Yuvan Aves of Madras Naturalist Society explains the importance of knowing about local biodiversity with a shorewalk at Chennai's Elliot Beach

Along the clear waters of Elliots Beach, Yuvan Aves of Madras Naturalist Society details the importance of shore walks, local biodiversity and his project at Chennai Photo Biennale

author_img Kannalmozhi Kabilan Published :  23rd December 2021 12:44 PM   |   Published :   |  23rd December 2021 12:44 PM
The shore walk is part of a physical exhibition by Yuvan Aves for his CPB project | Photo by Yogesh

The shore walk is part of a physical exhibition by Yuvan Aves for his CPB project | Photo by Yogesh

When the water by the beach is too blue and clear (locally termed marappu), visibility is high and fish tend to avoid the area. Such was the way at Elliots Beach last Sunday. It so happened that it was the time for olni – thermohaline current where very cold water from under the ocean comes up because the upper waters are saturated. This allows certain deep sea fish — like squid or cuttlefish — to surface. The fisherfolk had put out their kadama valai (trammel net) to catch what comes along.

When they reel the net in, some of the catch tends to escape or slip out. Cashing in on this easy bounty were, to your surprise and mine, dolphins! If you’re thinking that’s quite a rare occurrence, you’d be quite wrong, points out Yuvan Aves of Madras Naturalist Society. “We actually have a lot of dolphins on our shore. Once in a few months, we see them. And very close too. Two months ago, we were at Neelangarai doing a bicap survey and 50 metres from the shore was a pod of dolphins. People don’t see,” he says. 

While this practised ignorance seems to be the norm in our urban milieu, a group of 20-odd Chennaiites got to step out of that space and witness a little bit of magic. Thanks to the shore walk organised by Yuvan and Madras Naturalist Society, in association with Chennai Photo Biennale.

“I’m one of the exhibiting artists of CPB. I’m project lead for an initiative through MNS where we’re trying to document the entire Tamil Nadu coast — its biodiversity, local knowledge and threats. As part of that, my project for CPB is the living coast. There will be an online release of that exhibition. The physical exhibition, on my part, is taking people on shore walks. The thrust was for the currents, winds — things we should know locally about our own geography. We also see the biodiversity on the coast, their interconnection, the importance of coastal ecosystem (beaches, in particular), local knowledge and the way of the fisherfolk,” he explains.

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The walks are also a means to inform people of how artisanal fishing is different from commercial fishing. How the former is a way of inhabitation where the beach and ocean and their wealth is a part of the fisherfolk’s identity; so, they have practices that make them live sustainably out there. And point out how they are being marginalised. The walks organised for children focus on aspects of enthusiasm, like biodiversity. Beach Bingo comes in handy here. “Barrenness is a state of mind, not a state of land,” points out Yuvan. 

But there’s dream. “If we have a culture of shore walking, that really goes to make our own lives richer and more connected. At the same time, it’s a conservation force. When we were campaigning against a road on the Adyar Estuary. We went on the beach and asked people to sign a letter but no one was interested. Because you are not connected to the place, it is not part of your selfhood. There’s also an entitlement for leisure. But when the Mumbai Coastal Road was built, hundreds of people were making noise. Because the Marine Life of Mumbai guys have been shore walking for years,” he recounts. Perhaps this is our start. 

On part of CPB, Yuvan’s shore walk is part of their third edition of the Photography and Visual Arts Biennale, which is on till February 6. While their public exhibitions usually extend to parks, railway stations and such, the pandemic has them moving their works to intimate spaces or online. The online exhibition is up and their are screenings of video artworks that are coming up too. Despite the struggles of hosting such a project amid the pandemic, CPB is getting as creative as it can to fulfil their role, says Shuchi Kapoor. They have students’ showcase coming up in January. Sanitised workshops is another medium in which they are finding success. And there’s plenty more in the works, she says.

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