Small-scale fisheries researcher attends Darwin Scholars Programme


My name is Aneesha Ani Benadict and I am currently pursuing my Postgraduate degree in Marine Biology & Ocean Studies in Pondicherry University, India. I consider myself to be a budding researcher, and I am committed to seek new knowledge and experiences in biodiversity. I gained three years of experiences in the field of marine biology from 2013 – 2015, when I was working as a research assistant, the youngest member of the group for a pilot research project with Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) titled “Marine biodiversity register preparation of the Trivandrum coast”. To my knowledge, this was the first study of its kind in India. Part of the project I was included in consisted in many sea trips along with local fishermen to identify and map the Key Biodiversity Areas, very few women have this capacity of experience in our socio-cultural contexts. Being a member of traditional fishing community and living nearby the sea, I have developed a great interest in the area of marine ecology and conservation. This area of study needs particular attention and care within the Indian contexts as the central and state governments in India often tend to pay less attention to the coastal biodiversity and are also planning to undertake many development activities with limited consultation with the local and traditional communities.

It has always been my passion to engage and to do field work with environmental scientists and biodiversity conservationists. I get attracted by nature and its beauty, making me keenly look into it, which intern introduced me into the habit of observing natural phenomena and encouraged me to ask some critical questions on its protection, conservation and sustainable use. This habit of asking questions helped me to find people and organisations that are involved in marine conservation and protection activities. Furthermore, I always look into how scientists are observing and documenting these activities and how they making their interpretations.

These interests of mine led me to apply for the Darwin Scholars programme which is a prestigious annual scholarship programme organized by the Field Studies Council (FSC), one of the leading biodiversity education organizations in the UK. With the great help of many well-wishers and NGOs, I was able to obtain funding for the programme which allowed me to become a Darwin Scholar.  This competitive scholarship programme targets young scientists from around the world. The programme was held in the UK from August 17 – 27.

Overall aims of the programme

  • Monitoring and communicating biodiversity
  • Strengthen the exploration and observational competencies of young field scientists
  • Provide a context for field observations; national biodiversity database & recording
  • Enhance the ability of scientists to communicate with variety of groups
  • Develop resources and materials to promote exploration and observation

The programme consisted of a mix of lectures, excursions, field trips and workshops and there were plenty of opportunities for participants to share their ideas and expertise. The main theme of the programme was communicating biodiversity effectively, most of the sessions were based on exploring biodiversity and identification, taxonomical studies, preservation techniques, recording and communicating to a wider audience. As the youngest scholar in the programme it was a serendipitous opportunity for me to work with all of the eminent scientists and conservationists form various fields.

The overall aim of the programme was to examine different, effective methods and ideas to solve issues regarding biodiversity, and to deliver the ideas to the local community and stakeholders. This knowledge is necessary for researchers and conservationists who come from the fishing community and work in them. Although we are sitting on a gold mine of good scientific knowledge and technology, this is meaningless unless we are able to bring forth the ideas and implement them with stakeholders including local communities.valiyathura-beach

Bringing up ideas or approaching a group such as a fishing community is not an easy task for those in a government or academic position. The main hurdles for an outsider approaching a fishing community with their ideas is the language barrier. The traditional fishing community has their own colloquial language which is elusive.  So, therein lies the importance of having activists, conservationists, or researchers like myself; one from a local community, who understands their indigenous language and can document traditional knowledge.

The Darwin Scholars Programme provided me with a wonderful opportunity to think of way to implement our ideas of conservation of biodiversity with the help of local communities. I hope the experience that I have earned from the programme will help me to puzzle out the problems that we are facing in our fishing community. These problems include anthropogenic interactions such as near inshore unscientific construction of harbours and groins, which in turn threaten the marine biodiversity, the life, and livelihood of the traditional fishermen in my village.

I would like to communicate and share my experiences from this programme with others. I hope more people from our communities may have the opportunity to attend the programme. Looking towards the future I wish to work with the fishing community to find out and solve their issues related to their livelihoods. I also want to document the traditional knowledge of artisanal fishermen, thereby improving the quality of life for the fishing community.