A strip of 21 islands between the coast of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, the Gulf of Mannar beckons tourists from around the country to explore the unexplored. For many, the islands of Ramnathapuram and Mandapam are heavenly destinations, helping to escape the hustle and bustle of the hectic city life. Tourists frolic on the beaches, scuba dive, or even attempt adventurous kayak rides. Coming in as an enthusiastic researcher myself, I discovered what these islands are most known for, the abundant marine life of over 4,000 documented species, from whales, dolphins, sea turtles, to the endangered dugong. It consists of India’s only Biosphere Reserve established by the Government of Tamil Nadu. But what should be boasted as one of Asia’s largest marine reserves is now slowly dying. Why so? Because over two-lakh fishermen residing in coastal villages depend on only one thing for their livelihoods, and that is fishing.

You see, except for the few pristine, protected islands of the Mannar region, most of the beaches, coastal areas, and natural spots of the Gulf of Mannar are in trouble. With so many lives entirely dependant on marine resources, conservation of marine life has struggled over the past several years now. On the other hand, increased competition and fishing pressure on the seas, some fishermen make the bare minimum wages for their survival. It is then when problems such as illegal smuggling surface, along with a complete disregard for healthy marine life.

So, how does one tackle the complex balance between maintaining conservation and people’s livelihoods? I decided to find out by filming a three-part docu-series over the past three months. Here it is:

The first part focuses entirely on what makes these treasured islands so special and what are its current threats and problems.

Secondly, we try to understand fishermen perspectives and challenges faced, making it difficult even for their survival.

We finally look at successful steps implemented, especially in empowering the women and children for perhaps a slightly more positive future. Despite the complexities, maybe this could shed a ray of hope