15 Young Indians On The Frontlines Of The Fight To Save Our Oceans - Homegrown

15 Young Indians On The Frontlines Of The Fight To Save Our Oceans

As a race, we seem to have progressed so far technologically and yet it’s no secret that much of our oceans remain unexplored. This water-mass that encompasses over 70 per cent of our planet and from where life is said to have begun, has not been given the respect or consideration it deserves.

Our oceans are cluttered with plastics and a range of toxins produced by mankind - which have affected every other ecosystem and life form on Earth, either directly or indirectly. In our current landscape of rapidly changing climate, battle over natural resources and a deteriorating environment – it is critical for us to revolutionise the way we interact with our oceans.

We often wonder how each one of us as individuals can really effect change or make a difference to a crisis of such scale. Well, something as simple as changing one’s perspective, learning and understanding can have ripple effects far beyond one’s imagination. At the forefront of this change are young Indians that are working to alter perceptions and actively engaging with communities around us to be better to our oceans and marine life.

Today we look at some of the people working day and night to save our oceans, inspiring others around them to make better choices and decisions when it comes to living responsibly on our planet.

I. Ajit SN

“One has to start something with a reason. Scuba diving, ocean conservation and anything to do with ocean was never my interest or in my bucket list. I am a professional photographer specialising in automobile and watch photography,” Ajit SN tells Homegrown. After a casual invite from his friend to go diving, he was bit by the sea bug. Today, he’s done over 190 dives in two years, and he’s still going.

“The beauty, magnificence and mystery of the oceans has inspired me to pursue scuba diving and underwater photography as my career and my passion for it has actually been the backbone to venture into this beautiful world and develop the love for the oceans and its conservation,” adds Ajit. His underwater adventures have propelled him to be a strong believer of conservation of these precious gifts of nature, and he aims to communicate the importance of respecting our oceans using photography as a medium. He’s involved with the National Geographic and Project AWARE as a contributing member.

When asked about his opinion on people’s attitude towards ocean conservation in India, Ajit felt that there has been a considerable number of Indians who have devoted their time, money and effort to help preserve the ocean, alongside people who didn’t care or bother about the consequences. “I have travelled across the globe to remote parts of the world for scuba diving and underwater photography. The importance and care been taken to protect the oceans is more progressive than in India. One has to realise that oceans are the largest ecosystems and for our very survival we require healthy oceans,” he adds. Through his photography he makes people take notice of the incredible beings that exist in our oceans that often have to face the consequences of our abuse of the planet.

You view more of his work on his website.

Source: Vimeo
Source: Vimeo

II. Siddharth Chakravarty, Abhishek Jamalabad & Pradip Patade | Marine Life of Mumbai

Marine Life of Mumbai (MLOM) is the brainchild of three marine enthusiasts created in 2017 —Siddharth Chakravarty, an academic researcher, Abhishek Jamalabad, a marine biologist, and Pradip Patade, a marine expert. “All three of us obviously had some connection, and immediately hit it off,” Siddharth tells Homegrown. Pradip had been documenting Mumbai’s biodiversity for a while, and was searching for a way to share his research with the public. Thus, MLOM’s Facebook page was created. “We want other people to contribute,” Siddharth tells us. “We want this initiative to be accessible to everyone.”

Through their Facebook page, MLOM wishes to create a marine database complete with a timeline, scientific names, and exact location at which the marine creatures were found and photographed. The page targets anybody interested in life within Mumbai’s waters, and wishes to encourage more people to contribute to their database. One of the ways of fulfilling this aim was through walks along Mumbai’s shores. MLOM conducts walks every month. Through their walks, MLOM hopes to urge people to have walks in their own coastlines, as well as to raise awareness about Mumbai’s marine life.

When asked about the primary motivation behind MLOM, Siddharth points to nothing but a shared interest in the marine ecosystem amongst the three founders. “We wanted to create a public platform; an open repository for people to put up their photographs and any information they had on the creatures that make up the marine ecosystem of Mumbai.” Photographs are the primary tool of propagation MLOM uses - “good photos do a lot for people; we want to use these to get people to engage with issues related to the ocean,” Siddharth tells us. “We share this city with a lot of marine life. We want to build better citizenry partnership with these issues, responsibly.” Siddharth emphasises that MLOM’s Facebook page isn’t their’s alone; it is the public’s page. It is an open platform for anyone interested to contribute.

Check out MLOM on Facebook here and their website.

Fiddler Crab photographed by Abhishek Jamalabad. Source: MLOM
Fiddler Crab photographed by Abhishek Jamalabad. Source: MLOM

III. Earth CoLab

Tasneem Khan, Umeed Mistry, Hayat Sadri, Pooja Gupta and Savita Vijayakumar – this team, each with their own set of incredible skills, myriad of experiences and stories came together to form Earth CoLab. Together they are revolutionising the way we learn, communicate, act and view the world around us through a variety of projects and initiatives. Their unique marine learning lab in the Andaman Sea provided a literal and conceptual learning environment in a laboratory and a studio aboard a traditional wooden sailboat, bringing together innovation, sustainability, science, practice, dialogue, pedagogy, documentation and continued learning through the creation of the ‘vessel for inquiry’.

With the vessel of inquiry, they aimed to first expand to the Indian Ocean region and then to the rest of the oceanic world to create a floating, mobile, open-source learning facility for students, institutions and expeditions. Students can get a hands-on practical experience of exploring the vast repositories and diversity of the Indian Ocean.

