The Young Guns At The Forefront Of Goa’s Fight To Save The Environment - Homegrown

The Young Guns At The Forefront Of Goa’s Fight To Save The Environment

For most Indians, Goa has always been a picture-perfect paradise. And as a reprise from the urban jungle, it truly is. For most, it offers countless opportunities to ride through cosy lanes past fairytale cottages, to find colourful gems at every wrong turn; a chance to truly get lost and enjoy it. As a result, Goa is also a word that summons nostalgia submerged in whiffs of prawn curry and the sea for a huge chunk of our population, has firmly cemented itself as one of the top tourist destinations in the country. But as we’re discovering world over and here, with great tourist magnetism comes greater destruction and the people left to deal with the aftermath of it all are the locals who call Goa home.

The state is home to the humpback dolphin, smooth-coated otter, Asian small-clawed otter, civet cat, monitor lizard, the Indian Python, The Great Hornbill, Grey Fronted Green pigeon, carnivorous plants such as the Utricularia graminofolia and hundreds upon hundreds of unique creatures too small to see by the human eye. These animals have had their environment severely compromised by the human actions of ocean pollution, extensive mining, land development and the burning of garbage to name a few. Luckily for them, there are more than a few residents who’ve got their back. From otter conservation and research to outreach programmes, responsible tourism and ecosystem cleanups, we’re focussing today’s spotlight on a number of young people who are at the forefront of the fight that cares about Goa’s greater good. These people, who are always ready to take on the challenges that come with the territory of moving towards a more sustainable future.

These are their stories.

Picture of Kanishk and Mallika
Kanishk Srinivasan and Mallika Talwar

I. Mallika Talwar and Kanishk Srinivasan, Terra Conscious

“...Building awareness about indigenous marine species and working towards marine conversation in Goa.”

Mallika grew up in a family that had an immense love for nature. She went to school at Rishi Valley where she began to understand the complex interaction between humans and nature, where they were encouraged to develop a social and environmental consciousness by building bunds to recharge groundwater, creating compost pits, and interacting with the local community. Kanishk, also raised in an urban setting, felt the same about his experience at Rishi Valley - relishing a chance to engage with the world we live in.

Their work at Terra Conscious–an organisation founded by Puja Mitra–is aimed at marine conservation in Goa with a focus on the marine tourism industry. “As an organisation that aims to promote ethical and responsible marine tourism in Goa, we focus on building awareness about the marine environment and the focal marine species found here. We also work with local communities, tour operators, policymakers and other institutions or stakeholders involved in the marine tourism sector to understand conservation challenges. As part of this work, we have partnered with the lifeguards from Drishti Marine to set up and facilitate a monitoring network for the stranding of marine wildlife along Goa’s coast. Aside from this, for the purpose of awareness building, we host weekly movie screenings of environmentally relevant documentaries where we also engage our audience in meaningful and thought-provoking discussions about the issues showcased in the film” Mallika tells us.

Terra Conscious also conducts ethical and eco-conscious wildlife & nature-based experiences in partnership with a local community of boat operators. Something they both emphasize on is that “The biggest achievement has been the positive feedback we receive from our community boat partners - they have shared with us how they have begun to understand the importance of respecting and protecting our marine wildlife (especially dolphins) and how our trips with them have made them feel more respected and empowered.”

As an intern, Kanishk focused greatly on converting the current tourism trends towards one that is more ethical and responsible in nature. Mallika worked on each of these programmes in different capacities - by assisting in planning and conceptualising some programmes as well as in the actual on-ground implementation and running of the programmes. No work is free of challenges, and during her work with Terra Conscious Mallika found that one of the biggest challenges was to raise awareness among the tourists and locals about the rich biodiversity of goa - many had no idea of some the amazing life that Goa plays breeding ground to! Far from letting this deter them, Mallika continues her work with Terra Conscious as a full-time employee while Kanishk plans to do his masters on Conservation and Rural Development.

Picture of Anuradha Bhatt
Annuradha Bhatt

II. Annuradha Bhatt, Live Happy

“People think waste management is not their responsibility, despite the fact that waste exists because of them.”

