Indian scientists breathe new life into dead Kutch corals

  • Joydeep Thakur, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Jan 01, 2016 17:13 IST
Restoration work goes on in the Gulf of Kutch. (Courtesy: ZSI)

Indian marine scientists have brought back to life a coral reef which has been dead for nearly 10,000 years, using a technique similar to grafting new rose shrubs with twigs taken from a mother plant.

Scientists at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) restored a coral reef measuring one square km at the marine national park in the Gulf of Kutch off the Gujarat coast.

“This is for the first time in the world that biologists have managed to restore a reef that has been dead for thousands of years by transporting live corals from more than 2,000 km away and growing them in turbid waters,” Kailash Chandra, director of ZSI said.

The corals for the graft were collected from the Gulf of Mannar off Tamil Nadu coast and flown to the Gulf of Kutch. Coral cuttings, like rose plant twigs, can survive if transplanted in suitable environments.

Experts claimed this was a big achievement as corals usually need clear water with lots of sunshine and cannot survive in murky waters. “While transplanting, we had to take utmost care. The water’s salinity, pH level, the temperature, oxygen level had to be just perfect. We had to use gel ice, normally used to preserve flowers while they are exported,” said Ch Satyanarayana, the principal investigator of the project.

Corals are tiny animals that secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton for their own protection. Along with other calcium-secreting marine life, they form mountain-like structures underwater, called reefs. India has four major reef systems — Andamans, Lakshadweep, Gulf of Mannar and Gulf of Kutch. Coral reefs are called ‘rain forests of the sea’ because of the diversity of life they harbour. They are home to many species of fish, support tourism, and are a huge resource for pharmaceutical industry. They are indicators of climate change and act as a first line of defence against cyclones and tsunamis.

“Tons of sediment brought down by rivers that used to flow through the Kutch area had deposited silt on the coral bed killing them. Dead remnants of corals could be seen strewn across all the 46 islands in Kutch,” said Satyanarayana. Experts from the Geological Survey of India estimated through carbon dating that these corals died almost 10,000 years ago. Only around 30% of the entire reef was found to be alive. The three-year joint project by the ZSI and marine national park authorities started in 2012 with funds from the World Bank. It was supposed to end in December 2015 but has been extended till 2017.

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