Seaweed collector wins environment award

[India, USA] M Lakshmi (46) was hardly seven years old when she took her maiden boat ride to the islands in the Gulf of Mannar to collect seaweed and has come a long way to win the prestigious Seacology Prize and travel all the way to Berkeley in California to receive the award next month.

The US-based Seacology, an environment non-profit organisation, has selected Ms Lakshmi for this year’s award for her outstanding contribution in conserving the marine resources and cultural traditions of her village, Chinnapalam, a small coastal hamlet in the island.

Vineeta Hoon, a Seacology representative in Chennai, who had shortlisted Lakshmi’s name, said she was the first Indian woman and community leader to win the award, which carried $ 10,000 and a trophy with her name inscribed on it.

The Seacology Board, after receiving nominations from across the world, voted to award the 2015 Seacology Prize to Lakshmi in June. The seaweed collector, accompanied by Ms Hoon would fly to Berkeley to personally receive the honour in the award ceremony on October 9.

“I am delighted and have no words to express my happiness,” Lakshmi told The Hindu here on Thursday, sharing her experience. Though the award was given to her as a community leader, it was recognition to the entire women folk engaged in seaweed cultivation without harming the biosphere reserve in the Gulf of Manner Marine National Park, she says.

Ms. Lakshmi, who never went to school, took to seaweed collection at the very young age and had been in the profession for nearly four decades supplementing her family income. She often regretted for not having gone to school but “it looks it’s a blessing in disguise,” she laughs.

She is heading the Gulf of Mannar seaweed collect women forum, the women’s wing of the Ramanathapuram district fish workers trade union, which has proposed her name for the award in coordination with Vembar based People’s Action for Development and International Collective in Support of Fish Workers. About 2,000 women were engaged in seaweed collection, both in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, and Lakshmi guided them in sustainable collection.

Initially, they would set out to the sea in “Vathais” (small shore boat propelled with the help of a pole) on all days but restricted to 12 days a month now, six days before and after new moon and full moon to conserve the islands in the Gulf of Mannar.


Photo: M Lakshmi, the seaweed cultivator who won the Seacology Award with seaweed at Chinnapalam in Pamban in Ramanathapuram district.— Photo: L. BALACHANDAR.

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