Shining a spotlight on native fish species

From the collection of Beta Mahatvaraj.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Beta Mahatvaraj has a ‘Fish Room’ in his house in the city, which has more than a dozen fish tanks but none of them have the usual exotic fish species one normally finds in aquariums. He has been travelling, spotting, collecting and documenting over 100 native Indian fish species for over 30 years now.

The 41-year old’s interest in fish developed when he was five years old.

“There was a stream near our house in Kerala, where we used to catch fish. I had a tank at home but with exotic fish. Over the years I realised that native fish species in our streams, lakes and waterbodies are often overlooked but their world is equally interesting!”

Soon after his family moved to then Madras in the late 1980s, Mr. Mahatvaraj, hailing from Nagercoil, scouted for native freshwater fish in and around the city. His interest in fish helped him explore the fish species in nearby ponds and temporary puddles during the monsoon. Over the years, he visited hill streams in the Eastern and Western Ghats to collect fish species from there.

He, along with a few like-minded enthusiasts, camp in specific parts of the Western Ghats for a few days to snorkel, photograph, document and study the native fish species found there. For his contribution to the study of one of the fish species in the Western Ghats, it was named Betadevario ramachandrani.

“These fish species live in microhabitats. Some of them live near the banks, some of them mid-stream, where they can live in the high flow of water, some of them closer to where marginal plants are seen,” Mr. Mahatvaraj explained. Unfortunately, he says, sand mining, destructive fishing methods, pesticide run-offs, dumping of waste, debris and effluents in waterbodies have led to the loss of the country’s native fish species. Invasive fish species, such as the African-native tilapia, mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), and African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) among others, have also killed native fish species, he said. Mr. Mahatvaraj, who is a delivery manager with a multinational IT company in the city, has also been supporting several publications by ichthyologists.

He says the 2015 flood was a nightmare, when he lost a huge part of his collection. But, he has not given up and has kept his hobby going for 30 years, he adds.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 3:41:08 AM |

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