Annuradha is a Coordinator for the Live Happy NGO based in Assagao, which was founded by Felly Gomes. It is a grassroots NGO working alongside the locals to create awareness about the local environment and its importance - everything from the local fruits and herbs to the birds and the wildlife. She coordinated Project Waste Management by Live Happy which was a monthly dry waste collection and awareness generation program in Assagao and Badem. This included raising awareness of waste segregation and disposal in an environmentally friendly manner and door-to-door waste pick up. “Convincing people to give us their waste, making them understand the process of segregation and explaining to them the importance of proper disposal of waste was a long drawn process. We did a monthly Dry Waste collection of Assagao, and since that time the Panchayat has found no solution for waste. People would tell me that if I didn’t give them garbage bags, they wouldn’t give me their waste. They think waste disposal is not their responsibility” she says.

Live Happy is also known for their heritage walks around Assagao. The walks are to bolster a feeling of being a part of the community and to find charm, culture and tradition hidden in the bylanes of beautiful Assagao. As a part of it, they organized a series of talks related to waste management and the issues it currently poses to the community. Currently, Annuradha is working with children conducting various environmental awareness sessions through schools and Happy Home Classes for underprivileged children. Her focus is set on awareness building amongst children because she believes they are the true gatekeepers of change.

Picture of Abhishek Jamalabad
Abhishek Jamalabad

III. Abhishek Jamalabad, WWF - India

“The best way to raise awareness to all of this, I feel, is to help more people connect to these spaces, and what better way to do it than by helping them get to know the hidden charismatic side of these landscapes?”

Abhishek has been involved in a Mumbai-based initiative, called Marine Life of Mumbai, that brings information about the city’s fascinating intertidal biodiversity to the public. After he joined WWF-India and moved to Goa at the start of this year, he thought of exploring Goa’s seashores through a similar lens. “These seashores are a popular destination for thousands of tourists, but the amazing hidden wildlife at these very locations has hardly been looked at. If you look at the big changes in seafront land use happening along with many parts of the Indian coastline, it’s not hard to see what we stand to lose. It’s not just the beauty of the biodiversity here; there are people who rely on these shores for a living, and leaving the shores in their natural state is the only way to maintain a natural line of defence against coastal erosion, which can have devastating effects. The best way to raise awareness to all of this, I feel, is to help more people connect to these spaces, and what better way to do it than by helping them get to know the hidden charismatic side of these landscapes?” he asks. The WWF-India Goa Office had conducted nature trails and camps, but this year they’ve taken these activities to the marine shore. Through a project called ‘Goa Tidepool Trails’, they take people out to explore and document the marine life on some of Goa’s seashores, and the walks are free of cost to participants.

“Having started this project in Goa with WWF-India only a couple of months ago, we have so far conducted two public walks, the inaugural one being on Earth Hour (we plan to have these trails only on the best low tide weekend of each month). These walks happened after we spent a lot of time scouting out seashores and picking the best and easiest ones for our walks. But other than the two tidepool trails that have happened, we have had some very enthusiastic participants starting to explore seashore biodiversity in their own free time as well. That is one of the things we always like to see!” exclaims Abhishek.

Like many others, the challenges are simply a part of the job, a reason to feel excited if not anything else. Abhishek understands the difficulty in reaching out to the public about a natural space that they are unfamiliar with. Right here in Goa, for example, a lot of the people attending the WWF walks agree that they’ve lived here for years without once looking into a tide pool. “However, none of these is really hurdles, as long as there are people who enjoy exploring their local seashore and pass on the word, and more than enough who don’t mind waking up early on a weekend morning to peer into tide pools!” he considers. Interestingly, as more people join the walks, they’ve begun to spot creatures that he himself has never seen before - always making for an interesting experience!

Picture of Komal Gogi
Komal Gogi

IV. Komal Gogi, Wild Otters

“The most satisfying feeling of explaining to people how delicate our relationships with nature are, and to know that they truly get it.”

