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Coral reefs may be on deathbed, acting on it, says green ministry

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
UPDATED ON OCT 17, 2019 12:26 AM IST

The possibility of coral reefs around India dying from increased bleaching, caused by rising sea surface temperatures, cannot be denied, admitted the Union environment ministry. The ministry said it has already started working on the protection of reefs.

A 16-year study (2003-2019) by pan-India wildlife research body Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recorded that coral reefs in the Lakshadweep Islands were not only undergoing recurring bleaching, but are at the risk of widespread mortality, owing to a significant rise in average sea surface temperatures (SST). The BNHS will be alerting the Centre about its findings this month and is developing a detailed proposal to be submitted before the Union environment ministry and state governments, requesting coral transplantation and restoration measures. Coral reefs, formed by millions of tiny polyps along ocean floors, are home to a large marine biodiversity and are considered rainforests of the ocean as they sequester large amounts of carbon— a means to reduce climate change.

“Coral-reef bleaching has become a phenomenon, which is now happening regularly. Corals can be damaged by two things – high turbidity in water and changes in temperature. The BNHS study could be correct as sea surface temperatures are being regularly observed, and the possibility of future coral mortality cannot be denied,” said MS Negi, additional director general of forest (wildlife), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). “We need to use temperature-tolerant coral species from the Gulf of Kutch as an insurance to deal with severe SST anomalies,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

Negi added that MoEFCC will assess the findings of the BNHS study after receiving its proposal. “We will be considering the study. Climate change is affecting every sector and is forcing all agencies to make changes in strategies for conservation. Coral protection is a priority . We are already working on coral transplantation and building artificial reefs,” he said.

The findings coincide with the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), examining how the impact of global warming is leading to a drastic rise in sea surface temperatures, affecting marine life, by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Experts said all four major areas where coral reefs are found – Gulf of Kutch, Lakshadweep, Gulf of Mannar, and Andaman Islands — as well as Angria Bank along Maharashtra are under threat.

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