Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mining to blame for islands to sink beneath waves

Two small islands in South Asia’s first marine biosphere reserve have sunk into the sea primarily as a result of coral reef mining, experts say.

The islets were in a group in the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka.

The Indo-Pacific region is considered to contain some of the world’s richest marine biological resources.

The group’s 21 islands and islets are protected as part of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, covering an area of nearly 560 sq km (216 sq miles).

Fishermen had indiscriminately and illegally mined invaluable coral reefs around the islets of Poomarichan and Villanguchalli for many decades, said S Balaji, chief conservator of forests and wildlife for that region of Tamil Nadu state.

“The absence of any regulations prior to 2002 led to illegal mining of the coral reefs, which came to an end when environmental protection laws were enacted,” he told the BBC Tamil Service.

Mr Balaji said rising sea level as a result of global warming was also a factor behind the islands’ submergence.

But this was questioned by Simon Holgate from the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool, UK, who said observations showed that the sea level in the region had been rising slower than the global average.

“I think that global sea level rise had little impact on the disappearance of these islands and it must be due to other reasons, possibly the mining of coral reefs,” Dr Holgate told BBC News.

Though these islets were only 3-5m (10-15 ft) above sea level, their submergence sounded an alarm bell about the danger many more small islands faced in the long run, according to Mr Balaji, who is also director of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust (GOMBRT).

The Gulf of Mannar was chosen as a biosphere reserve by the Indian government in 1989 because of its biological and ecological uniqueness, and the distinctive socio-economic and cultural profile shaped by its geography.

Most of the 21 islands are uninhabited, and the corals were mined for use as a binding material in the construction industry, as they were rich in calcium carbonate.

Rich biodiversity

The biosphere reserve is a storehouse of about 3,600 species of marine flora and fauna.

Many more wait to be studied, said Deepak Samuel, marine biologist and project associate with the Energy and Environment Unit of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  

“The Gulf of Mannar is a unique reserve with ecosystems like coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass,” Mr Samuel said.

“It is a nursery for shell and fin fishes, which means the entire breeding and juvenile raising takes places in these three ecosystems.”

More than 300,000 fishermen depend on the Gulf of Mannar for their livelihood. It is also the dwelling place for many endemic species, notably the dugong or “sea cow”.

Studies have proved that this gulf is home to 117 species of corals belonging to 37 genera, and 13 out of the 14 species of seagrasses in Indian seas.

The area has also been famous for pearl harvesting for over 2,000 years.

According to marine biologists, a quarter of the 2,000-plus fin fish species in Indian waters are in this gulf, making it one of the region’s most diverse fish habitats.

Most of the islands are uninhabited, and rise just a few metres above sea level

Scientists study coral reefs in Gulf of Kutch – Times of India

Experts study coral reefs in Gulf of Kutch
Occasions of India
RAJKOT: Experts of numerous investigation establishments throughout the region have carried out a biophysical monitoring of the coral reefs in Gulf of Kutch at the Marine Nationwide Park (MNP) in Jamnagar. Following the workout, experts will evaluate the findings …
UPDATE: Senator introduces bill on coral reef protectionPacific Day-to-day News
Cruz Intros Measure to Safeguard Coral Reefs From Grounded VesselsPacific News Middle
Cryopreservation: cold comfort for (press release)

Sea Turtles of India

Sea turtles have long fascinated both biologists and conservationists. All of the seven species found in the world’s oceans are listed as either endangered or threatened. Of these, five species are found in waters of the Indian subcontinent. There are several important sites and populations in the Indian subcontinent, including the mass nesting beaches for olive ridleys in Orissa, feeding and nesting grounds for green and hawksbill turtles in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Lakshadweep Islands, and a significant nesting population of leatherbacks in the Little Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The subcontinent faces several serious threats that conservation efforts need to address urgently.

