India’s first marine conservation reserve is coming up around Lakshadweep Islands.
After a prolonged research and intervention in the local community by a team of experts from across the country led by Mumbai-based scientist Deepak Apte, the local panchayat has forwarded a formal proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to declare the area a marine reserve. The project was funded by UK-based Darwin Institute and now the ministry officials say that they are impressed with the detailed plan and level of community involvement in conservation of the unique biodiversity in the region.
This will also be India’s first co-managed marine protected area (MPA). The project was started in 2005. It has now emerged as the most successful conservation initiative in the country.
“In 2005, we started with conservation of Giant Clam, a type of coral reef that comprises an extremely vital part of marine ecosystem. This reef helps a large part of aquatic fauna to survive through their life cycles. Fast depletion of these reefs was also causing disappearance of the entire fauna in the area,” said Apte, principal scientist and head of conservation at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
The protected area will be located in the Agatti atoll, the western most land formation off of Lakshadweep archipelago, about 500 km from the mainland of India.
Involving the community was not easy to start with but a detailed analysis of satellite data and local study of the habitation established direct correlation between decrease in the population of baitfish and depletion of coral reef.
“We explained to the community, who are all fisherfolk, the importance of conservation from the point of view of their livelihood. Then they realised. Now the Panchayat is the biggest proponent of this project,” he said.
The letter, send to the Centre by the Agatti Panchayat, urges the administration of to declare this as a protected area and conservation reserve. “All of us realised that our livelihood will depend on whether the giant clam is protected,” said M. Shaharban, chairperson, Agatti Panchayat.
Apte has been nominated for prestigious Whitley Award for conservation for his efforts for over three years but he feels that the all-important part of the official sanction was needed as soon as possible.
The MoEF claimed that they were going through the nitty-gritty and official paperwork and legal aspects of a conservation research, but assured that the country will definitely get its first marine protected area. “We are seriously pursuing the management plan submitted by the Panchayat, we are keen to have the reserve,” told Namo Narain Meena, MoEF minister of state, to HT.