Komal never shied away from exposure to animals - it didn’t matter whether they were reptiles or mammals. Her father, a forest officer, always encouraged her love for animals and helped her in her learning of these animals and their behaviour. She chose to study zoology and environmental science for her undergraduate degree. Komal found that working with wildlife helped her come to terms with her depression and anxiety attacks - she has found a more holistic view to life. Her interest in conservation research led her to intern with an organisation called Wild Otters, where she now works full time. Wild Otters, founded by Atul Borker, is an organization engaged in otter conservation and ecological research. They have a team of dedicated scientists and conservationists who decide the nature of outreach programmes, especially those involving the local community. Komal is a project coordinator who oversees the execution of field and digital research, manages and guides intern research and conservation activity as well as handles all the logistics of the field base located in Chorao Island.

The project Komal is currently working on is one that reexamines and explores the interaction between humans and wildlife. She finds that a lot of people live with deep-rooted misconceptions about the wildlife that surrounds them, and this prevents a healthy interaction or relationship from the building. For instance, “On the island where I live, people believe that porcupines shoot their quills out, which is not physically possible for the animal to do. Rather, the porcupine has a defence mechanism whereby when under attack they can open their quills to make themselves look larger and can shed them. The animal which attacks them gets stabbed and that’s how the quills get stuck on it. That stuck quill makes people think it shoots its quills out, and when I explain the actual process to the people on this island and they understand and accept it, it is just an amazing satisfaction for me.” That is what Komal is most interested in - the thought of co-existing, and this is what she wants to work toward.

Picture of Gabriella D'cruz
Gabriella D’cruz

V. Gabriella D’cruz

“It’s all about creating a balance between the community and conservation.”

Gabriella D’Cruz is a marine conservationist, that is, she works with marine ecosystems such as coral reef ecosystems and sitation populations - mainly dolphins. The specific species of dolphins in Goa that she has worked with are the Indian Humpback Dolphin. She grew up in Goa, always having fostered a love for the wild beauty the state has to offer. She has watched it transform from wild, pristine beauty to an urban tourist hub - leaving the loss of biodiversity completely unaccounted for.

“My work with the WWF in Goa really shaped me and my career in the sense that I worked with Puja Mitra, who was the head of the WWF then. We ran a program which highlighted that sustainable marine tourism was the need of the hour. I was studying the coral reef of Grande Island in Goa, and understanding how we could conserve the Indian Humpback Dolphin population - essentially by running sustainable tours. When I started, it all seemed pretty straightforward but in time you understand how complicated conservation science is - especially when you have to work with communities, ensure that they have access to their traditions and work that they’ve been doing for a really long time, and how to create a balance between the community and conservation” Gabriella says. This is the space she sees herself working in simply because of the number of communities that engage with the wild in India, and she realises how important this element is in the grander scheme of things.

She also worked with the Goa Forest Department to monitor the dolphin population in the bay at Miramar. She also ran a school program, wherein she taught local children about marine ecology for a couple of months, until she realised that there is a lot of potential for developing a marine module for schools in Goa, and other coastal areas of India for that matter, and this is a project that she aspires to work on in the future. I asked about what her greatest setbacks were, and she said “Even though you may have an incredible career and worked with large NGOs you always struggle with finances. And most of us who finish this course will go out there knowing we will struggle to get paid for work in the conservation biology field.” This is a very real problem, where courses and experiences that allow people to pursue conservation cost large amounts of money, but the scope for the work in India is not even close to being as extensive as it should be, and job opportunities are as scarce as some of the marine life populations that need to be saved.

Gabriella is currently doing her Masters In Biodiversity Conservation and Management at Oxford University where her these is on understanding fishermen’s perspective towards artificial reefs in Tamil Nadu. She will be working on this project in June.

Picture of Jill Ferguson
Jill Ferguson

VI. Jill Ferguson, Forca Goa Foundation

“Until the majority of the residents and tourists of Goa change their waste management habits, the problem will only continue to grow.”

