, healthy and well fed stray dogs in the nooks and corners of Delhi, and I set out to make this vision a reality by founding Animal India Trust (AIT), an organization that works to improve the lives of street dogs in New Delhi.”

Leaving the security of her job to start AIT was a big gamble both personally and professionally for Dr. Devi—this was a venture that would take a tremendous amount of work and the odds were certainly against her, but she was focused and driven and had many good ideas about how to best address the situation. “I put all of my savings in to the project and was greatly relieved that after a year of hard and toiling work, I received some government grants to help with this initiative.”

Dr. Devi certainly had her work cut out for her, as there is a very large free roaming dog population in this area—she estimates that there are approximately 300,000 free roaming dogs on the streets of Delhi. She sees the urgency of this work, noting that “without a comprehensive spay/neuter program in place to slow and eventually stop the indiscriminate breeding of Delhi’s free roaming dogs, their numbers will continue to increase.” In addition, she worries that “increases in population places increased pressure upon the dogs in their day-to-day struggle to survive, as well as increased incidences of various communicable diseases among the human and dog population.” There is also a concern that there the growing population of free roaming dogs has also lead to a spike in rabies cases. As Dr. Devi explains, “New Delhi’s free roaming dog population and rabies are inseparable issues and, here in India, one goes with the other. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to ensure both parts of the equation are taken into consideration while doing our type of work.”

Dr. Devi manages to stay positive and hopeful even when faced with such a large population of animals in need. She approaches her work systematically, and believes that “the most effective demonstration Animal India Trust can make to the value of sterilization and vaccination is to concentrate their efforts on a particular area or zone, and massively sterilize and vaccinate within that area to achieve an over 70% success rate. If this rate of sterilization is accomplished within one breeding cycle, the results are immediate, demonstrating a visual and measurable impact.”

AIT provides a wide range of services including: spay/neuter programs, rabies vaccinations, administering medical care to sick and injured animals found on the streets, and a foster/adoption network that helps place orphaned puppies in loving homes. AIT also works with economically disadvantaged populations to provide free free veterinary care for their companion animals.

AIT started small and first began operating out of a small basement office. Today AIT has two offices in Delhi and is looking to start a third location early in 2017, a testament to just how successful this venture has been. Dr. Devi remains the managing trustee and veterinary surgeon, but now has a staff and many volunteers to help her with this work.

AIT’s work is making a noticeable difference, and has changed the lives of hundreds of animals. “When I look at the strays of Delhi now”, says Dr. Devi, “I feel proud that they look well, healthy and that there are no skinny hungry looking pups hanging onto the totally emaciated looking mothers.” AIT collaborates with local Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and dedicated community leaders to spear-head veterinary initiatives in a number of different neighbourhoods. Dr. Devi is quick to praise these joint initiatives, noting that “if all the RWAs in Delhi do the same, we will not have rabies and, at the same time, canine population will be checked and stabilized.”

There are many challenges that Dr. Devi and the AIT team face on a daily basis. In addition to the staggering number of animals in need, they also face complaints from members of the public who do not seem to appreciate the levels of complexity this work entails. Even on the toughest days, Dr. Devi remains committed to helping animals in need and draws strength and motivation by reflecting on the changes that AIT has been able to make so far. “There are many areas we have worked in where we now see fewer dogs, no puppies, no evidence of rabies. This makes us feel that if we really work hard and get more dogs spayed/neutered, one day we will be able to achieve our goals.” When Dr. Devi started AIT she thought that she might be able to get the health and population issues related to the large number of free roaming dogs in Delhi under control in 10 years. She now realizes that “we still have to carry on this work and intensify the program and reach out to neighbouring areas. This is the only way to control the populations humanely and to also reduce incidences of rabies.”

Dr. Devi is also a volunteer and board member with All Creatures Great and Small, a sanctuary for “animals in distress.” When she first started AIT she “felt terrible” that she didn’t have anywhere to take “the handicapped or very old dogs, or puppies without mothers.” All Creatures Great and Small offers sanctuary to these animals and Dr. Devi has strong words of praise for this organization – “I am very happy that all blind or amputated animals need not be euthanised but will be taken care well at this sanctuary.” All Creatures Great and Small has a good working relationship with AIT, and this allows yet another level of care to be provided for animals in need.

Donations made to both Animal India Trust and to All Creatures Great and Small help to provide care for animals in need in the Delhi region of India. Donations to AIT can be made via PayPal ( or by sending a cheque or money order payable to Animal India Trust. The mailing address is: Animal India Trust, Part 1 Jal Vihar, New Delhi, 110024, U.T., India Donations to All Creatures Great and Small can be sent to D 45 Gulmohar Park, New Delhi, 110049, India.