Jagdish Bakan won the prestigious UNESCO Award for transforming the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve!

The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve has a hero who won the prestigious UNESCO Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management through his active and dedicated participation in serving nature. This is Jagdish Bakan's story.

Hitanshu Bhatt
New Update
gulf of mannar biosphere reserve

Nestled along the coastline of Tamil Nadu, the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve stands as a beacon of conservation efforts, spearheaded by individuals like Jagdish Bakan, who has dedicated his career to safeguarding this marine treasure trove and even won the UNESCO Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management. Born and raised in Maharashtra's Parbhani district, Jagdish pursued his education in Mumbai, graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the esteemed ICT Mumbai. After a successful stint at Hindustan Petroleum for 6.5 years, his journey took a transformative turn when he joined the Indian Forest Service in 2017.

Jagdish Bakan

Tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park and serving as the Wildlife Warden of the Ramnathapuram district, he is at the forefront of conservation efforts in this biodiverse region. Managing not only the Marine National Park but also the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve and several other sanctuaries, his role extends to safeguarding Ramsar wetlands, including bird sanctuaries.

In recognition of his exemplary efforts, the Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer was honored with the prestigious UNESCO Michel Batisse Award for Biosphere Reserve Management for his outstanding contributions to conservation. This accolade, bestowed every two years, celebrates exemplary case studies from Biosphere Reserves worldwide. In 2023, the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, India's first marine biosphere reserve, was chosen as the case study, marking a historic moment for conservation efforts in the region. "There are over 750 Biosphere Reserves in the entire world and 18 in India, and getting selected among all these is truly a matter of pride for me," says Jagdish.

Gulf of Mannar Coastline
Gulf of Mannar Coastline

Central to Jagdish and his team's work are the interventions implemented within the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. With over 320 kilometers of coastline and a population heavily reliant on marine resources, sustainable practices are paramount. He adds, "Through the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, the trust has facilitated eco-development committees across 252 coastal villages, empowering local communities to engage in sustainable livelihood practices while conserving the rich marine biodiversity of the region."

From promoting sustainable fishing practices to raising awareness about marine conservation, the trust embodies a holistic approach to biodiversity preservation. The project carries out 55 small and big activities for the conservation of the area, but Jagdish highlighted the four main programs that are at the core of the project and were the touch points on which UNESCO awarded him the prize.

Capacity and Micro Building Programmes 


In each of the 252 villages, there is a committee comprised of local residents, which acts as a societal body representing the community. Under this committee, there are self-help groups (SHGs), typically numbering between 5 to 7 in each village. Through the Environmental Development Committee (EDC), they provide microcredit at concessional rates to these SHGs. This financial support enables SHGs to engage in various green activities, such as harvesting palmyra, collecting shell crabs, producing fish pickles, and engaging in other eco-friendly endeavors. “Through capacity building and access to microcredit, we have facilitated the creation of over 7700 green jobs within a year across the 252 villages,” says the IFS officer.



The second major activity they have undertaken is eco-tourism, leveraging the area's natural beauty, including its 21 islands such as Ramesar Island. With the support of local communities, the reserve has initiated community-based eco-tourism projects. These include providing lifeguard and boat driving certifications to local youth, establishing boating points and jetties, and investing capital in infrastructure development. The ecotourism initiatives have been successful, generating net profits that are shared with the villagers for the first time. Adding to a unique program employed by the management, Jagdish said, “We allocate 60% of the profits for community development, empowering the community to decide how to utilize these funds. By involving the community in profit-sharing, we aim to make them active partners in our projects, fostering ownership and sustainability.”

Plastic Check Posts 


Another activity that they undertake is the implementation of plastic check posts. These check posts play a crucial role in tackling the problem of plastic entering the ocean along the coastal road from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi. By involving the community and implementing the polluter pays principle, they are not only addressing the issue but also generating revenue through recycling shredded plastic for road construction. It's a sustainable approach to solving the problem.

Wildlife Rescue 


The fourth highlight of the project is the active rescue of wildlife in that area. The department carries out this operation with the help of the community, as they are more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of wildlife. “In 2022-2023, we rescued 102 marine animals. Offering rewards such as ₹10,000 for releasing a dolphin helps cover any losses incurred by fishermen, fostering a sense of empowerment,” says Bakan on the project. With 47 fishermen involved and rescues including seven dolphins and numerous turtles, the impact on both the community and the environment is substantial.

These activities are just the tip of the iceberg as Jagdish received the award based on them, but there are numerous other initiatives like mangrove plantation, coral restorations, and seagrass restoration carried out with the help of various international and national organizations like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC). These organizations provide corpus funds to the project, which fuels the economy.


Getting a grant from these organizations is sometimes easy, but convincing communities to cease their activities and participate in sustainable practices can be challenging. Therefore, they have implemented schemes to reward them and involve them in the decision-making process. Through their involvement, they feel empowered not only economically but also socially.

Jagdish and the management of the biosphere reserve believe that environmental protection and biodiversity conservation cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires active engagement and collaboration with local communities. “Programs like ours emphasize the importance of community involvement through initiatives such as self-help groups, eco-tourism, and microcredit schemes. By organizing and guiding communities, we empower them to become stewards of their environment while ensuring their socio-economic well-being." Furthermore, they recognize the significance of nature-based solutions, such as mangrove restoration, coral reef protection, and seagrass conservation, in addressing environmental challenges. These natural ecosystems not only provide essential habitat for wildlife but also act as buffers against natural disasters and mitigate climate change impacts. This is what makes the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve and Jagdish Bakan true saviors of nature.

earth day Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Jagdish Bakan UNESCO Michel Batisse Award