World Oceans Day: Here's how you can protect aquatic life on your next holiday

From picking litter off the bottom of the ocean to saving sea turtles on the beach, this World Oceans Day, here’s how you can go the extra mile to preserve aquatic life.

author_img Nascimento Pinto Published :  07th June 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  07th June 2019 06:00 AM

Coral Reefs near Pondicherry (Photo: Temple Adventures)

In the last 25 days, the beaches in Dakshina Kannada were littered with corpses of 28 turtles and nine dolphins — an alarming number, according to environmentalists — enough to get the attention of conservationists too, who are now focusing increasingly on ocean conservation. Those who love the deep blue seas and the rich biodiversity they have to offer, aim to increase awareness on conserving our oceans, which more often than not is the dumping ground for everything from industrial waste to non-biodegradable plastic — responsible for choking the marine life to death. 

This is why, 10 years after it was first instituted, this year’s theme for World Oceans Day is, “to demonstrate leadership in preventing plastic pollution and share solutions that inspire and activate the global community.” Simply put, the onus of saving the oceans lies with every single citizen, who can play an active role, by simply not littering the coastline when they visit a beach, or picking up litter from ocean beds while diving in the deep sea. With ‘ethical tourism’ being the buzzword, we take a look at some of the efforts being put in by conservationists, and tell you, how you can play a part by being an ‘ethical tourist’. 

Due to the latest turn of events in Dakshina Karnataka, Bengaluru-based Shantanu Kalambi, a veterinarian with Reef Watch India, is busy working with the state government to set up a Marine Megafauna Stranding Response Network for the Karnataka coast. “The comprehensive action plan includes educating children and fishermen, and working with the Forest and Fisheries Department,” says the conservationist, who specialises in aquatic medicine. A major part of his responsibility is to treat injured whales, dolphins and sea turtles, but Shantanu says that news of these injured species rarely reaches him, as there is no system in India that facilitates the same. “All we have now is a WhatsApp group, where a bunch of volunteers stay in touch and report cases. The new system we are creating will help people report emergency cases faster, so that we can save the injured animals before they are let off into the water.” Currently, Shantanu and his team are driving down the coast handing out flyers and posters to spread awareness. Interestingly, Shantanu reveals that the government has drawn up several guidelines for marine conservation, which has been passed on to every coastal state. “The Forest and Fisheries Department have now been asked to create a Marine Cell, which will help them understand specific duties,” he adds. 

On that note, we trace conservation efforts across our coastline, and tell you what you can do to help. 

Walk the talk
Chennai-based Dr Supraja Dharini, who works with the TREE Foundation, has dedicated the last two decades of her life to protecting turtles. The Indian waters have the Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles, but the Olive Ridley turtle is the one that is most commonly found along the coast of not one, but three states — Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — primarily because they are the biggest nesting grounds for them. “We tell people to keep the beaches clean; as the Olive Ridleys only hatch on the beach they were born. If they do not find the shore, they most often end up dying,” says the founder, adding that since the 1970s, the number of Olive Ridley turtles (listed as vulnerable in the IUCN databook) have reduced by an alarming 90 per cent. So she instituted the Integrated Community-based Conservation Programme in 2002, with the aim of conserving Olive Ridley nesting sites and spreading awareness on conservation of marine life. Every year, right before nesting season, hundreds of volunteers gather to ensure the coastline is litter-free, and also make sure the mortality of the Olive Ridleys are kept to a bare minimum, through turtle walks and coastal cleanup activities. For those looking to contribute, Supraja recommends reaching out to her foundation. “Anyone can get in touch with us and find out how best they can contribute, based on their skill set,” she urges.

What lies beneath
For Mumbai-based Pawan Shourie, Founder, West Coast Adventures, deep sea diving is more than just a hobby. He has been taking his love for scuba diving to the next level by encouraging people to clean the ocean bed every time they dive into it. With dive shops in Mumbai, Goa and Karnataka, Pawan’s team of PADI, SSI divers take enthusiasts diving near the Netrani Island close to Murudeshwar and Kapu in Udipi. Pawan, a firm believer in ‘responsible diving’ does not encourage the use of plastic in any way during the trip. “I encourage people to start by doing simple things like collect small plastic they find during their dive,” says the 45-year-old scuba diver.

