• India’s Eco Warriors: Marine biologist Rucha Karkarey is saving coral reefs in Lakshadweep

    In our continuing series on India’s Eco Warriors, meet Rucha Karkarey, a marine biologist from Pune, who was fascinated with marine life ever since she was a child. Today,  Karkarey works with the Oceans and Coasts Program at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), studying response of reef fish called groupers –ecologically important predatory fish – to habitat degradation brought about by climate change disturbances.

    More on our Eco-Warrior series here

    She The People Features India's Conservationists

    Karkarey’s father was with the merchant navy, so as a little girl, she spent much time on the oceans and found it fascinating.

    “My earliest memories are from when I was three, and we often went sailing with my father on his ships. I remember observing a pod of orcas from the ship’s deck once, a mother and calf humpback whale who accompanying us for nearly two days. Then there was a dreadful incident when one of the cadets unexpectedly caught a tiger shark on a fishing line. The sight of the shark shocked and intrigued me. Being this up-close with a giant predator – helpless and suffocating – was quite humbling. That feeling for some reason has stayed with me even today,” says Karkarey.

    Exploring the underwater world. Picture Credit - Rucha Karkarey

    Exploring the underwater world. Picture Credit – Rucha Karkarey

    Other inspirations for ocean life as she grew up included books on natural history and human-wildlife interaction. ”I think all of these experiences collectively inspired me to appreciate the complex interactions between humans and marine life, and directed me towards the field of marine biology and conservation biology,” says Karkarey. 

    Also read: In Assam, a women’s ‘army’ is saving an endangered species of bird

    Karkarey graduated with a BSc in Zoology from Fergusson College, Pune, and moved to Australia to do her Masters in Tropical Marine Biology from James Cook University. After her degree, she moved to Lakshadweep to study coral reef fish behaviour.

    Rucha Karkarey

    Territorial battles of the squaretail grouper. Picture Credit: Rucha Karkarey

    There are many research institutes and NGOs conducting creative research in the realm of marine and fisheries ecology, and hence a lot more opportunity for people to gain field experience.

    Her work

    The conservationist’s life is fascinating. Karkarey has been part of the Oceans and Coasts Program at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) since 2011. She studies the response of reef fish called groupers –ecologically important predatory fish – to habitat degradation brought about by climate change disturbances.

    She has also been working with the local community and authorities to create a socially and ecologically viable conservation strategy for fish-spawning aggregation in Lakshadweep.

    Naturally beautiful places are always a vacation destination, and this also allows people to know more about their surroundings. Karkarey believes that technology has helped make the real difference. “Even in remote regions like Lakshadweep, smartphones have really propelled the transfer of information. I was once talking to a local fisherman about his fishing methods and his son showed me a short video clip on his smartphone – it was a clip of a fisherman in Papua New Guinea fishing with a bow and arrow. The fisherman indicated how useful this technique could be to catch preferred species and avoid others.” 

    Pre-dive excitement

    Pre-dive excitement. Picture Credit: Rucha Karkarey

    Digital technology has certainly made a difference. As the world’s coral reefs slowly succumb to climate change and environmental degradation, more people have become aware of the threat to the Northern Great Barrier Reef. Imagine the death of a beautiful and important marine ecosystem! But awareness needs to convert into action and that is where dedicated conservationists like Karkarey lead the change.

    Also read: India’s Most Loved Female Environmentalists

    Words of wisdom

    “Wildlife biology for a long time has been synonymous with terrestrial biology in India,” says Karkarey. “But today there are many highly acclaimed institutes that offer courses in marine biology. There are many research institutes and NGOs conducting creative research in the realm of marine and fisheries ecology, and hence a lot more opportunity for people to gain field experience. The diving industry itself has become a lot more affordable and accessible across India. It seems to be an exciting time for marine biology and we are already seeing a spike in marine enthusiasts. All I can say is dive in, join the movement!”

    Oceans and Coasts team in Lakshadweep

    Oceans and Coasts team in Lakshadweep. Picture Credit: Rucha Karkarey