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Celebrating World Wetlands Day - Dr Ravichandra Mondreti's Insights and Career Journey

Creado por Maisie Northing | 4 de Marzo de 2024  | Career tips Researcher Experience climate change

The 2nd of February marked the celebration of World Wetlands Day (WWD), established in August 2021.

The official website for the Convention on Wetlands states:

"Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” that they provide humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation."

Shockingly, wetlands are being lost "three times quicker than forests", and since the 1700s to the present day, close to "90% of the world's wetlands have been degraded".

We spoke with AuthorAID member Dr Ravichandra Mondreti about his work and career journey with wetlands. We learn about the importance of wetlands, Ravichandra's PhD work, interesting challenges he has overcome, and more!

If after you have read the interview with Ravichandra below you'd like to learn more, read Sharon Gubamwoyo's interview about her work on wetlands here.

Ravi wearing sunglasses smiling at the camera. He is standing, with a body of water and mud banks and vegetation in the background.


Could you tell us where you’re based, where you’re from, and what your current research is?

I’m currently based in Noida, northern India, close to Delhi. I am from Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, southern India. I have lived and worked in many places in India and other countries, including France. I have a PhD in Ecology and Environmental Sciences. I am currently the Vice President of Operations for an environmental consultancy organisation, Akshayaanu Green Solutions. I am also a climate and sustainability trainer for Climate Ready Leaders (CRL). CRL provides climate and sustainability learning programmes to demystify climate change. My current job involves a mix of activities related to research, consulting, management, and administration. Recently, I was involved in the design and implementation of a site-specific wildlife conservation plan for a mining company adjoining a biodiversity-rich protected area. Previously, I was an independent senior consultant working at the intersection of forestry, biodiversity, climate change, and sustainability. I frequently collaborate with researchers and academics on projects, and our findings have been published in peer-reviewed journals. We currently have a paper in the pipeline.

What inspired you to study this field and can you tell us about your career path so far?

I started my career as an ornithologist, but I have also researched on other flora and fauna. I got interested in wetlands while pursuing my master’s degree. Wetlands are perfect habitats for various bird species. During my master’s, along with a few like-minded friends, I used to frequent a seasonal coastal wetland called Kaliveli Lake. The lake lies in the states of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, India. Post-monsoon, Kaliveli would teem with several migratory bird species.

I began my PhD looking at the population distribution and behaviour of the Nilgiri tahr, however due to funding and logistics issues, I had to change my topic. My new topic was ‘ecology of amphibians and reptiles in the Mukurthi National Park, upper montane forests of Nilgiris, Western Gnats, Southern India’. My career moved again during the second year of my PhD, as I was fortunate to secure an Erasmus Mundus fellowship. This helped me to pursue part of my PhD in France. My research was on seabird ecology, but I also studied other marine animals. Though I had to change my entire research domain, I learnt a lot of skills for pursuing research as a full-time career. I became adept in statistical programming, especially for modelling marine animal distributions. I also learnt to how to combine fieldwork with writing, with helped me to publish in a timely manner. On finishing my PhD, I started working as a project associate with the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), part of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in India. While working at the NCSCM, I was involved in a project named ‘Ecosystem Conservation Plan for Coastal Wetlands, Bhitarkanika Conservation Area’.

A saltwater crocodile on a muddy patch surrounded by water
'A saltwater crocodile basking'

Bhitarkanika is a coastal wetland, in the state of Odisha, on the east coast of India. It is dominated by mangroves and is one of the most diverse mangrove regions in the world. It is still pretty intact too. It is also the second largest mangrove forest after the Sundarbans. Bhitarkanika is rich in biodiversity, especially birds. It is also home to saltwater crocodiles, one of the largest reptile species. On one eventful field outing while collecting sediment and water samples in the estuary, we stumbled upon a huge crocodile. I was both awestruck and fascinated by its monstrous size! It was exciting to see. That was another turning point in my career, where my love for wetlands, especially mangroves, became so deep.

Can you tell us about any successes in your career that you’re proud of?

I published my PhD work on seabird and cetaceans in some reputed scientific journals like Marine Ornithology and I take pride in them. I would say that is one of my landmark achievements in my entire career. They were the product of dedication, passion, and teamwork. I was also fortunate to have support from my mentor and supervisor, Dr David Grémillet, a renowned seabird biologist. I am also proud of my work on the ecology of the Bhitarkanika mangroves. I have learned a lot of things during these successes, which ultimately strengthened my ideas during the course of my career.

A large white bird, possibly a heron, flies ahead just over a river-like body of water. Trees and vegetation line either side of the water. The image was taken in the Bhitarkanika mangroves.
'A scenic view - Bhitarkanika mangrove forest'

Can you tell us about any challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?

