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FEATURE STORY June 1, 2020

Meet the Innovator Protecting Our Oceans in Myanmar: Thanda Ko Gyi


After seeing the destruction a single fishing net could cause to marine animals, Thanda Ko Gyi founded Myanmar’s first ocean conservation organization, Myanmar Ocean Project, in 2018. Along the way she has found a new passion – supporting coastal and island communities to thrive in uncertain times.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Myanmar, but spent about ten years of my life in Australia, where I became a passionate diver and learned a lot about ocean conservation. 

In 2017, I went on a diving trip in the Myeik Archipelago on the south coast of Myanmar – it changed my life. Our group of divers encountered a massive discarded fishing net that had entangled about a dozen bamboo sharks. We spent our dive freeing the sharks, but didn’t have enough time to remove the whole net.

About a year later, I returned to the same dive site. It was completely deserted. There were no more sharks and reef fish. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands. 

After seeing the destruction a single fishing net could cause, I wanted to do something about ocean pollution. In late 2018 I founded Myanmar’s first non-profit ocean conservation organization, Myanmar Ocean Project


Tell us about your project.

No one had ever researched the scope and impact of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) in Myanmar. In 2019, with support from the National Geographic Society and Ocean Conservancy, Global Ghost Gear Initiative and Ocean Conservancy my team and I set out on a year-long expedition into the Myeik Archipelago to find out more about ALDFG. 

Over the past year, working with the Department of Fisheries, Flora & Fauna International and Istituto Oikos, we have surveyed almost 90 sites around the archipelago, removed over 1,800 kilograms of harmful fishing nets from marine ecosystems and saved hundreds of marine animals. We stay with fishing communities and work with them to identify ALDFG hotspots, learn about the causes of discarded fishing gear and find out how it impacts their way of life.

Due to COVID-19 and the monsoon season, our 2020 expeditions are currently on hold. However, we continue to support the island communities we work with and are raising funds to send a boat with basic supplies to them to help them get through monsoon season safely.

I am also currently working with Thant Myanmar to contribute data on discarded fishing gear for a World Bank project about plastics pollution in Myanmar. 



(Photo: supplied)

What drives you?

My love for the underwater world is what originally got me involved in this type of work. But through Myanmar Ocean Project, I have found a new source of inspiration: people.

Fishing communities across the Myeik Archipelago have welcomed my team and me with open arms and supported our work every step of the way. Seeing how dependent these communities are on a healthy ocean and its plentiful resources to provide food and income has really added another dimension to my work. 

I want to see these communities thrive. I want them to be able to continue their traditional way of life. And I want them to have the opportunity to show their grandchildren the beauty of the colorful house reefs. This is what drives me most.


What do you see as the biggest challenges facing our oceans in 2020?

In addition to discarded fishing gear wreaking havoc, climate change poses a major threat to the health and biodiversity of our oceans. I’ve seen with my own eyes how bustling coral gardens turn into underwater graveyards due to coral bleaching.

Climate change is a multi-faceted threat that puts millions of lives and livelihoods in Myanmar at risk. Despite degrading ocean ecosystems, climate change also contributes to rising sea levels and increasingly erratic weather patterns that threaten island communities in particular.

In Myanmar, millions of people in the coastal communities depend on marine resources to make a living and feed their families. If coral reefs degrade due to rising water temperatures, there will be no marine life left to sustain these families. 

We need to do everything in our power to tackle climate change and protect those most vulnerable. In the end, these communities have contributed little to the problem but are bearing the brunt.

(Photo: supplied)


What message would you like everyone to hear on World Oceans Day 2020?

Our ocean is life. We need healthy oceans to survive. So, let’s get to work and make sure we treat our ocean like the precious resource that it is.

Whether that means demanding climate action from your government representatives, raising awareness about unsustainable fishing practices, or supporting organizations helping to protect marine life, everyone can do their part no matter where they live and who they are.

The world has to come together, put aside any differences, and work as a global community to solve the urgent issues of our time. Everyone on this planet has the right to lead a happy, content life no matter where they are from and which family they were born into. Let’s make this a reality!

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**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.