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Surbhi’s winning proposal is for a freshwater protection initiative in her local community in India to promote nature-based tourism. She has identified Bhindawas - the largest wetland in Haryana, more than 1,000 acres and directly surrounded by villages - as in need of protection and providing opportunities for the communities.

Bhindawas wetland tributaries run through agriculture land, which carry high quantities of nutrients in the form of excess fertilizers that are usually applied during the cropping period. These eventually increase the growth of aquatic vegetation such as water hyacinth Eichhornia spp. Water hyacinth are an invasive species and cause a management challenge as they need to be removed manually on a regular basis.

Surbhi is aiming to teach the local community about the negative impact of the invasive plant species water hyacinth on local freshwater health, and use the water hyacinth to create craft products made by the local community. Water hyacinth can be used to develop environment-friendly and durable household products and office stationery such as bags, coasters, dining mats, hats and file covers.

Those in the community who do not own livestock or land, particularly women, cannot participate in the two main income avenues available in the region which are farming and animal husbandry. For these community members, water hyacinth craft could provide a viable alternative to support their social and economic empowerment.

The Earthwatch Shulman awards celebrates its tenth year of supporting emerging scientists by providing grants to early-career conservationists in Africa, Asia and Central and South America through the generous support of author and explorer Neville Shulman CBE.

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