Lakshadweep Islands: Where A Healthy Marine Ecosystem Helps Tourism Thrive
- Jonali Buragohain
- Published on 8 Jun 2023, 9:06 am IST
- 6 minutes read
- Indian Masterminds Special Feature on World Ocean Day 2023. This year’s theme - Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing
- In the Lakshadweep Islands, the marine ecosystem and livelihoods are dependent on each other
- The marine ecosystem is being well maintained through concerted conservation efforts
Healthy aquatic ecosystems help in maintaining the overall health of the planet. In the Lakshadweep Islands, a healthy marine ecosystem and livelihoods are dependent on each other. In order to provide sustainable livelihood to islanders and, at the same time, conserve the unique marine habitat and marine wildlife, both conservation and management approaches are required.
Former Chief Wildlife Warden and Secretary, Environment and Forest, Lakshadweep, Mr. Damodhar A. T., IFS (2010), who has very recently been posted in Arunachal Pradesh as Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), had initiated many projects for the conservation of marine life in the Islands. The work that he started there is now being continued under the guidance of his successor.
In an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, Mr. Damodhar spoke about the importance of conserving marine life and outlined few initiatives undertaken by him during his 5-year (2017-2022) tenure in Lakshadweep.
SEA TURTLES PLAY VITAL ROLES
Sea turtles have played vital roles in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans for more than a 100 million years. These roles range from maintaining productive coral reef ecosystem to transporting essential nutrients from the oceans to beaches and coastal dunes.
Mr. Damodhar said, “To improve our understanding of sea turtle and habitat through research and monitoring, to reduce the direct or indirect cause of sea turtle mortality, to conserve and maintain sea turtle habitat, and to develop awareness of conservation, we launched the project ‘Mitigating Human-Turtle Conflict in Lakshadweep’.”
As part of the project, marine mammal surveys were carried out in both inhabited and uninhabited areas. Knowledge of abundance, trends and distribution of cetacean (marine mammal) populations is needed for marine conservation efforts, ecosystem models and spatial planning.
“We compiled a geo-spatial database of collected survey data on cetacean abundance. from dedicated visual linetransect surveys, and encoded 1000 abundance estimates for 12 species, including one new species. A total of 46 surveys were conducted in Lakshadweep waters from 3 April 2022 to 26 March 2023,” Mr. Damodhar said.
Species names were assigned only when characteristic identification features were seen.
DOLPHINS ARE ECOLOGICAL INDICATORS
Dolphins, on the other hand, act as ideal ecological indicators of a healthy aquatic ecosystem and, therefore, their conservation benefits not just the survival of the species, but also the people dependent on the aquatic system for livelihood.
Only a few accounts of live sightings of the Rough-Toothed Dolphin in Indian seas exist. They are named so because of the vertical ridges, or wrinkles, on their teeth, which give them a rough appearance. These sightings were first recorded in Lakshadweep waters on February 12, 2022, at Cheriyapani reef.
Mr. Damodhar said, “These recent sightings in the Lakshadweep are crucial for understanding rough-toothed dolphins in the larger Arabian Sea, as such sightings are uncommon due to the lack of knowledge about the rough-toothed dolphin occurrence, their seasonal movements, habitat and prey preferences, and behaviour in the Indian waters.”
HOW STRANDED SEA MAMMALS HELP
Every year, few turtles and dolphins strand on beaches all over Lakshadweep. Any sea mammal on land or in the water that is either dead or alive but cannot undergo normal behaviours (e.g., swimming, diving, feeding) is considered ‘stranded’. They may strand alive or dead, alone or in groups.
These stranded animals provide a wealth of information that can help scientists gather knowledge to address marine mammal conservation concerns. Hence, records of the stranded marine mammals were collected and the data analyzed. It was found out that 25 strandings of seven species (9 Spinner Dolphin,1 Blue Whale, 2 Rissos, 3 Striped Dolphin,1 Indo Pacific Dolphin,1 Pilat Whale, 2 Bottlenose) have taken place during the four-year period from 2019 to 2023.
A Bottle Nose dolphin was found on the beach of Androth Island by a local fisherman. The department of Environment and Forest led a rescue operation and the dolphin was released from the entangled state it was in. Then the team carefully placed the dolphin in the Breakwater jetty, the deeper side off Androth Island.
It was released slowly into the sea from the lower edges of the jetty with utmost care, and it leaped into the water joyfully! The team waited at the site till the last glimpse of its dorsal fin disappeared from sight.
EDUCATING THE LOCALS
Stranding of mammals can happen in any of the island at any point of time and community participation is the essential tool for any kind of recovery programmes. Therefore, awareness outreach programme were organised in Kavaratti, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat, Bitra, and Agatti islands to increase the knowledge about marine mammals within the community – to inform them about the key features of the mammals for identification, and the stranding responses to be followed.
“These programmes are the key to ensure local communities understand the issues that affect them the most. The community must view us as a partner who will be there for a long time with them, by taking them into confidence,” Mr. Damodhar said.
MITIGATING MAN-TURTLE CONFLICT
He further informed that the man-turtle conflict is at its peak stage at present. The fishery resources are reducing day by day and people are depending more on reefs for their livelihood. “Hence we proposed ‘eco development and community oriented activity’ during the current financial year 2023-24 in order to make islanders aware about the harmful effects of plastics wastes on the marine ecosystem,” he said.
Plastic carry bags accidentally swallowed by turtles and fishes in the lagoon caused many deaths. Hence, to eliminate the use of polythene bags, the use of eco-friendly reusable jute bags was encouraged with their free distribution.
As visiting of sea turtles in these islands for nesting has now decreased compared to two years back, their abundance in lagoons was evaluated by a survey conducted in February 2023. Turtle emerging crawl marks of Olive Ridley were sighted. With the help of students and the local community, the collected hatchlings were released into the sea.
ONE IN THOUSAND WILL SURVIVE
It is estimated that only one in 1000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood. The increasing threats caused by humans are driving them towards extinction.
Sea turtles are a fundamental link in the marine ecosystem and help to maintain the health of sea grass beds and coral reef. Most of the Lakshadweep Islands have white sand beaches which are suitable for turtle nesting. In recent years, developmental activities in inhabited islands have cause reduction in nesting and lead to habitat destruction. However, the uninhabited islands like Thinnakara, Parali, Kalpitti, Suheli, Cheriyam are still major nesting grounds.
“Sea turtles cannot survive without rapid response. By helping one of the most mysterious and time honoured creatures of Planet Earth to survive, we might just be saving ourselves, too,” said Mr. Damodhar, summing up the topic.
END OF THE ARTICLE