Published: 30th April 2020
How a responsible tourism company in Goa helped the community survive the Coronavirus lockdown
Terra Conscious was built on the ideals of community service and sustainability. When tourism came to a standstill, they used the same ideas to help the local people
How did Terra Conscious, a marine conservation and responsible tourism company become one of the most dedicated saviours of people stranded or in trouble during the Coronavirus lockdown? They began what they called their ‘Post Pandemic Initiatives’ in the middle of April when they began the stock collection in partnership with the NGO Live Happy Goa.
Founded in 2017, the social enterprise in North Goa run by a team of passionate conservationist, has been been empowering the local community by partnering with community and tourism institutions.
Co-founder Puja Mitra is a conservation practitioner with an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation & Management from the University of Oxford. She co-founded the company with Roshan Gonsalves, an experienced scuba diving professional and Marine Ecology specialist licensed by Scuba Schools International (SSI).
SAVE FIRST: The organisation focuses on marine wildlife tourism and related conservation challenges
Puja says, “Goa's unfortunate reputation as a party destination has in my view, impacted its local communities and environment negatively. We focus on marine wildlife tourism and related conservation challenges, because due to the introduction of mechanized fisheries, many of the small-scale fishers in Goa switched to tourism in the last 10-15 years, with many opting to take tourists to watch dolphins due to the frequency of sightings in the near shore waters off the coast. In the absence of marine protected or regulated areas, guidelines or training for boat operators working on Goa’s coastline, this industry has grown rapidly, with almost 400 boats conducting these trips in North Goa alone.”
The motto behind Terra Conscious is to build the capacity of the dolphin watching boat operators to provide responsible and ethical experiences by training them in internationally accepted dolphin watching guidelines, developing and placing information signage in our pilot site, and building awareness and marketing campaigns to connect conscious travellers with the trained operators. In June 2017, they began a collaborative project with the Goa Forest Department, IUCN India and Drishti Marine Services to establish standard protocols for addressing marine wildlife stranding incidents reported across Goa's 100 km coastline.
TOUR DE FORCE: Terra Conscious practises sustainable tourism practices
With the Coronavirus, tides literally turned. Puja explains, “It will be a long time before we can conduct our field programmes again and tourism will definitely take a hit as both public health and economic challenges will be a big concern in the coming months. It's a good time for us to all reflect and think of how we can adapt to the changing times and achieve our vision through new ideas and platforms. We have some upcoming initiatives which we will launch very soon.”
On April 16, they partnered with Pala Farms Goa, a small farm with around 50 animals where they created learning content and raised fund for the up-keeping and restoration of the farm during the lockdown restrictions. Just a day later on April 17 the team set up their second round of stock collection by distributing food rations to migrant workers and low-income families in the localities. Puja says, “We sponsored personal hygiene and sanitation items with the help of donations. We have also been assisting some of the boat operators who find themselves out of work and are facing an uncertain future.”
With the help of Live Happy Goa founder Felly Gomes and Chafa Craft and Clothing run by Shama Khan, they donated 25 metres of material to Asha Bhavan to stitch face masks for the families that they support. In addition to this, people at the Terra Conscious office were also busy creating reusable and washable Buddha print face masks of their own to distribute among the community members on April 22, Earth Day.