33 years after being notified, Maharashtra govt appoints WII to reorganise boundaries of Malvan Marine Sanctuary
The final decision was taken during a meeting chaired by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray with Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and various state bodies in the last week of November to discuss the issue
Thirty-three years after it was first notified, the state mangrove cell under the Maharashtra forest department has appointed the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, to carry out spatial mapping of critical marine habitats of the Marine Malvan Sanctuary (MMS) in Sindhudurg district and reorganise its boundary.
According to a letter issued to them by the mangrove cell last week, WII was appointed for the nine-month-long study (January to September 2021) at a cost of ₹36.02 lakh to identify the new coordinates suggesting the safety of protected and endangered coastal and marine biodiversity, including protection of important coral reefs.
The rationalisation was proposed after the Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) 2017-18 report (a global framework to evaluate the performance of protected areas) released by the Union environment ministry marked a “poor performance” of the sanctuary, flagging several discrepancies, including inadequate management, an archaeological structure located in the sanctuary’s core zone, free movement of fishers and tourist operators leading to pollution, and failure to carry out settlement of rights and concessions of local residents. The report called for the reorganisation of the boundaries by excluding areas of human intervention, proper protection of marine biodiversity, and local livelihood.
Neenu Somraj, deputy conservator of forest (mangrove cell), who issued the letter to WII, said, “At present, the sanctuary is a multipurpose use area, which may have already disturbed the marine, especially coral biodiversity there. So there is no point to protect a sanctuary just on paper. Our mission is to avoid any over utilisation or exploitation of marine resources while identifying coral rich areas (inside as well as outside the present boundary), tag and protect it.”
She added that it was a win-win situation for both, the administrators and the fishers. “We will be considering active fishing areas and exclude them from the sanctuary to ensure their livelihood is protected,” said Somraj.
The final decision was taken during a meeting chaired by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray with Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and various state bodies in the last week of November to discuss the issue.
Located in Malvan taluka, MMS was notified on April 13, 1987, across a total area of 29.122 square kilometre (sq km) (3.182 sq km core and buffer area of 25.94 sq km). The core area encompasses within its boundary the historic Sindhudurg Fort built by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (recognised as a monument by the Archaeological Survey of India), the Padmagad Island, and a combination of underwater rocky areas and sandy beaches. The diverse habitat with coral reefs, intertidal zone and mangroves are home to 331 of 367 marine species, including 18 coral species, recorded along the entire Sindhudurg coastal and marine ecosystem.
“The spatial study will help identify the appropriate location of the sanctuary and suggest conservation measures. Thereafter, we will submit the final report before the State Board for Wildlife, based on approvals to the National Wildlife Board. We will also need permission from the Supreme Court based on its order from 2000 where de-notification or changes in sanctuary area needs Apex court approval,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell).
According to the management plan for MMS prepared by the forest department, the present coordinates include the north-east border of the buffer zone, which is about 50 metres (m) from the seashore near Malvan Port, while the eastern border comprises a semi-circular sandy beach (Dandi beach), which is about 500m parallel to the shore at Malvan. Towards the south, the sanctuary expands covering the buffer zone near Mandal Rock of Malvan Port, while the core zone covers the Sindhudurg Fort. The Padmagad Island is along submerged exposed rocks which extend to about 3.182 sq km.
“The WII study will allow us to reorganise the boundaries in such a way that it will allow fishermen and locals to carry on with their livelihood activities such as fishing and tourism, and at the same time, it will allow us to conserve some areas of rich biodiversity,” said Manas Manjrekar, deputy director, Mangrove Foundation.
Significance of the marine sanctuary
Malvan is home to globally significant species protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, including the whale shark, Bryde’s whale, Blue whale, Sperm whale, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, Finless porpoises, otters, Olive Ridley, Green and hawksbill sea turtles, white-bellied sea eagle, swiftlets among others. Being studied by conservationists since 1980, MMS is among 11 ecologically and economically critical habitats identified along the country’s coastline by the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management programme of the Centre’s Department for Ocean Development. The presence of the 16th century Sindhudurg Fort by the founder of Maratha Empire Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj further adds historical significance and heritage value to the south Konkan taluka.
Threats to the sanctuary
Unregulated water sports, marine adventure activities such as snorkelling, SCUBA diving, and dolphin watch.
Clearing of sand dune vegetation for beautification purpose for tourism.
Increase in water pollution due to unregulated tourism and untreated municipal and rural sewage and solid waste disposal directly into the open sea.
Vehicular traffic on beaches and light pollution disturb the turtles nesting along beaches.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Oil spill, fishing boat, vessel accidents.
Collection, hunting, unnecessary handling of marine life for tourism purposes and trade of scheduled and endangered species.
(Source: Malvan Marine Sanctuary Management Plan 2020-21 to 2029-30)