Vedharajan Balaji PhD
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.
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 burrowed 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. He worked for NIOT bathymetric survey in Andaman Islands for one month and later completed his M.Philk., 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. He then completed PADI Open Water Dive course in February 2004. After Tsunami in December 2004 he volunteered to local NGOs in Cuddalore district for six months to help for emergency relief, rehabilitation and livelihood support.
In 2005, he registered his PhD at K.M College under Bharathidasan University to study nearshore seagrass beds in northern Palk Bay. At the same time, he started his own organization and solely walked to coastal school to meet fisher children for explaining the value of mangrove, seagrass and coral habitats of Palk Bay. He organized mangrove plantation in coastal villages of Thanjavur district in 2007 with Tamil Nadu Forest Department and local fishing communities.
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. 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.
First UW camera 1999
Skin diving for sea horse project 1999
1200 km bike expedition for marine conservation awareness 2002
Sea turtle awareness in fishing villages (2003)
Mangrove Survey (2003)
Mangrove Education Field trip (2006)
600 km Sea kayak expedition for marine conservation awareness (2007)
Planted mangroves by OMCAR (2014)
Field Survey for Forest Department (2013)
Sharing Wonders of Underwater Life - Scuba with School children at Palk Bay Centre (2015)
Seagrass Survey (2016)
At OMCAR Research Boat