India’s Andaman Sea is home to extremely diverse life forms, from pocket seahorses to giant dugongs. And exploring this diverse marine ecosystem requires exceptional diving skills, especially if you’re diving for conservation rather than recreational purposes.
While popular films and documentaries have inspired most of us to explore marine life through scuba diving expeditions, it’s unlikely that many will end up making a career out of it. However, the Executive Director of ReefWatch Marine Conservation, Nayantara Jain, is unique!
What started as a family trip to Havelock Island in the Andamans inspired Nayantara to take up scuba diving. Not only did she become a scuba diving instructor, but she went further to pursue studies in marine biology. She is now involved in the conservation of Andaman coral habitats, one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet, as part of her job.
On this Women’s Day, we spoke to Nayantara to understand what it means to be a female marine conservationist and dive instructor.
What inspired you to go from scuba diving instructor to marine biologist?
In 2010 I witnessed a massive coral bleaching event on one of my dives. And in the space of just a few weeks, entire swaths of coral reef – which I would dive or snorkel over almost every day – bleached and perished. It was a turning point for me. Although I knew it would take me another two years before I could enter a master’s program in marine biology, it was a definite goal that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my professional life to the conservation of these habitats.
How can scuba diving contribute to wildlife conservation? Are there such citizen science programs for enthusiasts?
Once you are a competent and experienced diver, there are many ways you can contribute to conservation. You can participate in monitoring efforts around the world, share images of marine life with conservation organizations as well as among your peers to raise awareness and volunteer in coral restoration projects.
Could you tell us more about the reef restoration project?
Re(ef)Generate, our coral reef restoration project in the Andaman Islands, actively seeks to restore damaged coral reefs. We typically use mineral accretion technology to pass safe low voltage electrical currents through seawater, dissolving minerals and forming calcium carbonate. The coral larvae adhere to the calcium carbonate and proliferate.
We also save pieces of coral that have broken off from the reef and fallen onto the sand by attaching them to stable metal frames next to the natural reef and supplying these frames with a small electrical voltage via solar panels floating above . This helps coral fragments grow faster and expands the reef’s natural habitat.
Were there/were there any particular challenges that you had to face as a woman working in this field?
I was blessed with a very supportive family who never stopped me from living or working in remote places and gave me the opportunities, responsibilities and freedom they gave my brother . I also had fantastic colleagues and an ecosystem where I felt safe. So, in that sense, I haven’t encountered any challenges unique to women on the pitch, but I recognize that it’s not the norm and I’ve been uniquely lucky in that regard.
How to become a coral reef keeper?
By donating Rs. 35,000/- you are supporting the maintenance and monitoring of a small part of our restored reef for one year. Every year in June, we open our reef guardian spots to the public. You can follow our social media page @reefwatchinde to see updates on the opening of these spots.
What message would you like to convey to all those women who wish to pursue a career in wildlife conservation or marine biology?
Marine biology and conservation are relatively nascent careers; it gives you a great opportunity to chart your own course in which you don’t have to adapt to a preconceived idea of what a professional in this field looks, talks or acts. You will be richly rewarded as long as you bring rigor and passion to this work.
This article is an expert interview, and the opinions of the interviewee do not necessarily represent the official views of The Weather Channel. Few answers have been partially edited for length and clarity.
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