How I Went From Fearing the Ocean to Protecting It

This post was written by #GenGeo community member Prashant Mohesh.

Growing up in Mauritius, I loved to explore nature. Behind my house there is a mountain named Le Pouce, whose forest and trails I spent a lot of time wandering as a kid. However, my instinct for exploration stopped at the water’s edge. Even though Mauritius is an island country surrounded by the Indian Ocean, I was scared of the ocean. Really scared.

When I was about 10 years old, that started to change. I began learning about the threat climate change posed to island countries like mine, and I started developing an interest in protecting the environment. In my teens, I watched nature documentaries and began thinking of steps I could take to change the world, but I didn’t know how. More recently, I took National Geographic’s Exploring Conservation courses, which set me on a path to helping start and lead The Oceanic Project, an organization dedicated to ocean awareness and protection.

As I learned more, I realized how much humans depend on the ocean and that it’s not as dangerous as I had imagined. My fear was rooted in stories I’d heard about drownings and in not knowing what lay beneath the waves. Prepared to conquer my fear, I stepped outside my comfort zone and became a certified diver last year.

Diving is a large part of what I do now, and I work to contribute to Project AWARE by protecting the underwater environment every time I plan a dive. After getting my diving certification, I helped run a summer camp for young divers with Crystal Divers Mauritius. During the camp, I helped lead a beach cleanup to make participants aware of how human litter can end up in the ocean. I remember a parent telling me that the cleanup led her son to insist on replacing plastic items in their home with bamboo alternatives.

Ocean pollution is a major issue in Mauritius. An influential moment for me occurred on July 25 of last year, when a ship named M.V. Wakashio crashed into our pristine coral reef off the southern Mauritian coast and spilled over 1,000 metric tons of fuel in our lagoon. It happened right near where I dive. Soon after, dolphins, whales, turtles, and crabs started washing up dead on the shore. 

After the spill, thousands of volunteers from across the island, including many youth, arrived in the town of Mahébourg to help clean up. I was there. We made makeshift floating booms out of sugarcane leaves and other basic materials to contain the spill. Mauritians were working day and night for weeks. It was great to see such a big mobilization. There’s strength in numbers, and by working together we kept the oil from spreading further.

To carry that energy forward, I decided to help create The Oceanic Project. We had work still to do, and I knew we had an important story to tell and could catalyze action to protect the ocean. The government was not responding effectively, so I thought, why not me? A good friend supported my idea, and soon we were recruiting others to our cause. I believe we need to protect the ocean every day, not just when an environmental catastrophe happens. Protection actions can take place in the water and on land—and online. Photos are some of our best tools to change people’s mindsets, and from the outset we have been using powerful photos to share our story on social media.

Every day, our team is collecting debris, recording data, and sharing stories. Some of our volunteers bring expertise in marine biology and first aid. Others simply bring their commitment to make a difference. When I say we need to do a cleanup next week, they say, “OK, count me in.” They don’t say, “I don’t have time for that.” I’m grateful for the hard work our team is doing.

After piloting a National Geographic Storytelling for Impact course last year, I partnered with National Geographic Certified Educator Danielle Zelin to develop our own Storytelling for Impact project for Mauritian youth. By taking photos of the coastal environment and reflecting on questions like “Why are our oceans important?”, young people will be inspired to protect the ocean and will sensitize others.

Through my experiences with National Geographic, I have gained practical skills that I apply in my everyday conservation work in Mauritius. Protecting the ocean is my passion, and I’m using that passion to inspire other Mauritian youth to become planetary stewards.

Learn from world-class National Geographic photographers, videographers, and visual designers in a series of Storytelling for Impact online courses in partnership with Adobe on how to use compelling photography, video, graphics, and audio to tell stories in the most impactful ways to effect change. Offered for both educators and youth ages 16-25, these short, free, self-paced online courses are designed to guide learners to visualize and communicate powerful stories that inspire action. The photography course is now open! Register here

You can follow Prashant on Twitter and Instagram, where he shares stories about how human activities are affecting our ocean.

Feature photo courtesy of Prashant Mohesh

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