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Cleaning The Seabed : Fishermen Are Turning Into Scuba-Divers To Clean The Ocean Bed Of ‘Ghost Nets’ Which Are Killing Marine Life

Images Credits: Temple Adventures

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For most of us, scuba diving is merely a vacation activity, bringing out our adventurous side. But, for Puducherry fishermen Desapan, Karthi or Ravi, scuba diving has transformed their lives, giving them more identity and recognition than ever, aside from ensuring a better income and better livelihood. Thanks to professional scuba diver SB Aravind and his team ‘Templa Adventures’, these fishermen are now engaged in clearing the ocean bed of ‘ghost nets’, plastic waste, aiming to restore the marine biodiversity in the region.

“It took us years to convince the fishermen about this activity, as they felt underwater diving is driving their fish away. They were not very fond of us, needless to say. See today, many of the fishermen have changed their profession into full-time divers and piloting ocean bed cleaning drives in Puducherry, Chennai and Kanyakumari coast,” reveals SB Aravind, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

The ‘ghost nets’ which killed the fish

There was a time when fishing was limited to small boats and daring fishermen who braved the stormy seas for their families. Now they can only be found as protagonists of yellowed novels. Since the inception of big trawlers and large nylon fishing nets, survival has become challenging for individual fishermen, as well as the marine aquatic life.

The fishermen who spend their whole day in the sea rarely think twice before throwing plastic carry bags or bottles into the water. Rainwater also washes away plastic waste from landfills and dump yards into the ocean.

“While sailing through narrow coves, the big fishing nets hanging from trawlers often get caught in the reefs. The fishermen are left with no choice but to cut the nets and sail forward. These nets, called ‘ghost nets’, end up spanning kilometres of the sea bed. Fish, aquatic animals and even live corals are left stuck there to die,” explains Aravind.
In addition, climate change and heating up of the ocean water is also harming the biodiversity manifolds.

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Aravind’s Temple Adventures is working since 2012 to get rid of these ghost nets and save the marine life stuck in these unintended traps. Initially, the fishermen felt that the scuba diving and water sports in the sea is harming their fish. Unaware of reality, their littering activities continued. “We made them realise it was not the scuba-divers, but the plastic bottles, plates, cups, fishing nets and other debris which is killing the fish. Their trust grew when our team rescued a group of fishermen following a boat accident mid-sea,” shares Aravind.

Fishermen-turned-scuba-divers

Soon, the fishermen underwent training in scuba diving and how to rescue the trapped creatures. For most of them, the experience served as an eye-opener. “Once I saw the helpless fish struggling inside the ghost net, I felt that fishing was cruel,” shares Desapan, one of the scuba- diving captains who gave up his family occupation of fishing. “I am living a better life today. I am earning way more than I did through fishing as well as saving the ocean,” he adds.

The change that called a whale shark

At present, Aravind’s organisation has a team of around 30 fishermen-turned-divers across different coasts in Tamil Nadu who partake weekly ocean bed cleaning operations. Every time, they excavate around 100 to 200 kg of waste. Sometimes, the quantity reaches even 500 kg. Though slow, the progress has really started to reflect in these six years as the rich biodiversity is regrowing in the once-deserted underwater zones. In fact, the team even spotted the rare whale shark recently, which was hardly ever found before in the area.

Awareness is the keyword for all what Aravind does. He wishes to scale up ocean clean-up initiatives and involve volunteers from among the public as well. “We hear about the success of beach cleaning operations, I want a similar response for ocean clean-up as well,” he reveals. “Again, please stop littering the ocean if you want the planet to survive,” he insists with an appeal to all.

The fish and the fishermen are not the only lives Aravind has impacted. He conducts a range of training courses – be it for marine police or coastal guards. He is also the first instructor from India who gives scuba-diving lessons to the differently-abled at a nominal fee.

Efforts For Good take

At a time when a lot of stakeholders are taking actions to curb plastic pollution on land, marine plastic pollution is a neglected domain. At the same time, the fishermen are perhaps the people most closely associated with the ocean. Aravind has realised the incredible concept of joining the two together for a noble cause. In the quaint coasts of Puducherry, these new divers are working day and night away from the limelight to restore the ocean. Efforts For Good applauds the first-of-its-kind initiative by Puducherry fishermen and hopes their counterparts all over India follow suit.

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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