Making the Oceans a Priority: An Interview with Nayantara Jain
Nayantara Jain is the Executive Director of ReefWatch Marine Conservation, a not-for-profit organisation we have joined hands with in an effort to spread awareness about issues our oceans face.
This week, Nayantara took some time to talk to Sui about her efforts in marine conservation, her deep love of the ocean and the need to protect it.
Do you remember the first moment you fell in love with the ocean?
I don’t think I have any one moment that defines the start of my relationship with the sea. I’ve been in love with the ocean for as long as I can remember. I remember spending every evening playing on the beach when we lived in Karwar back when I was 6 years old. I remember making sand castles and daring a wave to catch me as a kid on the beaches of Mahabalipuram. I remember the surreal feeling of almost drowning when I went too far into the ocean as a young child.
Through all of it, I loved the sea and I have new moments of falling in love with it all the time. When I’m sitting on a beach watching the phosphorescence shine with every breaking wave, when I’m on the bow of the boat returning home after a great dive, when I watch the sunset at our base and watch it paint the sea fire-coloured.
How did you journey into marine biology begin?
I worked as a Scuba Diving Instructor for a couple of years in Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands. During this time, I saw firsthand the damage that was being done to marine ecosystems due to human activities. I saw bleaching coral reefs, changing oceans thanks to climate change, overfishing, excessive plastic use, the startling lack of awareness of the ocean and its importance to our lives in our country.
And slowly I became certain that I wanted to be a part of turning that tide. I wanted to work in marine conservation. But I felt that it was very important to study the subject first, get an academic understanding of it, and so I applied for a masters in marine biology, got accepted at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and began this journey.
Tell us more about your experiences diving. What do you love about it and what would you say to a first-time diver?
I love being in the ocean. I love the silence when you are underwater, there is a great peace that comes with being weightless, held in saltwater, hearing only the sound of your own breathing. I love the grace it adds to your movements. And then, of course, there is everything you see - fish, sea turtles, rays, sharks, crabs, lobsters… You get to interact with all these varied life forms on their terms, in their space without any walls or cages separating you and that for me is magical. Every time I put on my scuba gear and enter the ocean, there is this feeling of wonder and excitement - there is a sense of mystery and awe and you never know what you might see and I love that.
To a first time diver, I’d say surrender to the sea. Enter the ocean with respect but without fear. With excitement but without expectation. And go slow. Many first-time divers go really fast and miss all the incredible small creatures in the ocean. So, perfect your buoyancy and swim slowly without too much excessive movement and let the fish come to you.
Tell us a little more about ReefWatch and your work with them.
ReefWatch was founded in 1993 by Prahlad & Mitali Kakar. They began ReefWatch after a life-changing dive trip they took in Mauritius. Upon returning they realised that India also had these vibrant, unexplored coral reefs that so few people knew about. When they began diving on these reefs, they realised that though they were unexplored, the reefs were still being impacted by human activities on land. That is when they set up ReefWatch, to educate, raise awareness, drive research, advise policy and actively conserve India's marine life.
I now run ReefWatch in the capacity of Executive Director. We are involved in awareness and education work, coral reef restoration projects in the Andamans and are now working to expand our activities into the mainland coast as well.
What is the greatest challenge you've faced so far since you started this journey?
Scalability. While our projects have all worked really well on a small scale, it is a big challenge to find the people and the money to scale up efforts and make a big difference across the vast area of India’s coastline and ocean.
What are 5 little steps you would suggest to our readers to help in fighting for our oceans?
- Reduce single-use plastic. Avoid buying packaged mineral water, using plastic bags, straws, packaged snacks, cling film etc.
- Eat sustainable seafood. There are many websites and apps that tell you what fish are okay to eat during what season. Overfishing is a massive problem in the ocean and eating sustainably is the only real solution.
- Avoid microplastics. Many cosmetics - like exfoliating face scrubs and shower gels - have tiny beads of plastic in them. These are not filtered out through any sewage treatment systems and always finds their way into the ocean.
- Be a conscious consumer. Take your patronage and spending power to brands that are sustainable in their choice of materials and packaging. Whether this is in clothing, cosmetics, food, or any other facet.
- Limit your consumption. Things never bring us happiness, experiences do. Buy only what you absolutely need, buy only what you will use many many times and then repair it, revamp it, repurpose it, recycle it. Save your money and use it on life-changing experiences instead!
If the ocean was your friend and you could speak to it, what would you say to it?
To support ReefWatch in their efforts, check out our Sui X ReefWatch t-shirts available here. The proceeds go to their Ocean Art Sundays program that is dedicated to educating children in coastal villages about their surrounding marine ecosystems and how to take care of them so that they will exist for years to come.
Join our cause!