Green sea turtle, Wikimedia Commons

Saving marine life, and those who depend on it

The Gulf of Mannar is along the coastline of southern India bordering Ramanathapuram, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts in Tamil Nadu. It has rich biological and ecological assemblages with very high levels of productivity. The gulf falls within the Indo-Malayan realm which has rich marine biodiversity on earth.

About 3,600 marine organisms are found here, which includes 147 species of seaweeds, 12 species of seagrass, 13 species of mangroves, 200 species of sponges, 100 species of echinoderms, 260 species of molluscs, 90 species of crustaceans, 450 species of fishes, five species of sea turtles, 14 species of dolphins, six species of whales, and Dugong (sea cow), which is a symbol of the Gulf of Mannar.

The Gulf of Mannar has drawn the attention of conservationists even before the initiation of the biosphere programme by the Unesco in 1971. In 1986, an area of 560 sq km covering 21 uninhabited islands surrounded by coral reefs was declared a national park. In 1989, the entire marine space between Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari accounting for an area of 10,500 sq km was declared as Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, the country’s first marine biosphere reserve.

The Gulf of Mannar is prone to severe anthropogenic pressures from the communities in the vicinity. More than three lakh fishermen catch fish for their living and are totally dependent on this biosphere reserve. They use nearly 5,000 mechanised trawlers and 25,000 traditional boats. Sometimes, they also use dynamite, causing damage to the coral reefs.

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