These women from Tamilnadu dive in Indian Ocean to harvest seaweeds

A wonderful group of women packed their belongings in a blue plastic barrel set a voyage on an Island for five days. This Island is in the Indian Ocean off the Coromandal coast of South India.

One of the women among the pack Ms. Meenakshi Mookupori explained categorically about the packed essentials for their stay. She said, “clothes, toothbrush, and soap, as well as diving gear a worn-out pair of black socks, a locally made pair of goggles, cheap plastic slippers, cloth gloves, a round metallic plate with straps and pain killers, we pack before we leave.”

Ms. Mookupori is 65 years old and along with other women in the state of Tamilnadu dive in the Indian Ocean every single to collect seaweed which is predominantly used in making agar. It is basically a gelatinous substance that becomes a thickener in food and medicines.

She helped her mother to load cans of drinking onto the boat. She said, “I started accompanying my mother and grandmother to see when I was eight or 10.”

She said, “Those days, the seaweed collection was huge. We would bring back bags full. Now the quantity has reduced. The number of days we harvest the seaweed has also reduced. The sea has changed and we also had to.”

Ms. Meenakshi has been the ardent observer of the several climatic changes that occurred all these years. She also elaborated on the health of the ocean and showed concern about degradation leading to increase danger on natural structuring.

Rising Sea levels, hotter temperatures, and strong currents along this coast which is the best for seaweed cultivation on a commercial level are some of the changes she reflected.

Head of Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute in Ramanathapuram district Dr. Eswaran said, “With the rise in sea temperature and salinity, seaweed growth has declined in the last decade.”

He further said, “Women who harvest seaweed have definitely been impacted, with their incomes coming down by at least 20 percent.”

UN Development Programme stated in reports that these women divers from Tamilnadu are harvesting 60% to 70% less edible weeds than 5 years ago in India. The women wake up at 3 am to be at the docks by 5 am. They dive for 7-10 hours on and off minimal protection of water.

The women talk about the uncertain conditions of the sea including the rising tides and the great physical strength required to hold one’s breath and go down to the depths.

But with every passing year, yields are falling and fines for wild harvesting increasing, they said, making their work an unattractive job option for their children.

“Our children would never do this,” Ms. Mookupori said.

She said, “In fact, sometimes we take them to the islands just for a picnic and show them a little of what we do. But when we stop diving, there will be no one else.”

Also Read: Tamil Nadu’s seaweed harvesters in rough seas