Youth and Marine Biodiversity Conservation
Deepak Apte, Bombay Natural History Society, email@example.com
‘We adults easily turn cynical and despondent and are often paralysed into inaction by the enormity of the problems that confront us. But the true champions of the oceans, our children and youths, suffer no such infirmity. They march on… confident that with nature on their side, they and the myriad creatures of the deep, will outlast those inflicting unspeakable trauma on our beautiful, blue planet’… Bittu Sahgal
The fact so poignantly put forward by Bittu that really echoes the need of an hour. Our ever expanding knowledge on conservation science also brought in new challenges. Our conventional ways of governing resources are slowly becoming outdated and irrelevant. While we still need wisdom of our stalwarts, baton of fighting conservation battle has to now be given to the youth. If we could channelize the rushing hormones in to more constructive way, youth can play a crucial role in combating new challenges of conservation.
The debate of youth and conservation takes me back to the memories of Lakshadweep, where I have worked with local communities to conserve coral reefs and giant clams with assistance from LEAD International and Darwin Initiative.
The entire design of the project was based on the premise that the youth will be trained in natural resource management and idea of India’s first marine conservation reserve started taking shape. Four years down the line, sustained efforts of the community facilitators, paved the way to the idea of Agatti Conservation Reserve, endorsed by the locally elected body (Panchayat). This idea, however, ended with cynicism of a few – as Bittu puts forward so eloquently ‘adults easily turn cynical and despondent and are often paralysed into inaction by the enormity of the problems that confront us’. Though legal regimes of empowering locals for natural resource conservation needs further strengthening, the bottom up approach may be the order of the day.
The case proved a point that conservation goals can be achieved with sound scientific support, understanding the local needs, and linking livelihoods to conservation. Another important prerequisite is that the processes must be transparent, inclusive and participatory. A good example is from the Lakshadweep, where two young girls- Ms. Tajunnisa and Ms. Hasina, both aged 22, won the Sanctuary-RBS Award in the year 2008 for their remarkable work garnering local community support for the Agatti Conservation Reserve. The initiative was then rewarded by Whitley Conservation Award in 2008 in London.
The initiative may not have reached its logical conclusion as yet, but it certainly brought in an army of youth in Lakshadweep conservation arena. Establishment of Lakshadweep Marine Research and Conservation Center (LMRCC) run by a band of youths (who were part of Agatti Conservation Reserve initiative) is now driving conservation agenda of the islands.
The Youth Power? The Lakshadweep Marine Research and Conservation Center (LMRCC) is nothing but youth- well articulated and with channelized hormonal energy. It is a group of youth between 19-28 years working for saving sea turtles, whale shark, Pitty Bird Sanctuary and now proposing a new marine sanctuary ‘Perumal Par Marine Sanctuary’. They are not only doing ground work, but also are now member of Lakshadweep Wildlife Advisory Board and now helping administration to develop climate change adaptation plan.
Another example which emerged from Agatti Conservation Reserve initiative is Sandy Beach Café. A group of 10 youth, who used to run an evening café, participated in tourism training workshop’ arranged by BNHS in 2005 and 2006 as a part of Agatti Conservation Reserve. These young enterpreneurs got excited about the idea of non-intrusive tourism and in 2008, they ventured out taking a small credit from a bank to build a glass bottom boat and started sea turtle watching trips for locals. Not only they paid back the credit in one year, they expanded well and in 2010, they developed their independent SCUBA facility.
Impressed with the journey of Agatti Conservation Reserve, HSBC Next Generation Development Programme chose Agatti as their destination for the training of their young employees in 2008. About 20 youth from HSBC Global assembled in Agatti for a week long training on mutually beneficial association; understanding Agatti Conservation Reserve as a model from locals and use their knowledge to develop economically viable model of value added economy to support the fund raising agenda for Agatti Conservation Reserve.
A similar model is now in making in coastal Konkan. A gang of 10 young scientists and five field assistants under BNHS Conservation Team is on a five year expedition. The expedition is takeing place in coastal Konkan to identify priority marine biodiversity areas through rigorous scientific assessment and assess the impact of power plants, ports, jetties and other coastal infrastructure on the rich inter-tidal marine biodiversity. Vishal won Sanctuary-RBS Young Naturalist Award in 2009 for his remarkable effort to discover many new species.
The success of Agatti Conservation Reserve or Konkan Initiative reverberates with many such stories. The bottom line is clear – “Empower youth to be the change agents. It is this generation that will play a decisive role in driving conservation agenda of the Country”.
Displacing people from the livelihood in the name of conservation will only create enemies. Making them part of conservation battle may be another way of moving forward. It is so true that conservation can no longer be separated from its political, economical and ecological context. Who else than youth can be the drivers of this changed paradigm?
Deepak Apte, a post graduate in Marine Biology, is the Deputy Director at the Bombay Natural History Society. For over 20 years he has been exploring marine life at various parts of Indian coast, and has authored 3 books and 28 scientific articles. He is the member of Task Force on Marine Biodiversity Conservation set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. In 2008, he received prestigious Whitley Conservation Award given by the Shears Foundation for his work of establishing community managed marine protected area and saving Giant Clams in Lakshadweep. He is a Fellow of the Smithsonian Environmental Leadership Programme, LEAD-India, International Visitors Programme, USA and Duke University Marine Programme. Deepak is an excellent wildlife photographer and Advance Open Water PADI diver.
❝Empower youth to be the change agents. It is this generation that will play a decisive role in driving conservation agenda of the Country. . . . . . . . . . conservation can no longer be separated from its political, economical and ecological context. Who else than youth can be the drivers of this changed paradigm?❞