Humans of the Sea – Saw Watha (Agu)
“A veteran turtler, naturalist and fisherman par excellence, Agu is in a league of his own. His tsunami survival story is the stuff of legend.” – that’s how our Trustee, Meera Anna Oommen describes Saw Watha.
Saw Watha, known as Agu, has been with ANET for more than 20 years and is a veteran of marine turtle surveys and monitoring across the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For several years, he single handedly managed the research activities of ANET’s sea turtle camp at Galathea in Great Nicobar Island. Agu’s own story of surviving the 2004 tsunami is one of great courage and determination. Find out more about him below.
Where are you from?
I’m from Mayabunder, Middle Andaman. My family migrated here from erstwhile Burma more than four generations ago in search of work.
Why are you working for wildlife?
I first got the opportunity when Uncle Paung asked me to join Harry Andrews for a crocodile survey at Little Andaman, Mayabunder, Diglipur and a few other locations across the islands. This was in 1998, and I have been working in this field ever since. Over the years, I have worked on surveys, data collection, etc. with researchers such as Harry Andrews, Manish Chandi, Naveen Namboothri, Kartik Shanker, Adhith Swaminathan and many others. Although I spend most of my time on building and carpentry work at ANET, I fondly remember my fieldwork days since they gave me an opportunity to learn new skills and to travel on the dungi to remote islands for months together.
What challenges did you face when you started?
I did not know about data collection, tagging and several other things involved in fieldwork when I first started working. This was a challenge when I started off but now it is what I enjoy most about my work – I get to learn new things from different researchers I work with. I teach the things I learn to my children and pass it on to the next generation.
What is that one event or experience that strengthens your resolve to continue?
I was on the beach in Galathea Bay, Great Nicobar Island, when the tsunami struck in 2004. My colleagues didn’t make it, and I was almost certain that I wouldn’t either. By god’s grace, I survived after being stranded at sea for 13 days. I suffered injuries to my collarbone and ribs and the whole experience was a traumatic one. But it will remain one of the most defining experiences of my life.
What do you want to tell people in our country?
After the tsunami, the islands have changed drastically – many trees along the shores were uprooted, corals were destroyed and settlements were inundated. I hope that our children will take responsibility for preserving what is left of our islands for the generations to come.
We hope you found inspiration in his story. Click here to learn more about the research projects at ANET!