“Our Ocean as a Classroom” has been conceptualised and curated to do just this. A week-long dive adventure that took place earlier this month immersed participants into the marine world both physically and intellectually. Exploring the blue through multiple lenses can empower every recreational diver to take their interest several steps further. Their first Live-aboard trip to the Maldives was the beginning of a series of citizen science interventions. Led by Umeed Mistry, a PADI staff instructor who is an award-winning underwater photographer, writer and educator and Hayat Sadri, a PADI dive Instructor and outdoor educator with a keen interest in wildlife and field based pedagogies, this initiative intends to bridge knowledge gaps and create avenues for meaningful action.

Learn more about the team, their work and expeditions on their website here.

IV. Nayantara Jain | ReefWatch Marine Conservation

With a Masters in Marine Biology and Conservation, Nayantara took over ReefWatch that was founded by Prahlad and Mitali Kakkar in 1993, spearheading a new era for the NGO. As a vacation came to its end in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Jain decided to stay on and work as a Scuba Instructor. In an interview she states that it was after witnessing a devastating global bleaching event that killed off many coral reefs in the area that she realised that she wanted to dedicate her life to preventing such catastrophes

The mission of ReefWatch sounds simple, that is to “protect the ocean and the life within it, through education, research and management” but the ground work goes way beyond what we imagine. One of the country’s largest marine-conservation NGOs, Jain brought a fantastic and multifaceted approach to addressing climate change on our reefs at the organisation. Beyond the team’s technological efforts, they do several outreach, education and training programs across the country as well as organise events, competitions and marine trips.

Nayantara has grown to become one of the strongest voices in the fight for marine conservation and her active work to engage the local community as well as people across the country is commendable.

Learn more about ReefWatch Marine Conservation here.

Photographed by Sumeer Verma. Source: Instagram
Photographed by Sumeer Verma. Source: Instagram

V. Komal Gogi | Wild Otters

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 organisation 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 building. For instance, “On the island where I live, people believe that porcupines shoot their quills out, which is in fact 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 towards.

Learn more about the work being done by Wild Otters here.

Komal Gogi
Komal Gogi

VI. Mallika Talwar & Kanishk Srinivasan | Terra Conscious

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 funds to recharge ground water, 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, policy makers 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 emphasise 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.”

Read more about Terra Conscious here.

Kanishk Srinivasan and Mallika Talwar
Kanishk Srinivasan and Mallika Talwar

VII. Sumer Verma

Underwater photography is no joke, this we know. What with having to maintain buoyancy as you are, carry all your necessary equipment, focus on the subject, make sure you’ve got enough light, and remembering to breathe the whole time. This is why we’ve got a ton of respect for Sumer Verma’s work, that and the fact that he uses his photographs to spread much-needed awareness about the fragility of marine ecosystems, and the ways in which it affects each of our lives. Having started diving in 1997, his love for the ocean drove him to document the beauty he saw below. As a dive instructor and owner in the dive business, he gets to spend a lot of time by the ocean and indulge in this challenging art.

“People are so distracted by their own reality via social media, phones, and Facebook. I feel that anything one can do to inspire people is necessary. It doesn’t even start with underwater photography - it starts with scuba diving. You see it for yourself, experience it for yourself and you are bound to be transformed, to be environmentally conscious towards one particular thing because you have fallen in love with some element of it,” says Sumer. “My photography is to raise awareness - using facts, the beauty and the inspiration we gain. More and more voices need to do that - there is still hope. So keep bombarding people, and at some point they will be sensitised to the dangers and threats and make more educated decisions about how they want to live on this planet. It is all a collective action - one can’t sit back and just do nothing. Sharing images, wonder and joy encourage people to go diving and interact directly with the environment. It’s all about sharing the love,” he tells Homegrown when talking about the role photography has in conservation.

For more pictures and to follow Sumer’s adventures, go to his Facebook page.

Source: Instagram
Source: Instagram

VIII. Puja Mitra | Terra Conscious

Director of Terra Conscious, Puja Mitra has long been a champion for conservation with her work spanning numerous years and across organisations. Goa-based Terra Conscious focuses on ethical tourism in marine and coastal areas, engaging local communities and travellers to come together and make conscious, responsible choices. Founded in 2017 with Roshan Gonsalves, the organisation offers ethical coastal travel experiences by partnering with the local boat partners.

“We also support our travel experiences with complementary social impact programmes, that focus on creating awareness, building capacity for various stakeholders to enable them to address marine and coastal conservation challenges and engage in grassroots action,” states their website.

Their mission is to create awareness about marine life and conservation efforts while also addressing the impact it has on the surrounding communities and habitat, making the fight for a sustainable future a collaborative effort.

A conservation practitioner by profession and a Commonwealth Scholar with a Masters in Biodiversity Conservation & Management from the University of Oxford, Puja has played a leading role in the fight to save India’s oceans and marine life and changing the lens through which we look at conservation work across the country.

You can read all about the work being done by Terra Conscious on their website here.

Feature image: (L) Ajit SN & (R) Nayantara Jain.

If you liked this article we suggest you read:

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

An Underwater Guide To India – The Best Scuba Diving Spots, Films, & Volunteer Programs

Young Indians Championing Wildlife Conservation In India

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