PIONEERING ECOTOURISM IN A COASTAL VILLAGE MR. S. SATHISH, FOREST RANGE OFFICER, TAMIL NADU Sustainable Use of Biological Resources (Individual) WINNER
Kaarankadu is a mangrove-rich village in Tamil Nadu with fishing as a primary source of livelihood for its people. Over the years, a severe drop in the availability of fish in the region due to increasing marine pollution along with ever-increasing cost of living deeply affected the income of the villagers. Their survival would further become backbreaking during the fishing ban period. However, the location is also highly favourable for adventure tourism activities including boating, kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving. Located in the fringes of Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, it is rich in corals and sea-grass beds, even attracting Dugong, the rare herbivorous sea cow. Owing to the rich marine biodiversity of this mangrove village, the majority of the inhabitants rely on fishing for their day-to-day needs. However, over the years, the rising cost of living had made life difficult for them. To add to their problems, effluents from adjacent shrimp farms have been polluting the sea water, harming marine species and the overall ecosystem. This also reduced fish catch, further limiting the community’s livelihood. During the fishing ban period, survival would become backbreaking for the community. This also forced a few fishermen to take tourists inside the seas illegally. Overall, the people of Kaarankadu village were surviving with a meagre income, inevitably looking upon additional income sources. Upon taking charge as the Forest Range Officer at Ramanathapuram Forest Range, Mr. S. Sathish enabled a series of transformative actions to materialise the ecotourism potential of the village. With the active support and participation of the residents, he resurrected the barely functional Eco-Development Committee (EDC) in 2017 to involve the locals in conservation activities as well as to promote employment and sustenancebased programmes. Today, nature protection and livelihood co-exist peacefully in the village, reaping rich benefits of Sathish’s consistent efforts in realising the ecotourism potential of the region.
Need for the Initiative
With a vision to reap rich benefits, Mr. S. Sathish began with involving the local communities to develop and operationalise an ecotourism facility in the village. However, he faced strong opposition from the villagers, who were hesitant to engage with the Forest Department due to the fear of losing their fishing rights in the area. He also faced resistance from those fisherfolk who were involved in illegal tourist boating. To overcome these hurdles, Mr S. Sathish made persistent efforts to convince the locals and in this regard, he adopted an innovative approach by speaking to a gathering of 1000 villagers during a Church mass. He initiated dialogues with local villagers to convince them of the existing ecotourism potential of the area to help them earn their livelihood besides protecting the mangrove forests for ecological restoration. The villagers provided a green signal for establishing the facility and the initiative was finally begun by reviving the EDC. The local community joined hands with the Forest Department (FD) and an agreement was signed between the EDC and FD with a benefit sharing modality of 60:40 (EDC:FD) for income sharing. By refurbishing the garbage disposal yard with funding from the Mangrove scheme and outside sponsorship, an eco-hut facility was built, setting the ground for the start of ecotourism in the area. Tourists were able to enjoy the region’s natural beauty through activities like boating, kayaking, and snorkelling. They also have a small cafeteria where they serve authentic local seafood which has gained popularity for its taste.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
Mr. S. Sathish also facilitated to cater to various stakeholders for making the initiative a successful entity.
• Forest Department was the main partner with 40% share and it helped in making this initiative possible by providing active support to Mr. S. Sathish. They carried out mangrove plantation activities and also provided the necessary equipment and infrastructure like kayaks, lifejackets, walkways etc.
• An NGO called Arumbugal was engaged for awareness and capacity building of the local community regarding importance of nature conservation, environmental issues and specifically mangrove conservation. The NGO also made a micro-plan for the ecotourism initiative.
• Mr S. Sathish facilitated a visit by Executive Members to Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Trust (GOMBRT) to train the locals on the functioning of EDC thereby making them understand their roles and responsibilities.
• Other line departments like fisheries department helped with ensuring the safety of boats and marine police assisted with the local safety by patrolling. The tourism department helped with Woutreach by providing signage boards. Locals are extremely committed to regulating resource use in their community. They have been following appropriate procedures to ensure that the natural resource pool does not deplete for centuries. They only fish using traditional country (Lambadi) boats, keeping the rate of replenishment well within self-imposed limits of 2-3 hours per day, despite the lack of a scientific criteria. The harvesting of sea cucumbers has been prohibited in the area. They also deny outsiders from entering their area for fishing. All of these factors contribute to the food chain’s integrity and, as a result, biodiversity. Various conservation activities have been implemented by the forest department. Every year, five hectares of mangroves are planted to increase the area covered. The department has refused to renew the license of shrimp farms that polluted the area by releasing their effluents. Using an outsourced cultural team, Mr. S. Sathish also assisted in conducting various awareness drives among the residents on sustainability, plastic pollution, marine pollution, solid waste management, and other topics. The establishment of the eco-tourism initiative has largely helped the local fishermen community to earn their livelihood as well as contribute to the conservation of mangrove forests in the area.
• The annual mangrove plantation activities conducted by the Forest Department contribute towards maintaining the water quality in the area as mangroves filter the sediments and other pollutants through their roots. They also help to reduce the effect of cyclones and other natural disasters.
• The local community earns an additional income by engaging tourists in experiential activities such as boating, kayaking and snorkelling. Overall, each of the 300 families has been able to generate an additional income of at least INR 3000 in addition to their fishing income. • The initiative also benefits the locals through the sale of products to tourists that are made by adjacent EDCs and residents.
• The area is emerging as a thriving adventure tourism hub where tourists get to experience boating, kayaking and snorkelling. They also get to taste authentic local seafood at a small cafeteria run by the local community.
• The ecotourism initiative has also helped greatly in creating awareness regarding nature conservation among the locals and tourists.
Recognition in india biodiversity awards-
MR. S. SATHISH, FOREST RANGE OFFICER, TAMIL NADU under the category of Sustainable Use of Biological Resources (Individual) received WINNER in india biodiversity awards 2021.