13 01 2007
The Gulf of Mannar lies just East and South of the temple town of Rameshwaram on the S.E. coast of India. The region has been declared a biosphere of great importance to the entire Indian Ocean and was the very first declared UNESCO recognised biosphere reserve (1989). It may well qualify as the world’s richest area of marine biological resource. There is a particularly rich diversity of ecological niches including 21 uninhabited islands, with estuaries, beaches, forests of the nearshore environment, with marine algal communities, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves!
The sea cow, Dugong dugon (related to the manatee), with child – a very rare sight these days

There is a combined flora and fauna of more than 3,600 species represented here within an area of 10,500 sq km. Many of these species are endemic to this particular area of shallow ocean and include a number of critically endangered species (see the Red List). Just one example on the island of Kurusadai, less than a kilometre from the Indian mainland, is the world’s one and only outpost of a subspecies of Ptychodera – a hemichordate (‘acornworm’) found nowhere else! New species and subspecies are constantly being ‘discovered’ in this area while simultaneously a number of previously common endemics seem to have completely disappeared.

The area also traditionally provides a rich and renewable source of food and livelihood to over 3 million native fisherfolk along our Indian coastline. Over the last decade, mechanised trawlers and biodegredation have been driving many of these families into penury.
Right through the heart of this precious and already highly stressed zone, our wise government proposes to carve out a channel, wide and deep enough to allow large, ocean going vessels easier access to India’s ports. The ships will therefore be able to completely bypass the trip around Sri Lanka.
The Tsunami did its share, coming as a boon to the promoters of the ‘S’ project because the native fisherfolks, who were the most vociferous objectors, have been effectively driven from their villages and are reduced to living off handouts. And this does not take into account the coastal population on the other side of the gulf where lies Sri Lanka (Ceylon), who are even worse off due to the ongoing civil war there that compounds the devastation left by the Tsunami.
The Sethusamudram project further calls for continuous dredging of this canal which will result in huge quantities of silt continuously being spread throughout, destroying not only sea grass but corrals and algal growth also. The algae,plants, and corrals are the backbone of the whole food chain – with all opposition silenced we are staring at a scenario of total destruction of entire livelihoods, habitats and ecosystems.

The fact is that organised overfishing and almost no protection for the fragile reserve has already resulted in massive destruction of corral and mangrove, the two most precious ecosystems, which together account for 90% of the area’s biodiversity. Unrestrained blasting and harvesting of corral to feed hungry cement plants, overfishing mainly due to the extensive use of trawlers by multnationals (for export) and specific destruction such as the targeting of sea cucumbers, ornamental fish, crustaceans (prawns, lobsters, crabs), turtles and sharks (both for soup!), have all taken a heavy toll on this unique and irreplaceable “biosphere”.

Perhaps most shocking is the studied silence of the U.N. and almost all organisations involved in promoting conservation / biodiversity. Our government claims to have extensively studied the project’s environmental impact but in the face of their winking at the daily destruction one wonders what it is that they have been claiming to conserve!

The fact is that mega projects like this one mean mega bucks for all the private and governmental players. In the face of such gross shortsightedness (not to mention greed), the world’s bioinversity can only multiply apace.

After carefully studying the issues I urge you to


PLEASE JOIN TOGETHER TO OPPOSE THE RAPE OF THE GULF OF MANNAR and of any of our oceans in whichever corner of this globe you may happen to be…

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Seashore Mangrove Forests

20 06 2006

Recently took a small group of ecotourists to the mangrove forest at Pichavarram on the East Coast of India. This is my first visit after the Tsunami. I had taken a group there in early December of 2005 and we had planned on being back there for that Christmas – guess one could call that a close one!
Anyhow, this mangrove forest, though not large, is an absolute gem. Some years ago an overambitious idiot researcher had tunnelled out a whole bunch of canals through the forest, probably destroying a good 15% of the original mangrove.

Still the mangrove is reclaiming it’s territory and it was heartening to see that the Tsunami also had not wiped it out.

There are around fifty boatmen who make a livelihood carting ecotourists around the mangrove. Each of them is amazing. They have no ‘formal education’ but know each species of plant, the birds and all the marine life by heart. I have been amazed to hear them give the scientific names, uses, medicinal properties…of these creatures that are unique to the mangrove.

We float through dark tunnels of mangrove, silent except for the gentle swish of the paddle, dappled sunlight speckles the water. The red and black mangroves form dense jungles and the narrowly arched boating tunnels are lined with veritable sculptures of cobwebs. The lone heron contemplates the rich marine life visible only to her eye…

There is a lovely beach on the other side of the mangrove. It was disheartening to see that a large commercial prawn fishery had been quietly set up on one of the nearby islands and even sadder to see the chunks of blasted coral that litter the beach – a sure indication that the corral reefs are being blasted with dynamite for commercial purposes.

Still, I am heartened to see that this present generation of our youth are more conscious of the value of nature and the need to preserve and protect our fast vanishing wilderness. I believe that they are our only hope, for my generation has miserably failed…

Our world is losing 7% to 10% of its mangroves each year. Let us all pray that today’s young people will do better!