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When Our Food Security Depends On Oceans, Isn’t It Time We Protect Them?

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Save the Sea to Save our Future…

Woman separating fish at a fishery
Photographer: Eva Badola

Fish is a bountiful source of food and nutrition. It will help us to achieve the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals of attaining food security challenge by the year 2050.

With nearly 3,288 marine fishing villages and 4 million fisher population of which 61% lie in BPL (Below Poverty Line) category, fisheries are an important means of livelihood in India.

More than 10% of the world human population meets food security through fish income.

What is happening?

The fishing community traditionally fished from the wild sea for subsistence. With fishing technology and the Pink revolution, a portentous boom in the fish economy was witnessed. Soon fishermen along coastal pockets of eastern and western India complained about the drastic decline in fish in the past five years.

The fisher-folks lying under the most backward class derive their major economy from marine fish resources. Several interactions with older fishermen revealed many species were no more found in their fish catch in the local sea in the past two decades. Fishermen report a shift in their usual fishing zones over time, making their catch very unpredictable.

Looking For The Source Of The Problem

1. Extraction beyond ocean capacity

A definite relation exists between industrial fish harvesting and over-extraction. Unsustainable fishing practices have drastically declined fish resources.

Trawling is an industrial fishing technique which is highly unsustainable. In bottom trawling, a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor using one or more boats. The heavy gears and chains literally scrap the ocean bed, destroying coral reefs and marine life habitats. Imagine the massive trawl equivalent to a bulldozer destroying everything in its way.

Even deep-sea trawling can cause permanent deep-water damage, killing young ones on their way to deeper grounds. Trawler extracts fishes from few hundred meters to four km in depth, destroying pristine oceanic habitats.

Ocean supports millions of weaker socio-economic sections in India such as fisherwomen. Women buy and sell small forage fishes like Sardine and Anchovies that are purchased from small-boats. They sun-dry the fishes that serve as an excellent protein source for their family during lean seasons. Once the firm backbone of the fishing sector, fisherwomen are now facing stiff competition from big trawler boats that are exporting high-quality fishes through middlemen.

Double trawler filled with catches and by-catches.
Double trawler filled with catches and by-catches. Source: earthtimes

2. Climatic change, changing ocean and fish movement

In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Unexpected environmental changes are forcing high fluctuations in water currents, frequent storms and wind movement. This is forcing fish to change their swimming zones.

This holds true for the open sea fish like Sardine, Anchovies and Mackerel. These species are sensitively driven by ocean temperature and food sources. Hence, they are showing greater migration towards cooler waters due to global warming.

3. Plastic-plastic everywhere and where the fish would live

It is predicted that by 2050, plastic will outnumber fish in the oceans.

We must be aware of the famous “Great Pacific Patch Island“—a 1.6 million square kilometre mass of marine debris particles in the North Pacific Ocean circulating with ocean and wind movements. We have four more “Garbage Patch Islands” in the North and South of Atlantic, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean…with many more to discover.

Single-use plastic, ghost nets and ropes along the harbour and coast of India is a common sight. Under the impact of water movement and sunlight, plastic easily fragments into smaller pieces called micro-plastics that are five millimetres across or even smaller to nano size. Micro-plastics are pervasive and persistent in nature. Fishes like Anchovies mistakenly eat micro-plastics attracted by their smell. Tiny pieces appear to smell similar to their natural prey.

Micro-plastics make their way into our food chain through fish.

Plastic is a grave threat to Ocean life:

  • Nearly 700 Marine species are reported to eat or get entangled in plastic litter.
  • Out of 693 documented species involved in an encounter with plastic debris, nearly 400 of them suffered entanglement and ingestion.
  • Plastic impacts all varieties of sea turtles and more than half of mammals and sea bird species.
Oceanic animals entangled in plastic
Havoc of Plastic under water. Source: The National Wildlife Federation 2019

Inventing Actions

Divert Pressure and Diversify Livelihood

Unmonitored wild fish harvesting leads to over-fishing. Indian fisheries are highly diversified in nature, i.e., different varieties of catches in a single day. This makes their monitoring and surveillance a tedious task.

The pressure, however, can be diverted through inland fish farms and aquaculture. Here, both freshwater and marine organisms can be raised in ponds or tanks. Hatcheries and nurseries producing a variety of juvenile organisms are reared big enough to be sold off.

With the help of Development Authorities, existing ponds having perennial water sources can be cleaned and beautified for low-cost aquaculture. This will reduce additional pressure on marine life.

A combined fish and farming system by M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.
A combined fish and farming system by M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Photographer: Eva Badola

Empowering fishermen with technology to save ocean life

Increased disturbances in the local sea could force several schools of fish to find better habitats. Fishermen can be empowered with needful technologies such as GPS and Walky-talky. This will help them to feed locations of their fishing zones in this GPS. This information will be helpful for marine scientists to analyze causes behind the shift in their traditional fishing zones over the years.

Based on this data, resource assessment and availability of fish can be done. Accordingly, instead of a blanket fishing ban, different fishing zones can be divided to form Regional Restricted Fishing Zone, Traditional Zones and Economic Zones.

These interventions will arrest the extinction of endangered species, limit their decline and sustain fishers livelihood.

Foster responsibility for Ocean

Young fishermen can be mobilized as agents of change. We should build their understanding through marine conservation story on how discarded nets result in sea pollution, and relating how plastic pollution affect the wild resources sustainability in the sea.

Mobilizing words into Actions through clean-up drives could nurture environmental consciousness.

Clean-up drive by fisherwomen on International Mother Earth Day.
Clean-up drive by fisherwomen on International Mother Earth Day. Photographer: Eva Badola

Your Trash Is Your Responsibility

In 2018, a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, a critically endangered species, washed up dead on Fort Morgan Beach, USA. It was found with a beach chair tangled around its neck. It is a reminder to all of us on how abandoned plastic material left on beaches could cause mortality of innocent marine creatures.

You must be to comment.
  1. ashutosh Pokhriyal

    Wonderful article that brings attention towards how not only marine life but the economy around sea get impacted due to plastic waste and presently used so called modern technologies. it’s important to foster responsibility as well as to have sense of responsibilities towards the nature.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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