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Seacology field rep, marooned on a remote island, drums up a new project

May 29, 2020

Pandemic-related travel and meeting restrictions have made it tough for Seacology’s field representatives—the two dozen people who help us develop projects around the world—to keep working with island communities. But Vineeta Hoon, our field rep for India and Bangladesh, didn’t complain when India’s strict travel ban meant she couldn’t leave an isolated island for more than two months. Instead, she got to work.

Where in the world is Vineeta?

In early March, Vineeta was visiting remote Minicoy (Maliku) Island, in the Arabian Sea west of India’s mainland. When India shut down travel, she was stuck there, unable to leave. Back at the Seacology office in the U.S., we didn’t know where she was, and began to worry a little. Finally, she was able to use the island’s spotty internet service to let us know the situation.

Instead of fretting about this sudden upending of her plans, Vineeta was embracing island life, swimming and cycling at a safe distance from others. “We have the most fantastic view of sunrises!” she wrote.

We weren’t surprised that the lockdown didn’t faze Vineeta, an intrepid traveler. And Minicoy, a beautiful island with white sand beaches, is not a bad place to get stuck. Vineeta, who has a Ph.D. in cultural geography, has lived in far tougher conditions—among other adventures, she has traveled with reindeer herders in the Arctic and nomads in the Himalayas.

On Minicoy, she stayed in a room above the small museum that Seacology funded years earlier, when islanders established a large marine and mangrove protected area around the island. The museum houses a trove of wonderful items that bring alive the unique history of the island, whose people are known for their extraordinary seafaring skills.

 

The museum on Minicoy Island was built with Seacology funds in 2009.

Vineeta visited the museum and met with a group of visiting students in 2012.

Getting to work

It turns out Vineeta wasn’t just enjoying the sunsets and tropical breezes. She and K.G. Mohammed, who collected and donated the items in the Minicoy museum, set to work cataloguing every item, including artisanal fishing gear, model boats, wooden fish used in old rituals, and colorful clay jars.  By the time they’d finished, they had produced a 54-page document that describes each treasure and also documents historic sites around the island.

Vineeta also noticed that grazing goats were undermining the soil around the museum, and requested a small maintenance grant from Seacology so a fence could be built to keep them out. That’s just the kind of support Seacology likes to offer. If a community is keeping up its end of the bargain by protecting the environment, as Minicoy is, we want to hold up our end by providing funds for maintenance.

Vineeta’s accidental vacation ended in May, when the island administration arranged a ship to carry 15 people, including a family with a medical emergency, the 200+ miles back to the mainland. They then arranged safe transit through the Indian state of Kerala, meaning the travelers avoiding having to go into 14 days of quarantine there. From there, they went by car to Chennai, on India’s east coast, where Vineeta lives. She finally got home at midnight—only two months late.

She has no regrets about her sojourn on Minicoy. In her words, “I must say it was wonderful to not be connected and have no internet, email, or social media. Just quiet, with the waves and sea and writing.”

The museum is home to many cultural artifacts of the seafaring people who live on Minicoy Island.

The project established a 2,471-acre marine protected area.