“Avicennia marina, Avicennia officinalis, Sonneratia alva, Excoecaria agallocha,” Shweta Hule rolls off when asked about the different kinds of mangrove species found in Vengurla in Sindhudurg district. Hule is no botanist. She is a fisherwoman, who has educated herself about the names along with the properties and unique features of these mangroves.
Under a group called Swamini, Hule, along with nine other women from the area, take tourists in boats to see the mangroves and hear about the different species. The group were given the two boats along with 20 life jackets by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Mangrove Cell, Maharashtra Forest Department. “The group were given the two boats along with 20 life jackets by the UNDP in collaboration with the Mangrove Cell, Maharashtra Forest Department and funded by the Global Environment Facility.
“It was my dream to ferry tourists to the mangrove areas and show them the different species. When people from the UNDP came to meet us, I told them about it and within a year, they arranged the equipment for us,” says Hule, also the president of Swamini. Now, the women take 10 tourists in each boat during the high tide to the mangrove strip for an hour-long safari. As they row the boats, they explain the properties of each species of the tree and the importance of the mangroves, apart from pointing out different marine fauna.
“Staff from the forest department trained the women about the scientific name of mangroves and their properties. Some books were also provided to them. They already knew how to row boats and took on the job really well,” says N Vasudevan, Chief Conservator of Forests (Mangrove Cell). Charging Rs 100 per person, the women have made Rs 70,000 in just four months. The women also run a restaurant from a small shanty, where they sell seafood to the tourists. “We are currently using the money from the restaurant as investment to develop it further,” adds Hule.
While the women are making long strides towards entrepreneurial success, they continue to do their fishing activities by selling fish in the evening. “We were felicitated by the villagers on Women’s Day this year. People are recognising us for our work. Women from Malvan and Devgadh visited us to see our model and implement it in their villages. Our husbands and families have also been very supportive,” says Ayesha Hule, another member of Swamini.
While the monsoon has brought a temporary halt to the mangrove safari, the women are gearing up to add more attractions when it resumes in October. They plan to start a nature trail which will include bird watching and mangrove walks, among other activities.