Dinesh Goswami’s Prakruti Nature Club
February 2010: “My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.” Maya Angelou, American poet
Dinesh Goswami is not a highly-educated man in the conventional sense of college degrees and accolades but his knowledge of the natural world is unparalleled. A daily wage labourer, Goswami has spent more than a decade helping to protect marine life off the Saurashtra coast.
In 1997, when award-winning wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey visited the region to shoot his film ‘Shores of Silence – Whale Sharks in India,’ he met an unlikely character – a simple villager who was able to tell him more about the behaviour of the magnificent fish that migrated to the warmer waters on Gujarat’s coastline every year than he would have imagined. A symbiotic relationship blossomed – Goswami showed Pandey all he knew and in turn, Goswami was exposed to the realities of environmental degradation in his region.
Whale sharks migrate to Gujarat during the winter but more often than not, they end up tangled in the nets of fisherfolk, quickly killed and sold at an exorbitant rate. A survey by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) revealed that over 500 whale sharks were hunted along the Saurashtra coast in 2000, each fetching a price of approximately two lakhs.
WTI moved into action and along with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched a ‘Save the Whale’ campaign. To their delight, Dinesh Goswami who had been profoundly influenced by Pandey’s film and had started his own group, the Prakruti Nature Club or Prakruti Parivar Trust, volunteered to take the campaign forward.
Goswami’s first rescue operation was about 12 nautical miles from Sutrapada. He received word of a 8.5 m. long whale shark trapped in a fisherman’s net and quickly rushed to the scene to cut the animal free. Over the years, Goswami has rescued at least 25 sharks by himself and he and his team have been indirectly involved in all 75 rescue operations that have taken place off the Gujarat coast since 2004.
Each rescue is a nail-biting experience. The trapped and traumatised whale sharks thrash around in the nets with the usually choppy sea making cutting it loose, even more problematic. Goswami doesn’t own a boat and therefore has to rely on other fisherfolk to take him out to sea. Once there, he quickly notes down details like the age and weight of the shark and whether it has suffered any injuries. He then cuts it free, often risking his own life in the process. He then begins the long and difficult task of ensuring that the fishermen are compensated for their tattered nets.
The Prakruti Nature Club comprises daily-wage workers whose loyalty and dedication to the cause of wildlife conservation has seen them make countless personal sacrifices. More often than not, Goswami and others forego their meagre earnings of Rs. 160 a day as labourers to take part in a rescue but firmly say that a successful operation is worth far more than the money. When the group heard of migratory birds being killed in the coastal wetlands of the Kodinar and Sutrapada talukas, they alerted the Forest Department and brought the culprits to task.
Turtles breed on these beaches and between the months of September to December, Goswami and his team spend their nights patrolling the beaches and keeping a close eye on the eggs. Once hatched, the baby turtles are carefully released into the sea with members of the Club dutifully noting down their numbers. Minute details such as the number of eggs lost and the specific locations of eggs yet to hatch are maintained.
The group also conducts awareness programmes in the surrounding villages, educating villagers on the importance of conservation and the vital role such animals play in local ecosystems. When asked about the hurdles they have faced, club members smile and say that their determination has helped them overcome any resistance. By and large, their work is accepted and appreciated they say, as the locals are quick to understand the intrinsic value of protecting nature.
With inputs from Manish Trivedi
The Prakruti Nature Club can be contacted at the following address
Marutinagar Society, Opp. Kanya Chhatralay, Veraval Road, Kodinar 362 725, Junagadh district, Gujarat, India.
Tel: +919 898515362