Balaji Vedharajan PhD
Founder
OMCAR FOUNDATION

Balaji found OMCAR to conserve Palk Bay ecosystem through participatory marine resource management.   He works at OMCAR for fund raising, communication management, designing awareness tools and research.  Balaji won IUCN Young Professional Award, National Geographic Conservation Grant and IUCN Pushing Boundaries Challenge. He is the member of IUCN Commission for Education and Communication.  In 1997, when he was 17 years old, he got interest to see local underwater life in Palk Bay.  He made his own uw camera using a glass box and film camera, flippers from steel sheets, self made regulator and later he studied seahorse exploitation in Palk Bay to report to WWF in 1999. 

First UW camera 1999

Skin diving for sea horse project 1999

To keep his interest academically, he joined M.Sc., marine biology at CAS in Marine Biology, Annamalai University in 2000. During his university days, he volunteered in local NGOs.  At the end of his Masters in 2002, he found the difference between the text book study and local coasts and community.  He wanted to understand the interaction between human and ocean in his own state.  Next day of his final exams, he borrowed a motor bike from his friend to travel 1200 km along the coast of Tamil Nadu.  He traveled through 594 fishing villages to understand the human-ocean interaction, conservation and management issues . His expedition report was received an appreciation letter from the office of President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2003.

1200 km bike expedition for marine conservation awareness 2002

He worked for NIOT bathymetric survey in Andaman Islands for one month and later completed his M.Phil., while working as a Senior Research Fellow in a project funded by MoEF at CAS in Marine Biology . In 2003, he got his first individual project from WWF - India to create awareness on sea turtle conservation along the coastal villages of Cuddalore district.

Sea turtle awareness in fishing villages (2003)

Mangrove Survey (2003)

Mangrove Education Field trip (2006)

In 2007 he paddled his sea kayak for 600km from Rameswaram to Chennai along the coast for creating awareness about marine ecosystems and sustainable fishery. He did not know kayaking before this expedition, so he practiced himself using youtube videos to learn paddling and rolling techniques.  However, he put his life in risk with challenging ocean currents and waves in Bay of Bengal.  He paddled ~ 15 km/ day and stayed in coastal villages to deliver speech on the need for sustainable fishing and conservation of marine resources.   As a novice kayaker, learned surfing, entry into waves, exit from waves, ocean currents and wind pattern from traditional knowledge of local fishers during his journey.   He delivered his speech on need for sustainable fishery and marine conservation in Tamil Nadu coast to 5000 people along the coast during this expedition.He completed a short course at IIT-Madras in 2009 on Grassroot GIS mapping, and  spent the next two years to learn and develop a simple, cost effective methodology for studying local mangroves and seagrasses for better coastal land use in Palk Bay.

600 km Sea kayak expedition for marine conservation awareness (2007) (video link)

In 2011, his organization established Palk Bay Environmental Education and Research Centre in Tamil Nadu, that has been serving as a platform for research, conservation and awareness with research institutes, government departments, local fishing communities and schools.

Awareness (2013)

Field Survey for Forest Department (2013)

Planted mangroves by OMCAR (2014)

Sharing Wonders of  Underwater Life - Scuba with School children at Palk Bay Centre (2015)

At OMCAR Research Boat for Seagrass Acoustic Survey funded by NRDMS, Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India.

Seagrass Survey (2016)

PUBLICATIONS (Peer Reviewed)

 

  • Sivakumar, K., Chandani A., Ragavan P., Balaji, V., Goutham B., and Sivaperuman C., 2021. Coral reefs: globally predicted climate change impact mitigation, mediated by the marine flora and their ecosystem connectivity, with a case study from Neil Island (the Andamans). Elsevier. 225-240. (link)

 

  • Balaji, V., and Sekar V. 2021.  Marine Mammal Strandings in the Northern Palk Bay from 2009 to 2020. Journal of Threatened Taxa.  Vol. 13:5, 18313–18318. (link)

 

  • Balaji, V., Sekar, V and Murugesan, G. 2020. Comparison of Seagrass Restoration Methods adopted in Palk Bay, India. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India. 62(1): 95-99. (link)

 

  • Balaji, V., Sekar, V and Masilamani, S. 2019. Fish assemblages associated with natural and artificial habitats in Palk Bay, southeast coast of India: Comparison using Baited Remote Underwater Video. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India. 61. 10.6024/jmbai.2019.61.1.2082-08.(link)

 

  • Balaji, V. 2018. Acoustic Survey of Seagrass Beds in Northern Palk Bay.  Indian Journal of Geomarine Sciences. Vol.47(8):1607-1615. (link)

  • Balaji, V. 2009. Seagrasses of northern Palk Bay, India. Seagrass Watch. 38:7. (link)

 

 

 

PUBLICATIONS (Public Awareness)

 

  • Balaji, V., Sekar, V., Masilamani, S., and Murugesan, G. 2020.  Molluscan Species of Palk Bay. OMCAR Palk Bay Centre. (Tamil).

  • Balaji, V., Sekar, V and Rammanohar, B. 2018.  Banned Marine Species (Tamil). OMCAR Palk Bay Centre. (Tamil).

  • Balaji, V and Murugesan, G. 2017. Seagrass Conservation. (Tamil). TBGP Project. Tamil Nadu Forest Department. OMCAR Palk Bay Centre.

  • Balaji, V and Murugesan, G. 2017. Dugong Conservation (Tamil). TBGP Project. Tamil Nadu Forest Department. OMCAR Palk Bay Centre.

