Ringing the bell about marine biodiversity for young people
Sudha Kottillil is a marine biologist and shark expert who balances her time between field research in the Bay of Bengal and advocacy through the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and its India chapter. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, she talked about her efforts to help educate young people about the need to conserve marine resources.
What is your area of focus?
I conduct research on elasmobranchii (sharks, rays, and skates) - looking at various aspects such as diversity, genetic studies, consumption, and trade. The work involves working closely with fishing communities – conducting interviews and understanding the complexities that exist around marine conservation and sustainable seafood. I am also in the initial stages of building a curriculum on marine education for secondary school students.
I am also part of the global team of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and one of the coordinators of GYBN’s India chapter, the Indian Youth Biodiversity Network. In this role I work to elevate youth voices related to biodiversity, and to empower and advocate for the inclusion of young people in environmental policy-making at the international and national level.
How does your marine conservation research relate to your advocacy on biodiversity?
As a scientist, I work to create public awareness about the need to conserve our marine resources and address the threats the ecosystem faces. My research involves mapping the elasmobranch biodiversity in the Bay of Bengal to identify successful conservation measures and interventions, and to understand the viewpoints and issues of fishing communities. I have been able to educate people about the need to consume seasonal seafood as part of the InSeason Fish team, and about the importance of sourcing seafood from small-scale fishermen who fish using sustainable methods. Through my work I have also worked to create awareness in the fishing community about the threats that sharks, rays, and skates are facing, and why the ecosystem health is important.
My work at GYBN relates closely to these efforts. I have helped organize several workshops for young people interested in learning about the Convention on Biological Diversity process and finding ways to engage effectively with negotiations – both at the national and international level. I have also helped to organize youth consultations which resulted in the creation of an Indian youth priorities document which was used as input for youth statements at CBD COP15 in Montreal. The India chapter of GYBN is expanding with new regional chapters, empowering more youth in the process.
Do you have a message for today’s political or business leaders?
For far too long, we have failed to prioritize that which matters most – nature. We measure success in terms of profit and development, failing to secure the benefits of conserving our environment and carrying out activities that promote living in harmony with nature.
The people whose lives are affected the most by decisions need to be far more involved in policy-making and planning, with support for their participation. Young people are essential to this. They work hard, are committed, and bring dynamism, optimism, and solutions to solve the current socio-ecological crisis. The need of the hour is to make sure that youth are included in all decision-making spaces to represent their generation and to voice the changes they want to see in society.
What are your other interests or hobbies?
Other than my work, I am passionate about cooking and take every opportunity to try out different cuisines and dishes. I also thoroughly enjoy reading, playing the piano, and spending time in nature (be it by the beach or in forests).
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
As a youth delegate, I look forward to engaging with the GEF and different stakeholders to ensure the effective inclusion of youth in funding decisions. I want to ensure the participation of rightsholders in decision-making processes within the GEF so that resources (like those in the new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund) are more easily accessible to people on the ground – the people who work at the frontlines of protecting biodiversity. Making these funds easily accessible for vulnerable groups including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and developing countries is critical. I really hope to see dialogues and plans for youth-led funding mechanisms within the GEF.
I am also looking forward to the opportunity to form partnerships that can later on translate into meaningful engagements that go beyond talk, and that manifest as on-the-ground action for biodiversity conservation. I look forward to contributing my own experiences, sharing youth voices, and highlighting the wonderful work that young people are doing related to biodiversity conservation as part of the event in Vancouver.