Alumni Update: Asiem Sanyal
Asiem Sanyal is a Ravi Sankaran Inlaks Fellow of 2015.
My life-long passion for wildlife was ignited in the backyard of my house, where the greenery of our garden attracted all manner of organisms – a variety of birds frequented the flowering plants and trees, roving troops of monkeys treated my family to their acrobatics, skittish mongooses watched us curiously from a distance and scrambled to their burrows the minute we got too close, and various insects hummed, buzzed, chirruped, and treated us to a constant symphony. For as long as I can remember, I was content to sit in the garden and observe these creatures, these spells only being interrupted by a call for lunch, or tea.
The decision to transform my passion into my profession was cemented when I opted to study zoology, and it was here I discovered the wonder of the marine realm. The oceans are the last great frontier, and we are far from understanding the mysteries contained within their waters. For instance, a spectacular array of marine species are to be found in Indian waters, yet these somehow do not claim the public consciousness as terrestrial species have done, and continue to do. From minuscule jellyfish to gigantic whales, from bold crabs to gentle dugongs, there is a wealth of biodiversity in Indian, and global waters, that is understudied and undocumented. The reasons for studying these species are not always motivated by the selfish human aspect of deriving tangible benefits from them, alone; there is also an endeavour and a pursuit of curiosity while trying to understand a vast and mysterious world populated by a myriad of organisms (some that may never even encounter humans), and the multiple connections that exist between them and us (potential interdependencies that we may yet have no idea of), as well as various factors that have led to the evolution of mechanisms to survive in differing conditions underwater.
Following another degree in Marine Science, I was extremely fortunate to be a recipient of the Ravi Sankaran Inlaks Scholarship in 2015, which helped me to pursue a Master’s in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London. Understanding the ecology and evolutionary history of any species is a crucial aspect of implementing a conservation strategy (if at all) for it. But theoretical grounding alone does not, and should not suffice in formulating these strategies. Understanding these processes in the field, and examining how they are intertwined with the lives of human beings who may interact with these species, is equally important. A lack of awareness is oftentimes a death-knell to species, and only with a change in people’s attitudes can any conservation effort meet with some semblance of success.
Over the past few months, I have been working with Projecto Biodiversidade, an NGO based in Sal Island, Cape Verde, monitoring the activities of nesting loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), in an effort to prevent their decline due to various reasons (mostly anthropogenic). I have also helped with another allied project monitoring red-billed tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus). While on the field, I have learnt the importance of not just active monitoring, but also educating locals about the incredible wildlife cohabiting with them, which may, in time, inspire a new generation of sensitive and aware people dedicated to conserving the species in their own backyards.