  • Balaji, V and Murugesan, G. 2016. Mangrove Conservation (Tamil). OMCAR Palk Bay Centre.

Environmental Awareness Expeditions

 

  • 600 km Solo Sea Kayak Expedition for Environmental Conservation Awareness (2007): Created awareness on marine and coastal ecosystem conservation along the coast of Southeast India.

  • 1200 km Solo Bike Expedition for Environmental Conservation Awareness (2002): Created awareness on marine and coastal ecosystem conservation along the coast in Southeast India.

 

 Philanthropic Emergency Relief Support

 

  • COVID 19 Lockdown Relief Support (2020): Donated rice bags to around 4250 needy families; donated groceries to 232 disabled persons and widows during the strict lockdown imposed during April and May 2020; Applied fundraising and GIS skills and coordinated with district government, staffs and volunteers to identify the needy in remote areas for quick delivery of relief materials.

 

  • Gaja Cyclone Rescue and Relief Work (2018): Organized volunteers from local communities; arranged food and shelter for 300 people two days prior to Gaja cyclone; rescued several people from their huts to the shelter; Distributed about 10,000 food pockets and essentials to the needy along the coast of Thanjavur District up to 10 days after the cyclone.

 

  • Post-Tsunami Relief Work (2004): Volunteered in a philanthropic NGO BLESS in Cuddalore District for leading the international volunteers from Europe for the distribution of food, essential items, and shelter for the victims of Tsunami for three months.

 

Technical Services to Tamil Nadu Forest Department for Conservation and Management

 

  • Provided nonprofit technical support to District Forest Office of Pudukkottai District, District Forest Office of Thanjavur District and Conservator Office (Thanjavur Circle) for developing conservation and management project proposals since 2016.

 

  • Provided nonprofit technical support for preparing GIS map of annual mangrove restoration plantation sites, Range Office of Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest from 2010 to 2020; Provided support to prepare GIS map of boundary line of all beats of Muthupet Reserve Forest in 2011.

 

 

Research and Development

 

2014–2019

  • Conducted research projects on GIS Mapping of seagrass beds and bathymetric survey in Thanjavur, Pudukkottai and Ramnad Districts in Palk Bay using underwater acoustic survey, funded by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

2012-2013

  • Conducted research project entitled “Fish assemblages associated with natural and artificial habitats in Palk Bay, southeast coast of India: Comparison using Baited Remote Underwater Video” funded by Marubis, Germany.

  • Conducted research project entitled “Participatory GIS mapping of mangroves and land use pattern in coastal villages of Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu” funded by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

  • Received National Geographic Explorer Grant for the research entitled as ‘Survey of Dugong Feeding Grounds in Palk Bay, Southeast coast of India’.

2006–2010

  • Five-year experience in managing and guiding international university students for internship programmes (Germany, Croatia, and Australia) on community-based restoration of mangroves in Palk Bay from 2006 to 2010.

2003

  • Worked as a Senior Research Fellow in a research project funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India.

2002

  • Worked in a bathymetric research expedition in Andaman Islands for National Institute of Ocean Technology, Government of India.

  Professional Skills and Expertise

  • Leadership skills to manage international students and motivate them for ecosystem conservation and restoration research.

  • Proposal writing and fundraising skills for international research, restoration, and conservation projects.

  • Expertise in ecological restoration skills (mangroves, saltmarshes, and seagrasses).

  • Expertise in coastal and marine vegetation field survey skills, with special reference to mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses.

  • Expertise in submerged underwater vegetation (SUV) acoustic and bathymetric survey methods.

  • Expertise in participatory GIS mapping techniques for planning conservation and restoration of forest ecosystem.

  • Experience in drone-based aerial forest survey basic methods.

  • Experience in 2D and 3D GIS mapping techniques for underwater and terrestrial ecosystems.

  • Experience in underwater photography with 16 years of scuba diving experience.

  • Well-versed in professional video editing skills.

  • Expertise in different types of software, such as the following:

  • Global Mapper

  • Arc GIS

  • Visual Acquisition

  • Visual Analyzer

  • Surfer (2D and 3D surface mapping software)

  • Grapher (graphing software)

  • Agisoft (3D mapping)

  • Opensource GIS for Disaster Relief and Environment Conservation (QGIS)

Honours and Awards

  • Selected for LEAD, India Leadership Fellowship Programme in 2019; participated in three leadership training programmes on environmental and development in multicultural settings across India.

  • Reviewer in National Geographic Conservation Trust Projects since 2019.

  • Received Geospatial Excellence Awards 2015 at the India Geospatial Forum for the conservation project funded by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

  • Member of IUCN Commission for Communication and Education since 2012.

  • Received an appreciation letter from the President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for my bike expedition report in 2002.

  • Following are a news/publications on the philanthropic and conservation services rendered:

2020

  • Times of India - September 2020 - Seashell Education Book (link)

  • Times of India - June 2020: (link)

  • News Minute - June 2020: (link)

  • Village Square - June 2020: (link)

  • Mongabay - March 2020:(link)

2019

  • Times of India - Sep 2019:(link)

  • Times of India - Aug 2019: (link)

  • Times of India - Nov 2017: (link)​

2016

  • Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (peer-reviewed journal): (link)

2014

  • Interview on IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) website:   (link)

  • IUCN, India (Mangroves for the Future) News:(link)​