Founded by Akshay Tandon and Jill Ferguson, The Forca Goa Foundation was started just over a year ago with a mission is to use football to inspire positive development across the state, thus benefiting both the game of football and Goa. Their vision is to develop healthy, empowered, and aware Goan youth for the individual and collective leadership challenges of tomorrow, on and off the football field and in support of a Clean and Green Goa. Jill has lived in Goa for the last six years and has organised a community clean up operations during this time. With all this experience backing her, Jill started the Goa vs Garbage initiative earlier this year.

“The idea behind it is to make taking on garbage kind of like a competition to get the kids excited about helping to clean up their communities. Garbage and the threat of unconscious consumption/plastic is something the entire world is being forced to face and deal with. It can be challenging to get older generations to change their habits, but young kinds are much more open to learning about proper waste management. For us, the easiest way to teach the kids the need for conscious consumption and proper waste management is through doing clean-ups regularly. We organize regular cleanups with all our kids to make them aware of the severity of the growing garbage problem and give them the knowledge and confidence they need to help tackle it”

The grassroots coaches schedule regular clean-ups with the kids from our centres, which means that sometimes they organize as many as 16 cleanups in a month and engage with over 500-600 kids. The biggest challenge they face is the seemingly unending amounts of litter which continue to pile up in Goa at the end of each day. “Until the majority of the residents and tourists of Goa change their waste management habits, the problem will only continue to grow. The second big issue is the gap in the current garbage collection system of Goa. We see this changing and the gaps being filled, but it will take time” Jill explains.

Despite the challenges, Jill remains optimistic. She says, “I think there is a sense of community coming together for the environment. When I first moved here 6 years ago there was no trash collection and very few cleanups being organized in the North of Goa. Now there are dozens of groups and people organizing cleanups and talking about the waste management needs of the State. At the end of March, there was a meeting held in Panjim by Clinton Vaz with over a dozen organization represented to talk about how we as a community could work together to take on the trash problem. Marine life, illegal tree cutting, mining, and water security (to name a few) are all issues I know people are rallying around. I am incredibly hopeful for the future of Goa, I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t believe we could make a difference.”

Picture of Supriya Vohra
Supriya Vohra. Image credit: Neil D’Souza

VII. Supriya Vohra, Journalist

Goa, as we know it today, is in a state of transition - a state riddled with problems without well drawn out solutions seen to under critical eye. Supriya Vohra describes Goa as “ a state that has been known to help one reconnect with nature is deemed to becoming a “logistics hub” for the country. There is a port being enhanced to allow the import of more coal into the country, four-lane highways are being constructed and railway tracks are being double-tracked all over south Goa to allow the transport of this coal to the steel plants of Karnataka.”

Supriya came to Goa last October with a blank slate and a month-long plan. She embedded herself with the activist community in the south, following and documenting the anti-coal movement in that region. “Being new to the subject, and being a freelancer, I wasn’t very sure of how to go about things. So I started making Instagram stories and videos around the stuff I was getting exposed to. They gained momentum, which gave me the confidence to keep pursuing it. I lived in different parts of South Goa. The initial one month plan turned into three months. Made friendly acquaintances who were kind enough to give me a roof when I ran out of money, and I ended up doing some stories for local and international publications.”

A specific issue that Supriya’s words helped give momentum to is the mining industry’s pillage in Goa.

“The Supreme Court ordered a shutdown on all mines in Goa and ordered fresh environmental clearances and new leases. Iron ore mining has been a mainstay for Goa’s economy for decades. A number of villages that were originally agriculture dependant were coerced into mining because land in that belt (eastern goa) is rich in iron ore and other minerals. I visited the villages and spoke to the folks there and documented their abysmal existence. It is such a strange, catch 22 situations for them! First, their lands were taken away, ravaged by mining, and they were given mining jobs. And now, mining itself has shut. Their water wells and aquifers have dried up, and they depend on the state for their water supply.” This story is a fine example of how closely the lives of humans are integrated with the life of the planet, and the environment we live in and leave behind.

Supriya has recently started a social media-driven platform called The Goa Story where she plans to experiment with different storytelling formats to tell stories on Goa. It’s on Facebook, Instagram and Medium. “Let’s see where it goes!” she exclaims, wrapping up.

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