This website was developed to collate information that currently exists on sea turtles and their habitats not just in India but in neighbouring South Asian countries as well. Numerous community based groups, conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – local, national and international, academic institutions and government departments have contributed to studies and surveys that have helped understand these mysterious yet fascinating creatures. There has long been a need to make available this information that can be easily accessed by students, researchers and interested persons. This site therefore is an attempt to create such a space where research findings, notes, historical records, photos and the successes of various conservation activities across the region may be made available to anyone who might be interested.

Rebuilding coral reefs for fisheries

Thoothukudi [earlier Tuticorin] in southern Tamil Nadu has been renowned over the centuries for its pearl and fisheries wealth. But today it stands stripped of these natural resources largely due to commercial activity that could not be sustained. Natural coral reefs have been plundered and whole coastal communities are in poverty.

Chennai based M S Swaminathan Research Foundation [MSSRF] has now stepped in to remedy the damage to nature and society. On World Wetlands Day [Feb 3] it deployed a series of artificial reefs over a one square kilometer area , 14km off Therespuram fishing village. Over time these reefs are expected to be colonised by marine organisms and eventually become expanding natural coral reefs.

But this can happen only if people leave the reefs alone for a few years and then harvest them sustainably. MSSRF has worked out a scheme from the ground up involving the local population. First they were educated on the need for protection of the artificial reefs and the methods of sensible harvesting. A newly formed artificial reef society based in Therespuram will police the reef. Local trawler operators have promised to stay off the new reef grounds.

The idea of artificial reefs is not new. But world wide, the focus has been on remedying damaged coral reefs and to enhance scuba diving experience. The pioneering Indian effort is focused on sustainable economic development. The reefs are made of marine friendly concrete and weigh about 1.5 tonnes each. They are designed with openings and niches for organisms to colonise. Over time a whole marine ecosystem grows around the artificial reef and colonies of fish establish themselves.

When the reef is ready for harvesting, fishing will be done only by pole and line. To add value to the catch MSSRF has encouraged a local, women’s self help group to establish a fish pickling factory. The women have been trained by a large factory and their product will be branded and marketed by a Chennai based sea foods distributor. Thus the reef idea has been well thought through— from the sea bed to the supermarket shelves.

If the Therespuram experiment succeeds the reef idea will be taken to ten more villages. Luckily as costs go, the innovation is not expensive.

City Under the Sea

B.K. Parthasarathy writes about a spectacular underwater archaeological find by a joint British-Indiandiving team that could rewrite history. (10-17-02)

Who would have thought a city that could be older than the Harappan civilization could be lying beneath water right off the coast of Mahabalipuram?

Sometimes, it pays to listen to the stories of humble fishermen. Local fishermen in the coast of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu have for centuries believed in that a great flood consumed a city over 1,000 years ago in a single day when the gods grew jealous of its beauty.

The myths of Mahabalipuram were written down by British traveler J. Goldingham, who visited the town in 1798, at which time it was known to sailors as the Seven Pagodas. Legend had it that six temples were submerged beneath the waves, with the seventh temple still standing on the seashore.

Best-selling British author and television presenter Graham Hancock took these stories seriously. The hypothesis that there may be ruins underwater off the coast of Mahabalipuram has been around at least since the eighteenth century among scholarly circles.

“I have long regarded Mahabalipuram, because of its flood myths and fishermen’s sightings as a very likely place in which discoveries of underwater structures could be made, and I proposed that a diving expedition should be undertaken there,” said Hancock.

Hancock’s initiative resulted in the Dorset, England-based Scientific Exploration Society and India’s National Institute of Oceanography joining hands. In April this year, the team made a spectacular discovery

The SES announced: “A joint expedition of 25 divers from the Scientific Exploration Society and India’s National Institute of Oceanography led by Monty Halls and accompanied by Graham Hancock, have discovered an extensive area with a series of structures that clearly show man made attributes, at a depth of 5-7 meters offshore of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu.

