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Jun 30, 2015

Paddle for the environment – Exploring the Gulf of Mannar on kayaks

A group of kayakers explore the remote Gulf of Mannar with a mission to clean up the mess in the region.

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The Outdoor Journal

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Read the first of the two-part series on ‘paddle for the environment’

We go about our ordinary lives and every once in a while, we’re given the opportunity or we create one to add a little extra to the ordinary. Paddle for the Environment described as a passionate affair, stemmed from the need to add that little extra. The water in the Gulf of Mannar, the large bay in the Coromandel Coast region between the southeastern tip of India and the west coast of India is home for the team at Quest-Asia. Interestingly, those who call it home also turn a blind eye to the need of the hour. Conservation.

However, this strangeness can be explained. Words like conservation, protection, poaching etc are meaningless to the ones who continue doing what they’ve always been doing. Moreover, they have hardly any knowledge regarding the matter anyway. Sadly, what’s worse is the fact they may or even may not have the want to understand the magnitude of the matter or simply care. Do they really wish to protect the environment and clean up?

Words are empty, actions might have hope.

Many more trips and many more paddles will be required for us to begin making a difference but everything starts somewhere. It started with us imparting education to ourselves and by being a part of the problem and the solution. It started on the 24th of March 2015.

Day 1: 24th March

Soon enough, the day was here. Smiling at the cameras and absorbing all the luck and wishes from the coast guard commandant Mr. Harish More, the Forest Warden – Mr. Deepak, the Ramanathapuram District Collector, IPS Mr. Mylvahan and all our well wishers present at Kunthukal beach, Pamban. I, unaware of my own strengths and weaknesses joined the team of four strong men, with a personal goal to not get towed. I was excited, nervous and scared yet grateful for the ‘extra’ opportunity.

It was four years ago when I hopped onto this colorful little boat called a kayak for the first time, by a river in Maharashtra. I lasted 15 minutes in the water and then with trembling hands barely got through lunch. I still remember Jehan (Current Expedition Leader and boss at Quest) laughing by the banks. Thankfully, he then imparted his knowledge and explained how it’s actually done. The skill doesn’t come easy. Using your back muscles than arms is easier said than done.

I would have never thought I’d embark on a six-day expedition in that colorful boat from four years ago, yet here I am. Only this time, the journey was 150 km long.

Slow and steady we paddled along. Surrendering ourselves to our love and passion – nature.

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We kept moving slowly, only to find Barracudas on the hunt that had fish on its tails; I remained dumbstruck and almost parched not knowing what was going to fly to our kayak, yup, the ocean got me. We spotted people where they were not supposed to be. Fishing and collecting seaweed. We paddled and parked while the beauty of the islands left us speechless. Wise driftwood watched us and serene shells smiled back. The Golden Keelbacks were pissed though; apparently not everyone’s happy being disturbed when you’re having lunch in your picnic basket with a loved one… on an island! What’s worse is if you just hunted your lunch and it got away. Sorry Keelbacks, we were happy to see you and couldn’t resist the selfies!

Barely back in our kayaks, Arjun spotted a fin. We froze and huddled closer.

Parts of this park and around were known to be shark-infested areas. Yes, infested. Kunthukal beach still welcomes you with a massive white shark structure, that’s enough to petrify anyone. With all the overfishing there’s not much left though. Don’t mind me, I like sharks, yet sighting a fin alone can be scary. I’m pretty sure all our brains were doing worse case scenarios and processing all the shark info we knew. Suddenly we all saw the fin again, it coiled out and what it was attached to was so much bigger… and beautiful. It was a dolphin. Snap, Cut scenes from Jaws to Free Willy.

Sighting a dolphin few feet from our kayaks, just a couple kilometers from the shore. An auspicious sign indeed. A hope of life in the marine park, a hope to save what we love. As we paddled along, we came across some wrappers and thermocol wastes floating about and the occasional dead fish. It started getting hotter. Without any wind or the lack of a light breeze the ocean was a flat lake and paddling got tiring without a little push. Along the way, mainland India had a little surprise in store too. Old palace ruins struck right out of the Jungle Book as it stood in royal shambles, by the beach. With an air of mystery and history we entered the palace to be a part of its ruined royalty and weave our tales as one. The afternoon sun brought a sea of diamonds. Paddling in the shimmer of endless jewels was blissful. I’m not much of a shiny rocks person, but I could imagine why all jewelers are wealthy. Though the shimmer made a blissful me, it gave Rizwan a throbbing headache. The kid had been travelling and slept in a bus for two consecutive nights before our big day. Jehan decided to give him a little rest and tow him for a bit. Soon, approximately after 27km we had reached our beach halt for the night. A successful Day One.

Day 2 – 25th March – Nochurani to Hanuman Temple – 31km

Through our first night, the helpful police paid us a visit.They stayed close and ensured our safety. We had passed out on a balcony of a friendly watchman’s house and the freshwater and access to the loo can be counted as our reward for a successful Day One. Before I knew it, it was time to paddle again.

All aboard by 7 am. The sun to our backs and a light breeze to gave us a little push. We had some leftover burgers and fried chicken as a privilege to docking close to a restaurant the night before. We paddled along all excited and energetic and saw many more dead fish simply floating away not knowing how or why the fish died. At noon we found a quiet spot along the shore to stretch out and snack up some more. As I sat myself down on the beach, I saw the creepiest creatures, these wriggly wormy beings surfaced when the waves kissed the shore and disappeared almost immediately as the water receded. As per Google, there’s a whole different types of sand worms on the beach. We even got a chance to talk to a couple of fishermen and they didn’t shy from our GoPros’.

Keep on reading to find out more about their experience over the next 5 days in the second part of this story.

Images © Quest Expeditions

About the author: Charmaine Pereira is a kitesurfer and a kayaker, and COO at Quest Expeditions, and adventure tour company based in Mumbai


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