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Balaji Vedharajan PhD

Balaji founded OMCAR to conserve the Palk Bay ecosystem through participatory marine resource management. At OMCAR he works towards fundraising, communication management, designing awareness tools and research.  Balaji has won the prestigious IUCN Young Professional Award, National Geographic Conservation Grant and IUCN Pushing Boundaries Challenge. He is a member of the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication. 


In 1997, when he was just 17 years old, his interest to see local underwater life in Palk Bay encouraged him to make his own UW camera using a glass box and film camera, flippers from steel sheets, and a self-made regulator. Later, in 1999, he studied seahorse exploitation in Palk Bay and reported it to the WWF. 

First UW camera 1999

Skin diving for sea horse project 1999

Following his interest, in 2000, he joined CAS in Marine Biology, at Annamalai University for his M.Sc. During his university days, he volunteered for various local NGOs.  By the end of his master's in 2002, he recognized the huge gap between textbook studies and the reality of local coasts and communities.  So, to further understand the intricacies between humans and the ocean in his state, on the next day of his final exams, he borrowed a motorbike from his friend and travelled 1200 km along the coast of Tamil Nadu. Passing through 594 fishing villages, he interacted with the coastal communities to understand the human-ocean interaction, conservation and management issues first-hand. His expedition report received an appreciation letter from the office of the 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 the Andaman Islands for a 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 of sea turtle conservation along the coastal villages of the 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 600 km from Rameswaram to Chennai along the coast for creating awareness about marine ecosystems and sustainable fishery. Having never kayaked before, he learnt paddling and rolling techniques following youtube videos before jumping in and putting his life at risk with challenging ocean currents and waves in the Bay of Bengal.  He paddled ~ 15 km a day and stayed in coastal villages among fishermen interacting with them and urging the need for sustainable fishing and the conservation of marine resources. Seeing a novice kayaker, the local fishers shared their traditional knowledge with him and he learnt from them about surfing, entry into waves, exit from waves, ocean currents and wind patterns during this journey. He talked about the need for sustainable fishery and marine conservation on the Tamil Nadu coast reaching around 5000 people across the coast during this expedition. Later, he completed a short course at IIT-Madras in 2009 on Grassroot GIS mapping and spent the next two years learning and developing 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, he established Palk Bay Environmental Education and Research Centre in Tamil Nadu, which has been since serving as a platform for research, conservation and awareness with research institutes, government departments, local fishing communities and schools.

Meeting with Honourable Governor of Tamil Nadu Surjit Singh Barnala at Rajbhavan, Chennai in 2007

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)

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 mangrove restoration plantation sites, Range Office of Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest.



Research and Development



  • 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.


  • 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’.


  • Five-year experience in managing and guiding international university students for internship programmes on community-based restoration of mangroves .


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


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

  Professional Skills and Expertise

  • 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 Habitat

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

  • Grapher (graphing software)

  • QGIS

Honours and Awards

  • Selected as an Ambassador for Panorama Solutions - 2022 

  • Selected for Blue Solutions, Blue Champions Award - 2021 (link)


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

  • Expert Reviewer in National Geographic 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.

  • Explorer in National Geographic Conservation Trust since 2013.

  • 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:


  •    Times of India - February 2022 - Dugong Conservation Reserve (link)


  • 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)


  • Times of India - Sep 2019:(link)

  • Times of India - Aug 2019: (link)

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


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


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

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

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