On a voyage in row boat to preserve marine life

MARINE MISSION: V.Balaji, on a boating expedition, arrives at Akkaraigori in Cuddalore on Saturday.  

A.V. Ragunathan

Adventure-cum-educational trip for youth

CUDDALORE: Twenty-seven-year-old V. Balaji, a native of Pattukottai, has embarked on an adventure-cum-educational trip on a rowboat along the coast from Rameswaram to Chennai.

He started his expedition single-handedly from Rameswaram on December 5, 2006 and reached Akkaraigori, a costal hamlet in Cuddalore, on Saturday. Owing to adverse weather conditions en route, he was forced to stay at Arcottuthurai and Vellakulam for 23 days.

On his arrival at Akkaraigori, fishermen greeted him by playing nadaswaram and thavil. Community president R. Ravichandran, president of Cuddalore District Consumer Organisation M. Nizamudeen, and Bless' (an NGO) executive director Antonysamy felicitated him with shawls.

Mr. Balaji told presspersons that he had started "Omcar," a marine life development research centre, for which he is the director. He had obtained M.Sc and M.Phil degrees in Marine Biology from the Centre of Advanced Study in Marine Biology at Annamalai University.

Though he is not hailing from a fisherman family, he developed love for marine life when he keenly observed fishermen delving deep into the sea to harvest sea horses.

This prompted him to undertake a journey on a motorcycle from Pulicat lake to Kanyakumari in 2002 to study the socio-economic conditions of fishermen.

Dressed in waterproof clothing, a la scuba drivers, Mr. Balaji also wore life jacket. The International Tree Foundation, London, has donated the single-seater light blue colour fibre boat (kayak type), weighing 25 kg and costing £ 750.

On an average, Mr. Balaji covers 10-15 km a day, mostly in the morning hours, from 6 to 10 p.m.

The rest of the day he spends time with the villagers to educate them on the importance of protecting the marine life, particularly mangroves and coral reef, with the help of a laptop.

He says since the boat is very light, it tends to capsize whenever there are intense waves.

Hence, he is keeping a whistle ready, which he will blow to call for help from the sea-faring fishermen.

He is so enamoured of the sea life that whenever a shoal of fish surrounds the boat and dolphins accompany him for some distance, he is thrilled.

It reinforces the belief that sea should be protected from industrial effluents to preserve the vast diversity of marine life.