When one thinks of scuba or deep sea diving, Andaman or Thailand come to mind. But we now have a dive site that’s home to more than a million aquatic species, just hours away from Chennai.
That entire marine reserve is the brainchild of Aravind Tharunsri, director, Temple Adventures. Puducherry is now home to a 500-metre-long artificial reef built rock-by-rock by him and his team. Using nearly 25 tonne of boulders, huge cement blocks, steel rods and even beer bottles, this reef is home to barracudas, stingrays, parrot fish, gorgonian sea fans, the rare pink coral and much more.
The oceans have always been Aravind’s home and protecting them is a passion. Right from organising oceanfloor cleanups to buildings reefs, protecting endangered species, training the marine police to increasing security and even educating fishermen about the safe use of trawlers, he is a man with many pursuits. “The most important issue now is to clean the seabed — the recent floods in Chennai have deposited unimaginable amounts of garbage into the sea,” says Aravind about his plans for this year. So far, they’ve recovered nearly 200 kilos of plastic bags, bottles and fishing nets.
“In addition to this, we’re recultivating the corals because most of them have been killed or washed away by the floods. The artificial reefs we’ve built using beer bottles help this cause, because the glass doesn’t hamper their growth. In fact, it also provides a safe breeding ground for fish,” he adds. Some of the species they’re cultivating include peacock corals, seafans and the manta ray.
In addition to this, Aravind says that he’s begun to train the marine police in and around Tamil Nadu in order to increase safety measures. “The aim is to reduce coastal terrorism. I can’t reveal much about this operation as details remain confidential but on the whole, we’re training police in scuba diving and educating them about various types of boats and sea vessels.”
In 2016, he wants to assemble a team of 20-30 divers from across the state and train them so that in cases of emergencies or floods, the team can take part in rescue ops along with the NDRF (the National Disaster Response Force). “There is no use of promoting scuba diving or tourism if we don’t look after the fishing communities too,” says Aravind. And he has an action plan for this as well. Over the past year, he has been educating fisherfolk on how to avoid disturbing the manmade reefs.
He plans to engage them in other vocational activities as well. “It’s not enough if a fisherman knows how to fish, he should know the right methods. Even until 10 years ago, pearl divers used to practice holding their breath underwater — it was like a form of meditation or pranayama. But today, pearl divers use compressors without proper knowledge and this practice is leading to nearly 200 deaths every year.
So in order to prevent this, I’ve started classes for rural fishing communities on the proper use of diving equipment,” says Aravind. He has also increased the width of the artificial reef from 200 to 500 metres, inviting more marine life to breed. An increase in the number of fish means a better income for small-time fisherfolk. This has led to a better lifestyle for them — something that Aravind strives to improve in the following years. “There’s really a lot going on underwater, it’s a fascinating world. I just hope people gain enough sense to stop polluting our water bodies.”