The Team

Trustees of SSTCN

V.Arun has been with SSTCN from 1997 and has been coordinator since 2002. Since the time he joined, his focus has been in reaching out to the public to involve the larger community in safeguarding the interests of the turtles and the marine ecosystem. Towards this he holds discussions with various groups of people both on the walks and in schools, colleges etc

Arun qualified as an engineer and worked in the field for seven years. He then switched to teaching and worked as an Environment Education teacher in the Krishnamurti Foundation School, Chennai for 12 years.  Arun now lives in Thiruvannamalai in an organic farm. He and his team members run ‘Marudam’, a small village school, manage an afforestation project and work with local children on environmental education projects.

Arun was awarded the Wildlife Service Award for 2022.

Arun Venkataramanan

Conservationist, educator and forest-nurturer

It was when the electronic boom began on the cusp of the Internet era that Arun, a young engineer in Mumbai, joined members of the Bombay Natural History Society on long forest walks. The interactions led him to ask: “How should I spend my life’s energy?” The answer came from within him and since then nature conservation has remained his true calling.

In 1997, he began teaching Environment Education at the Krishnamurti Foundation School in Chennai, where he remained for 12 years. This shifted his worldview. In 1997, he also joined the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN), becoming the group’s coordinator in 2002. With the SSTCN, Arun helped protect the eggs of olive ridley turtles that nested on Chennai’s beaches, safely releasing newborn hatchlings, creating awareness on environmental issues through discussions with groups during turtle walks every weekend, and by speaking with children and their teachers in schools and colleges.

In 2009, Arun and his wife Poornima moved to Thiruvannamalai with their two children. Committed to safeguarding nature, the couple, with like-minded friends, launched a project called ‘The Forest Way’ where they ran environmental education activities, reforestation drives on the Arunachala Hill, and skill share workshops for locals. They also began a small alternative school for children from all socio-economic backgrounds in Thiruvannamalai. Called the Marudam Farm School, it teaches life skills including farming, gardening, carpentry, pottery, tailoring, cooking… along with academics. The school has been written about in many magazines and journals for its emphasis on sustainable living and its holistic approach to education.

Arun also conducts birding trips, nature education camps, tree walks and environmental education programmes for groups seeking to connect with nature. A man of many parts, he also happens to be the Secretary of the Annamalai Reforestation Society since 2018, and has been its treasurer since 2012. He currently collates and documents the biodiversity of the region he knows so well, through the India Biodiversity Portal, e-Bird and inaturalist.

The values that Arun, his wife and their team have carefully instilled in so many youth have clearly made a deep impact on the couple too. Attempting to walk lightly on the Earth, leaving behind the smallest possible ecological footprint, the family lives in a thatched house on an organic farm powered solely by solar energy. Arun uses public transport whenever possible and has not taken a flight in 25 years!

This man, in so many ways, is years ahead of his time, with each day a sincere pursuit in shifting perspectives. Without exaggeration he has dedicated his entire life to protecting and safeguarding not just nature-in-a-silo, but our collective future writ large.

Akila Balu has been with SSTCN since 2006 and is coordinator along with Arun. She is also involved in the afforestation and school programs in Tiruvannamalai. She is qualified with an M Phil in economics and has taught in schools and colleges abroad. She was a student of Shri.Lalgudi Jayaraman and has performed in various places. She has now chosen to work with environmental issues and social causes. She worked for a few years with WWF. Akila, along with some family members and with CIKS (Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems) is also involved in a village program in Alangadu village near Sirkazhi.

Adhith Swaminathan got into turtle walks when as a student in The School, KFI, he got exposed to it. From the age of 11 he has been passionate about turtles and has spent most of his time associated with turtle related activities in one form or the other. He is a bit of a legend while on the field in locating tracks and nests and he is totally hands on in his approach and is meticulous in hatchery management and record keeping.

Adhith has a masters’ degree in Marine management from the University of York in England. He has worked with turtle conservation projects in Orissa, Costa Rica and now works on a project on leatherback turtles in the Andaman Islands along with Kartik Shanker, one of the founders of SSTCN and now an acknowledged expert on sea turtles.

Sanjiv Gopal was coordinator of the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network from 1997-2001 and held the group together during some of its toughest years when turtle nesting numbers drastically dropped on the Chennai coast.

‘Sanju’ as he is known to friends, patrolled the beach stretch from Besant Nagar to Neelankarai with a rare combination of passionate energy and commitment every week night through the entire turtle season during his entire college years. In all, he was involved for 8 years. On graduating from college he joined Greenpeace where he has been working as an Oceans campaigner since 2002, battling some of India’s worst environmental issues with his usual energy and flair.