The ethical way
“The need for conservation arises because it is not a part of our natural ecosystem, and that is why people do not give it the importance it needs,” says Puja Mitra, a professional conservationist, who is working towards protecting dolphins in Goa. Puja is also the founder of Terra Conscious, a Goa-based ethical tourism organisation in Morjim, which is instrumental in conducting workshops and trips to watch dolphins ethically as tourists. She also runs a marine wildlife stranding response and monitors networks across Goa along with the Goa Forest Department and Drishti Marine (Goa’s lifeguard service). “All people care about is how they can check something off their bucket list; they do not care about the experience and what they are taking from watching endangered species in their natural habitat,” says Puja, as she passionately tells us about the Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphin that is on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The Ocean Biodiversity Experience is one of Terra Conscious’ mainstays, and while it may seem like any other boat ride in Goa, it is actually quite a different four-hour experience. It is not for thrill-seekers. Instead, the participants are given a presentation about conservation of dolphins and the dangers they are facing in recent years. “And if the participants are lucky, they may get to spot a dolphin or an entire pod of them in the waters,” Puja adds. 

Code blue
On the East Coast, Temple Adventures and Urban Nomads, two dive shops, lead by example, when it comes to ethical tourism in Puducherry, by involving surrounding villages and also creating an artificial reef. “We are also working on a project called Dive against Debris, an initiative to clean the ocean of all the waste including ghost nets (remains of damaged nets),” says Donarun Das, Operations Manager at Temple Adventures. A part of the proceeds from their conservation efforts goes towards a Community Outreach Program that educates children and locals from the local fishing community on sustainable fishing practices, and the effects of plastic pollution (single-use plastics and microplastics) on marine life. Urban Nomads, meanwhile, are working towards building an artificial reef to conserve life in the sea. “We are actively involved in building an artificial reef by dropping different kinds of material including different parts of trees to help life in the ocean thrive”, says Apurva Dutta, Founder of Urban Nomads. They also have programs for children, starting at the grassroots level, like Shellfish and Selfish, and Ocean Warrior, which encourage children to put shells back into the ocean, and educate them about the importance of a clean coastline.  

A plastic problem
Meanwhile, the growing concern of plastic pollution cannot be ignored. Over five trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the oceans. According to The Ocean Cleanup, founded in 2013 by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, trash accumulates in five ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean — which is what this organisation aims to do, by developing technology to extract plastic pollution from the oceans. “Plastic pollution is a major concern and so we run zero-waste trips by providing reusable bottles and cups and conduct cleanups on our Ocean Biodiversity Experience trip,” says Puja. A little close to Morjim in Goa is Wild Otters, a conservation organisation in Chorao run by Dr Katrina Fernandez, who has been working towards protecting the aquatic species. While they do not enter ocean waters and are usually found in the estuaries, they are also being affected by plastic pollution, which is being thrown back by the waters. This is another good reason to keep beaches clean because the otters do get harmed indirectly by the litter thrown around by tourists and locals alike.

A friend indeed 
A scuba diving programme — focussed on youngsters from the coastal areas—is Thiruvananthapuram-based organisation Friends of Marine Life’s latest approach to align marine research and traditional wisdom. By exploring and clearing the sea beds, volunteers of this NGO are focussed on conserving marine life in whatever way they can. “Most studies are conducted in lab environments and completely detached from the natural habitats,” says the 57-year-old founder Robert Panipilla, who aims to improve the capacity of citizen scientists through the initiative. Currently receiving advanced level training—which would equip them to dive beyond 30 metres depth—seashore dwellers can even provide aid during accidents or disasters if imparted with rescue training. Special attention is also given to higher secondary students who wish to pursue a passionate career in marine studies. Presently involving seven youngsters from the city, the team is looking forward to collaborations and funding to expand the plan to other areas along Kerala’s sprawling coastline.

What's the date?
Know Your Fish is a non-profit initiative launched by three marine biologists - Pooja Rathod, Mayuresh Gangal and Chetana Purushottam, a little over two years ago. Primarily along the west coast, they also launched a monthly seafood calendar which will help people make informed seafood choices. “People and Chefs in restaurants can learn about the different species of fish and can choose what they want to eat based on the fish breeding cycles so that they do not harm the natural process”, Pooja elaborates for us. Mumbai-based restaurants Bombay Canteen and O Pedro are some of the restaurants currently following their calendar religiously. The calendars are available on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram. People can also actively subscribe to the calendar by typing JOIN (SPACE) KYFISH and sending to 9220092200. While they are currently working on fine-tuning and collating enough data for their calendars, they are also hoping to start a mobile application soon.

How to be an ethical tourist: 
● Do not litter beaches when you visit them. Clean up after your visit.

● Make sure you do not disturb the natural habitat of fish through tourism activities. 

● Undertake diving activities which help clean the ocean — like picking up trash from the ocean floors while diving. 

● Reduce the use of plastic on your next beach visit.  

● Look for the recycling points and leave everything as you found it. 

●Volunteer with local communities or global NGOs that are working towards marine conservation.