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Meet Siddharth Chakravarty, the sea shepherd

Indian marine conservationist Siddharth Chakravarty opens up on going after poachers in Antarctica, and why he hasn’t fought illegal activities along Mumbai’s coastline

"With 2048 being predicted as the year of The Empty Ocean, marine conservation is the need of the hour," announces Siddharth Chakravarty from India, who has been at sea since 2001. The marine conservationist spent a decade in the merchant navy before signing up with Sea Shepherd Global in 2011. As part of the international non-profit marine wildlife conservation organisation, Chakravarty has gone after whale poachers in Antarctica, patrolled the fishing season in the Mediterranean Sea and assisted with sea inspections in the Pacific. Last year, he co-led Operation Icefish, a 110-day long campaign to pursue and shut down illegal fishing vessels in Antarctica. Ahead of his talk at the sixth edition of TEDxGateway, Chakravarty shares a glimpse of his adventures. Excerpts:

Q. What is Operation Icefish?
A. Operation Icefish was a campaign to specifically tackle six poaching vessels (dubbed as Bandit 6 by Sea Shepherd), fishing illegally for toothfish in Antarctica. Known in restaurants as Chilean Seabass, it is the world’s most expensive fish and its high value has attracted highly organised crime syndicates to poach the waters of the southern continent. Sea Shepherd Global sent two ships to fill an enforcement void in Antarctica; our role was to shut down the illegal fishing vessels, investigate and document their illegality and work with relevant international law enforcement agencies such as Interpol to shut the Bandit 6 down for good.

marine conservationist Siddharth Chakravarty

On December 17, 2014, we found the Thunder, the world’s most notorious poaching vessel, fishing illegally in Antarctica. We immediately intervened and forced her to abandon her operations and chased her for 110 days across four oceans, reporting her positions to Interpol, documenting her crimes and in the process, setting in motion the most coordinated effort against criminal fishing operators in history.
In early April, the Thunder was scuttled to destroy evidence, dramatically ending the 110-day chase. We rescued the captain and crew of the sinking vessel and more recently, provided our testimonies and helped prosecuting authorities jail the captain and fine the owners, 15 million Euro for crimes related to the vessel’s activities.

Q. What did this campaign bring to light?
A. It exposed the woeful lack of enforcement on the world’s oceans by proving that as of today, the actions of an NGO and civil society are the most effective measures to tackle criminality and illegality. We are confident that our actions will inspire change and bring about radical changes in the way traditional law enforcement agencies combat illegality on the world’s oceans.

Chakravarty's ship, Sam Simon in Balleny Islands, Southern Ocean
Chakravarty's ship, Sam Simon in Balleny Islands, Southern Ocean

Q. Have you ever dealt with any illegal activities along Mumbai’s coastline?
A. My work involves tackling illegality in distant waters, in a place that has no enforcement. Illegality closer to land is largely a manifestation of the destruction being wreaked away from land where no one is watching.

Q. Why is marine conservation the need of the hour?
A. The oceans play a crucial role in our survival and our future, and to guarantee life on this planet, we need a healthy ocean. We are sustained by the oxygen generated from the oceans and to keep that life-giving cycle going, we need to allow the ocean to rest and recuperate. Today, we have extracted close to 90% of the biomass from the oceans and in return, have filled them with plastic, sewage, chemicals and waste from land. Almost 70% of our planet is water and the job to arrest and reverse our impact on the oceans is not a small one.

On: December 5, 10 am to 6 pm
At: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
To watch the simulcast, Log on to: www.tedxgateway.com/live

Ishita Katyal at TEDYouth in Brooklyn, USA, last month. Pic courtesy/Ryan Lash/TED
Ishita Katyal at TEDYouth in Brooklyn, USA, last month. Pic courtesy/Ryan Lash/TED

10-year-old wonder
All of 10, Ishita Katyal is also one of the speakers at the event. The youngest organiser of a TEDxYouth event in the Asia-Pacific region, she leads weekly workshops at a local school in Balewadi, Pune. When she was eight, she wrote a book titled, Simran’s Diary (available on Amazon). Other speakers include NASA Scientist and astrogeek Lujendra Ojha, Danny Cabrera, and Braille watch inventor Eric Ju Yoon Kim (read Hemal Ashar’s interview with Kim on page 11).

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