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Puja Mitra: Protector of Marine Wildlife

Woman of the Wild #1: Introducing Puja Mitra 

It will come as no surprise to our Goan readers that the pioneering feature in our new column, Women of the Wild, highlights the conservation efforts of Puja Mitra. Known primarily for her enterprise, Terra Conscious that conducts ethical and knowledge based dolphin safaris in North Goa, Puja is truly a force to be reckoned with.

With a clear long term vision, she has amassed learnings from her time serving as the Senior Programme Coordinator with the WWF-India, Goa State Office to orchestrate a broad, inclusive plan to safeguard marine wildlife. To create a truly sustainable plan, Puja has to juggle the interests of the myriad communities involved, from the boat operators to the tourists to the marine life she seeks to protect. 

Puja Mitra, Founder of Terra Conscious

What makes Terra Conscious different from other such enterprises? 

Puja has employed a radically different approach to the dolphin watching safaris, which she has titled the ‘Ocean Biodiversity Experience.’ Due to a lack of awareness, others in the business tend to chase the dolphins with their rumbling engines at full throttle, surround them and even allow tourists to dive into the water with them, all of which has proven to increase stress levels in the dolphins.

Puja’s efforts have succeeded in offering an ethical alternative to this, by developing a trip where the thrill comes from observing dolphins in the wild, rather than disturbing them. Those that opt for a trip with Terra Conscious get the chance to observe dolphins in their habitat from a distance and learn more about these majestic cetaceans from a well trained boat operator. 

The team of boatmen that Puja works with have been trained to recognise the ecological struggles that Goa faces and the importance of the effort that Terra Conscious is undertaking. Rather than simply campaigning for faulty practices to be put to an end, Puja has presented a means for boat operators in the business to switch to an ethical method of the same concept. The boat operators are paid fair wages and are treated as stakeholders in the project, rather than as mere employees. Several trip operators have approached Puja and asked her to take them on board, which is a sure sign that the entire community as well as the marine life is benefitting from the venture.

The Ocean Biodiversity Experience in action

What is Puja’s biggest achievement? 

Puja proudly speaks of the work done by Ocean Watch, a marine stranding network that she has helped establish with support from IUCN, Dristi Marine and the Goa Forest Department which makes it significantly easier for the latter to respond to coastal strandings. Ocean Watch has brought several communities together and enforced a longstanding faith in a shared vision and produced a vital one year report that documents 115 of the strandings that took place on the Goan coastline alone. 

Overview of the total strandings in Goa, as found in the report 

What are the biggest challenges for Terra Conscious?

In a tourist industry that constantly battles the effects of the decades old narrative of Goa being the place for sun, fun and beach time, often in a disrespectful and exploitative light, Terra Conscious has had to carve out their niche in a small, but slowly growing market of tourists interested in exploring Goa in a more meaningful way. There is a strong movement from activists, business owners, citizens and tourism establishments to rebrand Goa in an ecologically impactful way and retell the story of Goa in a way that highlights the staggering natural beauty and the many ways that tourists can interact with it.  

On an optimistic note, Puja receives consistent requests from all over Goa, asking her to establish an enterprise where they are. In order to scale up the project and replicate it in several destinations in Goa with ease, there needs to be a change in governmental policy as well. Dolphin safaris presently come under the ambit of adventure sports rather than nature based regulations, which limits the provisions for community intervention, education and awareness programmes amidst the locals and negates the possibility of incentives for such ventures coming from above. 

A young boy visibly intrigued by the sight of wild, undisturbed dolphins 

Puja’s message for tourists coming to Goa 

In a bid to change the narrative of Goan tourism and promote a more wholesome and grounded approach to travel in general, Puja would like to ask travellers to “be respectful, be mindful and be grateful to be here. What is a destination to you is a home to someone else.” 

Written by Aishwarya Shah

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