'Mahatma Gandhi is from a different time. We would like to do things the way he did, but the world has changed,' says Environment Educator Soumya Ranjan Biswal
Soumya Ranjan Biswal from Odisha spends most of his time creating awareness about olive ridley turtles and the marine ecosystem. He and his college junior, Dilip Kumar Biswal, take turns to don the costume of a cheerful turtle as they travel along Odisha’s coast to create awareness about the environment among the fishing communities. He’s been at it since 2015.
About half the world’s population of olive ridleys comes to the Odisha coast for nesting, and to ensure the hatchlings make it back to the sea safely, they have organized 156 beach clean-up events. Their volunteering includes night patrols during the nesting season and guarding eggs from predators.
The nesting season is from October to early summer in three key nesting zones. The survival ratio of this endangered species is low—only one out of every 1,000 eggs survives.
“My village is near the sea and olive ridleys used to come ashore to nest. Then, we started seeing a lot of dead turtles washed ashore. It wasn’t just plastic pollution but also fishing trawlers. There is a lot of focus on the tiger but no one was paying attention to the marine ecosystem," says Soumya, who gave up his BTech degree to be closer to the nesting zone.
Last year, Soumya and Dilip did an 800-km bike awareness campaign in Odisha, which got them into the Limca Book of Records. This year, in coordination with the state government, they covered more than 1,200km. Over the years, increased fishing, illegal use of trawlers and changes to beaches have increased the challenges. “The next generation needs to take responsibility and promote conservation," says Soumya.