Protect Sunderbans, No Kolkata Without It: Ashwika Kapur
Ashwika Kapur is a qualified science communicator and award-winning natural history filmmaker.
It was a full moon night. After a long gruelling day of shoot, Ashwika Kapur set her equipment aside and moved to the gunwale of her boat to soak in the celestial glow cast over the calm waters and the dense mangroves. It was not the Royal Bengal Tiger but the living marsh of mangroves – roots and thriving macro-life that revealed the beauty of the Sunderbans.
“If Sunderbans doesn’t exist as a bio-shield, then there won’t be a Kolkata.”Ashwika Kapur, Filmmaker
On World Earth Day 2021, The Quint spoke to Ashwika Kapur, a qualified science communicator and award-winning natural history filmmaker who has filmed several documentaries while living in the swampy Sunderbans. Kapur captured on camera swimming tigers and the rich living thriving in the Sundarbans. She even dived into the Indian Ocean to highlight the vulnerability of coral reefs in the Andamans.
India’s Youngest Green Oscar Winner
In the last six years, the director-producer-researcher who self-films, has been mapping the effects of climate change in India, United Kingdom and New Zealand. She was featured on Animal Planet's ‘Heroes of the Wild Frontiers’ and Discovery's ‘Mysterious Wilds of India’ and had filmed for Attenborough's Life in Colour for Netflix and BBC in India.
She became India’s youngest and only woman to win the Panda Award or The Green Oscar in the global category for her film about a celebrity Kakapo – Sirocco.
Kapur’s recent project produced by RoundGlass Sustain showcases the days she spent in the Sunderbans mangrove forest which is impenetrable by foot, storm prone and ruled by predators.
Sunderbans: Our Greatest Wall of Defence
“The Sundarbans is our first and greatest wall of defence against nature’s fury. Without a healthy Sundarbans, there will be no Calcutta. So there has never been a better time to salute its role in our survival.”Ashwika Kapur, Filmmaker
Kapur lived on a boat for over a month, traveling with the locals and documenting the life in Sunderbans, just days before the super cyclone Amphan ripped through the region causing massive destruction.
“The most striking effects of climate change that need to be addressed in the Sundarbans with urgency is the rampant encroachment and deforestation that has led to rising sea level which is submerging the land. Because of this, the intensity and frequency of cyclones have increased. If we continue to see such drastic change and climate change doesn't take a miraculous U-turn then we are in for a serious disaster,” she said.
She stressed that apart from massive loss of indigenous flora and fauna, a larger problem lurks in the Sundarbans. The locals in Bangladesh and India are increasingly becoming ‘climate refugees’ as their livelihoods that have been dependent on the mangroves for generations, are no longer sustainable.
“After the cyclone, we observed that where there was mangrove cover, there was very minimal damage. But where there was nothing, the houses were flattened out. This might seem like a local issue to the rest of the country but this is a web of life and one event will affect the paddy, destroy lives and Calcutta will no longer exist. It is a domino effect that will change the climate of the entire country,” she added.
While tourism is essential to ensure protection of this habitat, it is also vital to “listen to the locals” who are the natives of the land and have been protecting this ecosystem for long.
‘Old Ways to Save the Planet’
Kapur believes that it is not political change that needs to be stressed upon when it comes to climate change action. People who live in the Sundarbans should be made aware of the ecology they live in and ways to conserve it. “Once people believe in conserving their immediate space, they will stand up against developmental projects that could rob their land, water and wildlife,” she added.
Climate change is real here and has been caused by the “collective arrogance of humans”, she said. This needs to be rectified, she added.
Recollecting some of the most heartbreaking moments of her life she said, “In Ladakh, two years ago, it was Easter and time for harvest. It was the beginning of winter and the snow should have started melting but there was no snow around. This traditional family said that they won't even have water to feed their crops. Proof is right there screaming at us for attention. Save our planet”.
Another reminder from Kapur is, “Coral reefs usually remind us of an explosion of magic and colour with a nemo swimming around. But when I went for a dive in the Marine National Park in Andamans, it was like diving in a ghostly white cemetery. If climate change has a face, it is the white bleached coral reefs because this has been caused due to the warming of the oceans.”
Kapur urges everyone to educate each other about ways to save our plant in the smallest of ways.
“India is imitating the West when it comes to the usage of plastic but the irony is that the world is trying to live like how we lived once upon a time.”Ashwika Kapur, Filmmaker
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