Oh, challenges are many. I sometimes felt like my PhD was a Herculean task. I had to travel between France and India, and then onto my field sites, which were geographically quite distant from the mainland. One field site was in the Lakshadweep Islands, on the west of the Indian Ocean, and the other site was the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the eastern Indian Ocean. Some of the islands are breeding places for seabirds. One of the most difficult challenges I faced during my career was to wait for 15 days on the main island, due to bad weather, to visit Pitti Island (Pakshi Pitti in Malayalam) for my fieldwork. It is a very small island, only around 0.1sq km in total area. The island is around 21 nautical miles from the main island, so, we took a speedboat to reach it. The sea was quite rough during the journey, and we had to take all of our equipment along. We had to then swim across to the island, carrying it all – this was very challenging. Things did fortunately work well for us, and we were able to collect really good data at the time. I was one of the first seabird researchers to visit the island. I am also grateful to Late Mr. Rathish, who was my field assistant during the duration of this challenging fieldwork. Another challenge I have faced is moving from hardcore science and research to taking up a role as a consultant. It is a question of adaptability and flexibility, and I am still learning. It is a different challenge mentally to adjust to the new kind of work, going from a process-oriented to a result-oriented approach.

What do you love most about being a researcher?

As a hardcore ecologist, I would always love to be on the field observing wildlife in their home. I am currently motivated to work on contemporary issues which really matter, and that align with the Sustainable Development Goals, such as climate change and sustainability. I am planning on undertaking research that looks at large scale biodiversity changes in the current climate change crisis.

Hundreds of large grey birds sitting in many trees, which are in a large body of water.
Nesting birds in Bhitarkanika National Park

What would you like to tell us about wetlands?

Wetlands are almost on the brink of extinction right now. Preserving these habitats is important for many reasons. Wetlands are key to local biodiversity, because they provide various ecosystems services. Mangroves act as a storm barrier, protecting the surrounding areas and preventing the incursion of sea water during cyclonic storms. Wetlands have a huge diversity of fish, which are often the prime source of livelihoods for local communities. You can’t really see a future without wetlands. They are one of the key ecosystems which have to be safeguarded and conserved. You need to make people aware of the value of wetlands. Imparting education and awareness are very important. Governments should take initiatives in creating proper legal structures in protecting wetlands, and we should think about incentivising local communities to safeguard them.

The World Wetlands Day 2024’s theme is ‘Wetlands and Human Wellbeing’. Where do you see the connection between the two?

The connection between wetlands and humans is complex. If you look back in history, for tribal communities in tropical regions such as in India and across Africa, wetlands formed an integral part of their lives. Many of these communities were living in the vicinity of wetlands, and would revere them, as a form of nature worship. During my numerous field visits to wetlands, I have observed this form of nature worship in certain tribal communities in south India. In India, some communities are completely dependent on the wetlands for their livelihoods. I presume wetlands from a cultural, ecological, and economic point of view. You also cannot separate a community from a wetland; they are integrated.

What advice would you give to anybody who is considering studying wetlands and their conservation?

In India, we tend to be generalists rather than specialists. I am a generalist. You need to have a vast knowledge of different domains. It really pays off, because over your career trajectory, you get to learn many new things, and have lots of research and professional opportunities. People who would like to make a career in ecology, especially in wetland ecology, should understand that it is very interdisciplinary. Wetland studies require the expertise of ornithologists, ecologists, hydrologists, and geologists. You need to think very holistically and from a systems perspective. The connections are so intertwined and sensitive; you need to have a good understanding of the whole ecosystem. It can’t be that you only want to look at a certain aspect of wetlands, as they are all connected, so you need to have knowledge about plants and birds too, for example. You should start by having a large ecosystems perspective before going into wetlands research. During this age of the climate change crisis, it is important to have a broad perspective and open up your horizons.

A large body of water with trees and vegetation in the background. In the foreground there are many large white and grey birds walking through the water. Some are standing with their heads under the surface.
'Ossudu, or Ousteri Lake, in Puducherry, India'

How do you hope your research will impact your community?

I am planning in the future to do more work on wetlands. My focus would be to involve the local communities, to work alongside them, especially in biodiversity conservation, and to understand how these wetlands will ultimately benefit them. I would like to involve myself more in education and awareness.

When did you first learn about AuthorAID and what AuthorAID activities have you participated in? How have they helped you in your career?

I came across AuthorAID at the start of my PhD, when I was looking for organisations involved in academic networking. This was around seven to eight years ago. My first AuthorAID activity was the scientific writing course, which I successfully completed. I really liked the course curriculum. It is quite creative, and you really learn a lot during the course. I’m delighted that my collaboration and association with AuthorAID is getting stronger over the years. I am currently the co-coordinator of the Environmental Biology and Toxicology journal club! I try to give my best to this role, and I would like to contribute more to the AuthorAID community. Over the years, I have seen how AuthorAID has grown to be a significant international community and the activities have diversified a lot. I hope to get a chance to mentor some future researchers soon.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic right now. We need to investigate how we can use AI to protect natural ecosystems. People are doing research on this, including some of my friends. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could be deployed to study the bird and other faunal distributions of remote field sites, such as a wetland in an inaccessible tropical rain forest. AI can be employed to analyse large ecological datasets, such as population distributions of birds over several decades.

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