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Divar’s green warrior

Twenty-four-year-old biologist Hycintha Aguiar is leading the project for the creation of a people’s biodiversity register for Divar Island, reports NT BUZZ

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

Truly one of Goa’s precious gems, the island of Divar is known for its serenity and greenery. And in an effort to document, preserve, and protect the bountiful biodiversity of the pretty island, Hycintha Aguiar is leading the creation of a people’s biodiversity register by the local biodiversity committee of the Goltim-Navelim panchayat.

Mandated for all states, under India’s Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Rules, 2004, the people’s biodiversity register will contain information about the various types of flora and fauna in the area – which are there now and which may have existed in earlier times, the medicinal uses of plants, old recipes, the significance to different communities, the myths and superstitions associated with each, etc. Apart from Divar, a few other villages in Goa are also in the process of preparing this register. Aguiar is the youngest among all the chairpersons of BMCs constituted in different villages of Goa.

“The interesting thing about the people’s diversity register is ‘peoplescape’. This comprises all the different communities that live in a particular area and how each of them have a special interaction with nature. Each community is specialised in different areas be it agriculture, fishing, etc. So they all have a special part to play just like in an ecosystem,” says Aguiar, who is a post graduate in zoology from the Goa University. In fact, it was her deep passion for the environment that led to her name being suggested for this project. “I always wanted to do something for my island and I feel this is a great opportunity to do just that, to change the mindset towards the environment and to keep tomorrow safe,” says Aguiar, who was inducted into the committee in July 2018.

“A lot of people don’t know what a people’s biodiversity register is and how important it is. Whenever they hear the word environment they tend to associate it with activism,” she admits. Thus in a first effort to create awareness about Divar’s biodiversity and get people in touch with nature, the committee held its first major activity, a bird walk, in December 2018. The walk witnessed the participation of around 60 people. Since then, as she visits the villagers of the island, Aguiar has also kept in touch with these participants via social media to help take the people’s biodiversity register project further. She has also involved students from Divar schools by conducting frequent sessions with them.

Explaining a little more about the register, she says that for instance there is a format for crop plants. “This involves studying the older varieties of crops, listing down their special features, which of these have been abandoned now, the problems associated with these, the human-animal conflict, etc. Under commercially beneficial biodiversity there is also domestic biodiversity and ornamental plants,” she says.

“When I started this project I thought that maybe the wild diversity in Divar might not be as impressive as that in other villages located closer to the forest. But I was pleasantly surprised when I spoke to people, especially the older folks. They gave me information about a lot of varieties of plants like a wild variety of tendli, etc,” says Aguiar.

And it is important to document all this, says Aguiar. “When you enter Divar, one of the first things you see is the big mango tree, it is part of the island’s identity. Even the popular island festival of Bonderam has its roots in biodiversity. People need to realise that everything in fact is rooted in biodiversity,” she says.

Aguiar has also been speaking to traditional healers to learn more. “These healers are slowly fading away. They don’t practice anymore as people don’t value them nor do they want to learn,” she says. At the same time there are also some beliefs that exist, for example if a healer shares the knowledge, he or she will lose the healing power, she says. “Thankfully I have not faced this hardship yet. However sometimes they are hesitant to share the recipes of some of the medicines. I try to convince them to at least pass it on in their family so that the knowledge remains. Losing this data base would be such a loss for us and they need to realise this,” says Aguiar.

Besides talking to the villagers, Aguiar is also examining old records as also looking at mandos and folk songs. “Folk songs, especially those sung by the Hindu community tell stories of different types of flowers that exist or used to exist,” she says.

Once this book has been prepared and there is a better idea of the different types of biodiversity on the island, it will be easier to take the next step towards protecting these as it will have legal precedence, says Aguiar.

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