Champika Ellawala Kankanamge
University of Ruhuna
AsianScientist (Aug. 6, 2021) – We might not notice it in our daily lives, but we are heavily reliant on the biodiversity of our planet—from the plants that guarantee clean air, to bacteria that provides healthy soil, to new medicines that are harvested from nature. However, with an eighth of all species dangerously close to extinction and 160 species already lost over the last decade, the crucial biodiversity that we depend on is being seriously threatened.
Fortunately, hope is not lost when scientists like Dr. Champika Ellawala Kankanamge from the University of Ruhuna are working to protect our biospheres.
Her current research efforts are focused on controlling invasive aquatic plants—or macrophytes—by restoring shade and encouraging their natural resistance. At the same time, Kankanamge is assessing pollution levels in aquatic ecosystems, specifically the levels of heavy metals in fish and shellfish in Sri Lanka’s Batticaloa lagoon—the main source of seafood for the local community.
It may sound like a tall order, but somebody has to do it. Thankfully, her increasingly important work is well-recognized; Kankanamge received the OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World in 2020. Talking to Asian Scientist Magazine, here she shares the inspiration behind her research and her hopes for the future.
- How would you summarize your research in a tweet?
I work on ecosystem conservation and pollution control.
- Describe a completed research project that you are proudest of.
My PhD thesis was a study on the influence of flow turbulence on the growth of submerged macrophytes in aquatic ecosystems. During the three years of my PhD, I studied a great deal of different plant species and their responses to turbulence. Most importantly, it led to new insights into the interactions between macrophytes and the movement of water, laying the foundation for further studies on the same topic.
- What do you hope your research will accomplish in the next decade?
In my opinion, global warming, climate change and the conservation of our planet need our attention. I hope the human population will focus on pollution control and ecosystem conservation in the next decade. With this hope, my future research will be focused on ecosystem restoration techniques.
- What motivated you to go into your field of study?
I was born and grew up in a village so I was always able to enjoy nature. Without a doubt, it is my appreciation of nature that motivated me to become an environmental scientist.
- What is the biggest adversity that you experienced in your research?
When it concerns the control of environmental pollution and ecosystem degradation, it is necessary to have community and government support. The biggest hardship for me was getting funding for the implementation of my research.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today, and how can we fix them?
The biggest challenge is to create and retain good researchers. Here in Sri Lanka, many graduates choose industrial jobs just after graduation. People who decide to pursue higher studies also prefer to move to foreign universities. There are few industrial opportunities for researchers and research is limited to universities—this must change to encourage research activities in the industry.
- If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?
I would still be working in the agricultural field, but I’m not sure what kind of work I would be involved in. However, I still dream of living on a farm once I retire.
- What do you do outside of work to relax? Do you have any interests and hobbies?
I love to read novels—a good book can take me away from my surroundings. I also love to go on road trips with my partner.
- If you had the power and resources to eradicate any world problem using your research, which one would you solve?
I would explore ways to limit human population growth. Increased resource use by a rapidly increasing population is a major reason behind environmental pollution, ecosystem degradation and many other problems.
- What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?
Being a researcher is hard anywhere in the world. Despite the difficulties, keep trying.
This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Illustration: Ajun Chuah/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.