Growing up along the coast, it was the sea that inspired Divya to dedicate her life to marine conservation. During her studies, Divya’s interest in marine ecology grew. It inspired her to set up a Young Women in Conservation programme, enabling 480 students to participate in local marine conservation. This was just the start of an impressive list of marine-conservation programmes she would create. Among other programmes, Divya helped set up the Turtle Action Group and founded Inseason Fish. The Turtle Action Group is a self-governed India wide network of NGO’s, which Divya trained in conservation research. Alongside her PhD, Divya founded InSeason Fish as an initiative to tackle the challenge of sharks as fisheries bycatch.
Vision and approach
Fishing is always accompanied by bycatch, the incidental capture of non-target species while catching target species and target sizes of fish. The Coromandel Coast is known for landings of critically endangered largetooth sawfish, the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark and knifetooth sawfish. It is suggested that the bycatch of these species increases with certain currents, at locations that also harbour commercially valuable fishes. The domestic demand for shark meat is identified as being a primary driver of retaining shark bycatch in India. By drawing connections between people and marine wildlife that don’t immediately seem obvious (for instance, by involving chefs), Divya addresses a whole new group of conservationists. Divya relies on three approaches to achieve marine species conservation. Firstly, she uses scientific evidence to guide her conservation actions. Secondly, she translates scientific results so they can be understood by the public. And her third approach is setting up conservation tools like InSeason Fish, sustainable fisheries are promoted and the bycatch of sharks will be reduced.
Impact of FFN-award
- A shark conservation programme targeting shark bycatch and consumption will be set up. This programme will inform fishermen about the threatened status of sharks in Indian waters, monitor seasonality and locations of shark bycatch to propose seasonal no-take areas and “Shark Ambassadors” will be identified and incentivised.
- With the financial support of the FFN-award demand for shark products will be reduced by targeting information about threatened Indian sharks to more than 20,000 people. Alongside this, Divya will work with chefs to create alternatives to Sorrah Puttu, a speciality shark dish on restaurant menus.
- It will become possible to construct SharkWatch, a citizen-science programme to record data on shark fishing and landings at major fishing harbours along the Coromandel coast
“Divya is clearly an outstanding leader, and has already initiated an impressive number of programmes and organisations focused on marine species conservation in India. She is now giving her attention to multiple globally threatened shark species, working with an impressively wide array of stakeholders. She is clearly a creative, serious, focused person with an excellent understanding of social, political, economic and biological issues, and the need to integrate these.” – Simon Stuart, International Selection Committee