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PEOPLE AND THE SEA: FINDING A SUSTAINABLE BALANCE

Story by United Nations Development Programme September 8th, 2016
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When the eggs of olive ridley turtles hatch, Suhas Torasker carefully collects them from under the sand and releases them into the sea.

Suhas Toraskar

It’s not the role you might expect a fisherman such as Suhas to play. But he’s one of a growing group of residents of a fishing village in Sindhudurg, on the west coast of India, who are taking care to preserve the endangered turtles and other species.

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For Suhas and others like him, biodiversity—the stunning array of animal and plant life in the area—is not just an abstraction. Their lives depend on it.

Of the 63 million people who live on India’s coastline, the great majority depend on the coast for jobs in fishing, tourism, and other areas. And that means protecting the biodiversity that keeps the ecosystem in balance.

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But that balance is threatened in Sidhuburg, which is one of 11 ecologically critical habitats in the country. That threat is largely because of destructive fishing practices.

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Worldwide, people eat four times as much fish today as they did in 1950. To keep up, the global fishing fleet—India is the second-largest producer of fish in the world—is putting a demand on fish supplies that is 2-3 times greater than the oceans can support over time. At this rate, fish catch in tropical areas is expected to decline 40 percent by 2050, jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of people.

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But the threat is reduced and may be reversed, thanks in part to UNDP’s partnership with the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Government of Maharashtra, the state where the area is located. The partnership is supported by the Global Environmental Facility.

The project helps protect life under water, and helps fishing communities create “sustainable livelihoods”—ways of making a living that won’t compromise the welfare of themselves or their children in years to come.

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In practical terms, that means changing how they fish—such as by limiting the “by-catch” (the number of unwanted fish that are caught), and using mesh nets in trawlers to protect biodiversity. One sign of progress is the fact that the number of olive ridley turtle nesting areas protected by villagers increased five-fold in just two years.

Other residents in the area benefit from the project in other ways. Instead of catching mangrove crabs, fishermen like Anna Dhoke are now breeding them—making for much bigger yields.

Anna Dhoke

Lakshman Naik, a farmer in Asoli village, has used a “rice intensification system” to increase his crop yield by almost half, and is no longer so dependent on chemicals or fertilizers.

Lakshman Naik
Lakshman Naik

Even in tourism, things are growing. Snorkeling guides have been trained to help tourists explore the sea in ecologically friendly ways, and that means bigger incomes for young people working in the tourist industry.

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In another nearby village, Wadatar, Kasturi Dhoke examines oyster spats that form under shells left on bamboo frames.

Together, they have shown that community action is vital to protecting biodiversity, and by extension, ourselves.

Kasturi Dhoke
Footnote: Photos: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India
Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, India