NAGAPATTINAM: Fisherman’s life is like a boat that sails across many a turbulence, hoping to reach back the shore of safety, one day. Around 35 years ago, when Singaravel left home on his motorboat and sailed into the Bay of Bengal, things weren’t different. His 10-year-old daughter S Velvizhi, along with three younger siblings, waited for his return patiently, with silent prayers on their lips. They knew uncertainty loomed in the salty air.
Today, Velvizhi has come a long way. Despite all odds, she has gone on over 150 fishing trips in vessels, training over 20,000 fisherfolk in coastal districts to use the latest technology. For the 45-year-old marine biologist who spearheads the ‘Fish For All Research and Training Centre’ at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Poompuhar with an eye on sustainable fisheries, this is a unique way of giving back to society. In 20 years of service, her hat has been decorated with many feathers. She led 14 MSSRF projects and has been a part of 13 others that brought help to fishers from Karaikal and across the State.
As her colleague for 15 years, Dr R Ramasubramanian, Director of MSSRF’s Coastal Systems Research Programme, says she is dedicated, hardworking, level-headed and enthusiastic. If a fisherman in Nagapattinam wants to know about the vast underwater life, learn about the need to reduce by-catch (extra fish and other marine creatures trapped by commercial fishing nets) or to level up his business, or even if he’s lost at sea — she comes to the rescue. Her undying passion is anchored in her father’s love for the sea.
She did her BSc in Zoology, MSc and MPhil in Marine Biology, and PhD focusing on the Irular Tribal Fishers community, which gave her a deeper knowledge of the ocean. She has written several research publications and co-authored books. She has helped thousands of women turn entrepreneurs in the seafood business. She also contributed to seven projects to construct artificial reefs to enhance fish breeding in TN and Karaikal.
Over 50,000 beneficiaries are a click away from availing sea navigation with her Meenava Nanban (Fisher’s friend) mobile app which Velvizhi contributed to as a consultant. Understanding that saving the present can save the future, she sensitised fishers to spare the endangered and vulnerable species like turtles using by-catch reduction devices such as the Turtle Excluder Device and Juvenile Excluder Device and help maintain ecological balance. Velvizhi came to the rescue of dozens of Olive Ridley turtles directly, and hundreds more of the species by pushing these pieces of equipment.
Today, another fisherman Kaviyazhagan leaves home, far more equipped. His wife Nandhini Kaviyazhagan, is a fisherwoman from Poompuhar and a part of the Winmeen Fish and Fish Producer Association, which has over 200 members, makes value-added products, prepares Karuvaadu (dried fish), rears ornamental fishes. His 10-year-old daughter is now more confident about his return home.
“When we look back at our path, we realise we owe it to her,” said Nandhini. Living in her Tsunami-survived house in Nambiar Nagar fisherfolk hamlet, Velvizhi is nothing less than a silver lining in the dark clouds that continue to envelop the fisherfolk.