Wildlife Service Award (2018)
Marine conservationist, animal welfare activist and focused administrator
Puja Mitra With flipflops on her feet and a laundry-list of achievements tucked neatly into her pocket, Puja Mitra is an early career-achiever in India’s marine conservation world. In 2013, armed with a degree from the University of Oxford, Mitra led a massive campaign under the aegis of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations to ban dolphinaria in India, which led to landmark legislation on the issue. Later, she moved to Goa to launch WWF-India’s Oceans and Coasts Programme in the state as Senior Programme Coordinator. Here she spent months coordinating a field research team under the guidance of subject experts, analysing and understanding the impact of the booming but unregulated dolphin tourism industry on dolphins and identified the gaping voids when it came to the licensing, awareness and sustainability of these trips. When the government failed to legislate the tourism guidelines developed by her team and boat operators went back to their old ways, Mitra struck out on her own. Today, as the Founder of conservation enterprise Terra Conscious, Mitra is creating a bridge between ethical boat operators and conscious tourists. Working with a community of fishermen on Morjim beach, she’s providing tourists with a better understanding of marine life, following international best practices for dolphin watching and ensuring boat operators of a dignified living. Terra Conscious also extends this experience to students from schools in Goa and other states and hosts field activities and awareness workshops on marine conservation for them. Simultaneously, Puja coordinates and trains the members of OceanWatch, a stranding, monitoring and response network established in collaboration with the Goa Forest Department and IUCN, India. The network comprises a collective of lifeguards working with Drishti Marine that provides crucial data on marine mammal and turtle deaths in the state while also responding to wildlife emergencies. Dolphins aren’t the only intelligent, social beings that have found an ally in Puja. She has previously also participated in research initiatives on human-elephant conflict in the Western Ghats and Assam, and been an editor with the Captive Elephant Welfare and Management Project. A tireless, no-nonsense conservationist with a heart of gold, Puja Mitra is an inspiration to us all.