It was only at 45 that Chennai-based Uma Mani revived her interest in painting. She once saw a documentary on coral reefs which encouraged her to paint them.

Curious, she also wanted to see these coral reefs in real life, which sparked her desire to dive deep into the water. Uma decided to become a certified scuba diver, a year before turning 50.

Narrating her first dive, she says, “I was standing at the edge of the diving board and when I looked at the vast sea, I got scared. My scuba diver yelled at me to jump. But I refused.”

“I closed my eyes and remembered that it was my first and last opportunity. If I quit now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life,” she adds.

As Uma dived in deep, she was taken aback by the underwater beauty. “It seemed the time had stopped, and before me were these beautifully coloured coral reefs. I was overwhelmed to see them for the first time,” she adds.

With time and experience, her fascination with the coral reefs slowly turned into a deep concern. She then made it her life’s mission to raise awareness about protecting them.

“Every time I dive into the water, I see the coral reefs destroyed further by irresponsible waste disposal, oil spills, untreated sewage, and toxic chemicals that are dumped into the sea.”

“This is very disheartening. Oceans are the biggest carbon sink helping us breathe good oxygen but we keep using them as the largest garbage bins,” she says.

Motivated to take action, she met documentary filmmaker, Priya Thuvassery, and urged her to make a film on coral reefs.

In 2019, their award-winning documentary titled ‘Coral Woman’ was released, featuring Uma’s journey on raising awareness about the damage being caused to marine life.

Even today, she continues to raise awareness about marine pollution in schools, colleges, and corporate organisations. Recently, she was named the ‘Earth Champion of the Month’ by Sony BBC Earth.

“The oceans do not have a voice. I am one of the few who could communicate the reality. My work is small and it will take an entire village to bring about a change,” she says.