“The scale of the submerged ruins, covering several square miles and at distances of up to a mile from shore, ranks this as a major marine-archaeological discovery as spectacular as the ruined cities submerged off Alexandria in Egypt.”

India’s NIO said in a statement: “A team of underwater archaeologists from National Institute of Oceanography NIO have successfully `unearthed’ evidence of submerged structures off Mahabalipuram and established first-ever proof of the popular belief that the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram is the remnant of series of total seven of such temples built that have been submerged in succession. The discovery was made during a joint underwater exploration with the Scientific Exploration Society, U.K.”

NIO said:

* Underwater investigations were carried out at 5 locations in the 5 – 8 m water depths, 500 to 700 m off Shore temple.

* Investigations at each location have shown presence of the construction of stone masonry, remains of walls, a big square rock cut remains, scattered square and rectangular stone blocks, big platform leading the steps to it amidst of the geological formations of the rocks that occur locally.

* Most of the structures are badly damaged and scattered in a vast area, having biological growth of barnacles, mussels and other organisms.

* The construction pattern and area, about 100m X 50m, appears to be same at each location. The actual area covered by ruins may extend well beyond the explored locations.

* The possible date of the ruins may be 1500-1200 years BP. Pallava dynasty, ruling the area during the period, has constructed many such rock cut and structural temples in Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram.

The last claim is questioned by Hancock, who says a scientist has told him it could be 6,000 years old.

Durham University geologist Glenn Milne told him in an e-mail: “I had a chat with some of my colleagues here in the dept. of geological sciences and it is probably reasonable to assume that there has been very little vertical tectonic motion in this region [i.e. the coastal region around Mahabalipuram] during the past five thousand years or so. Therefore, the dominant process driving sea-level change will have been due to the melting of the Late Pleistocene ice sheets. Looking at predictions from a computer model of this process suggests that the area where the structures exist would have been submerged around six thousand years ago. Of course, there is some uncertainty in the model predictions and so there is a flexibility of roughly plus or minus one thousand years is this date.”

If that were true, it would be a spectacular development. Previous archaeological opinion recognizes no culture in India 6,000 years ago capable of building anything much.

Hancock says this discovery proves scientists should be more open-minded. “I have argued for many years that the world’s flood myths deserve to be taken seriously, a view that most Western academics reject. “But here in Mahabalipuram, we have proved the myths right and the academics wrong.”

Hancock believes far more research needs to be done on underwater relics.
“Between 17,000 years ago and 7000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, terrible things happened to the world our ancestors lived in,” he says. “Great ice caps over northern Europe and north America melted down, huge floods ripped across the earth, sea-level rose by more than 100 meters, and about 25 million square kilometers of formerly habitable lands were swallowed up by the waves.

“Marine archeology has been possible as a scholarly discipline for about 50 years — since the introduction of scuba. In that time, according to Nick Flemming, the doyen of British marine archeology, only 500 submerged sites have been found worldwide containing the remains of any form of man-made structure or of lithic artifacts. Of these sites only 100 — that’s 100 in the whole world! — are more than 3000 years old.”

Hancock, who was understandably resentful about the NIO’s silence in his pivotal role in making the diving expedition happen — SES gave him full recognition — was himself quite generous about who deserved the greatest credit:

“Of course the real discoverers of this amazing and very extensive submerged site are the local fishermen of Mahabalipuram. My role was simply to take what they had to say seriously and to take the town’s powerful and distinctive flood myths seriously. Since no diving had ever been done to investigate these neglected myths and sightings I decided that a proper expedition had to be mounted. To this end, about a year ago, I brought together my friends at the Scientific Exploration Society in Britain and the National Institute of Oceanography in India and we embarked on the long process that has finally culminated in the discovery of a major and hitherto completely unknown submerged archaeological site.”

Interested readers can visit the following Web sites for more information. The Scientific Exploration Society’s Web site at
And Graham Hancock’s Web site at


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