Category Archives: environment

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

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Diving In The Maldives

Although the Maldives are known the world over for the stunning beaches and azure waters that typify the tropical idyll, its life beneath the water’s surface is becoming ever more respected by divers in the know. The Maldive Islands have some excellent coral reefs, but it’s the abundance of fish life throughout the country that sets it apart from other dive destinations.

Most diving in the Maldives is drift dives from liveaboards where you allow the current to move you along. Due to the myriad channels and passages between the atolls, the currents sweep and play throughout the island chain so that nutrients are always on the move. This accounts for the vast numbers of fish enjoying the passing feast and you can expect to see Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, snappers, barracudas, jacks and sweetlips in every site where the water flows.

In the channels, you can explore the caves, caverns and overhangs where soft corals proliferate, and there is a riot of colourful sponges, invertebrates and gorgonian fans all profiting from the nutrient-rich water. There are also plenty of cleaning stations where cleaning wrasses and shrimps service the larger marine species.

Inside the atoll lagoons you often find pinnacles of rock vaulting up almost to the surface. These are known locally as ‘Thilas’ and are often bejewelled with sessile life forms. These formations bring water up from the ocean floor against their walls, feeding the sponges and soft corals that cling to its sides as well as creating an environment that supports a plethora of crustaceans and schools of resident fish.

Slightly removed from the reefs, you are likely to spot the pelagics that frequent the Maldives, including manta rays and eagle rays and a variety of sharks including the mighty whale shark. Wherever you look there is likely to be something of interest going on and for many it is in the shallows where the best of the action takes place. Here the clear water, brightly illuminated by the sun’s rays and playing host to great numbers of fish, provides an ideal environment both for photographers and divers alike.

During the El Niño of 1998 some shallower areas of the coral reefs have been adversely affected by bleaching. However the accepted view is that while the reefs are returning to their former colourful glory, the marine life has never dwindled and indeed many believe it has increased in numbers over the past few decades.

What you are going to miss

I hope you have all booked your places for our Maldives Livaboard Trip in September. If you haven’t this is what you are going to miss out on.I pity you

Are All Sharks Dangerous?

A very common question and here is the most sensible answer to that question.

No. There are around 300 different species of sharks, only 40 of which are known to have attacked
people. One of the most dangerous sharks in North America is the great white shark, found along the Pacific coast between Mexico and southern Canada. Another one to watch out for is the tiger shark, which lives in the warmer Atlantic waters off the coast of Florida and around the islands of Hawaii. Shark attacks really are pretty rare. For instance, there are usually only two or three reported in Hawaiian waters each year. There are different ideas about why sharks attack people. Tiger sharks, it seems, may attack because they get confused in murky water — and mistake surfers in black wet suits for seals. Reef sharks seem to attack because they are territorial animals, protecting their piece of the sea. The whale shark, which has 5,000 teeth and can grow up to 50 feet long, is the largest type of shark. However, it prefers food like small fish, shrimp and plankton, and therefore is not dangerous to people.

Bangalore Dive Club

We recently celebrated the 1st anniversary of the Bangalore Dive Club. It was a fun outing with all members coming together to create a party atmosphere. The Bangalore Dive Club has also decided to take up the cause to stop shark finning in our Indian waters.  Let’s hope to see a bigger turn out for the next meeting and hopefully we can bring more attention to the cause as well. SAVE THE SHARKS! STOP FINNING

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