State proposes submerged plateau off Malvan to be declared as protected area
Less than a week before World Environment Day (June 5), the Maharashtra forest department has proposed the declaration of the 2,011 sq km Angria Bank as a protected area.
The proposal seeks to declare Angria Bank as a ‘Designated Area’ under the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, which if approved by the Centre, will be the first such marine protected zone in India located in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Angria Bank, 105 km (56.7 nautical miles) off Malvan in the Sindhudurg district of Konkan region, is considered a submerged plateau. The coral formation, located at a depth of 20 to 400 metres, consists of 29 genera and 39 species of both hard and soft corals with the reef showing no evident signs of bleaching (turning white due to rising sea surface temperatures as an aftermath of climate change) yet. This is based on an expedition carried out in collaboration with Centre for Marine Living Resources (CMLRE) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Mangrove Foundation and Wildlife Conservation Society between December 18 and 30.
The study found 123 species of fish, 43 species of invertebrates, numerous species of dolphins and whales among other marine animals including the critically endangered sawfish, which is protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The proposed boundary for protection is approximately 61-km long and 50-km wide.
Though India may miss its international Aichi target of identifying 10% marine-protected areas by 2020, protecting Angria Bank will contribute to it since limited marine areas around the country are currently protected.
Aichi targets are an international framework of identifying wildlife and marine protected areas by 2020 developed by the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The proposal to conserve the area was made by the state mangrove cell on April 29 and approved by the state chief wildlife warden on May 27. “Though marine regions have been notified as sanctuaries under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Union environment ministry does not have powers to afford legal protection to a marine area beyond Indian territorial waters (12 nautical miles) owing to jurisdictional constraints. Thus, protecting this area falls within the purview of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976,” read the proposal.
The proposal was submitted before the state government for final approval earlier this week, and will soon be sent to the Union environment ministry. “This will be a feather in the cap for the protected area network for Maharashtra and India. Based on the final approval, we will be able to showcase the marine wealth close to the state’s coastline. Considering the threatened status of the rich coral diversity, protecting this massive area is essential from the conservation point of view,” said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Maharashtra.
“Protected status will restrict threats such as overfishing, oil, natural gas and mineral exploration, no hindrance for marine traffic, and most importantly protect the coral, algal, and other marine diversity,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove cell).
On May 6, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun had also written to the Inspector General of Forests under the Union environment ministry proposing Angria Bank as a ‘Designated Area’ for marine biodiversity conservation under the Maritime Zones Act, 1976. The ministry is yet to respond to WII.
Marine biologist Sarang Kulkarni, who carried out the first documentation of the marine biodiversity of Angria Bank in 2010, said, “This is a welcome decision as this area is India’s Great Barrier Reef. While there are reports of coral bleaching across the world, this is one site along the Indian coastline where corals remain untouched despite the rising sea surface temperatures. Enhanced conservation efforts are needed to ensure the biodiversity remains protected.”
Angria Bank was identified as one of India’s 106 important coastal and marine biodiversity areas by the Wildlife Institute of India. “While helping achieve the Aichi target 11, protecting the submerged bank will act as an insurance against climate change as the area is a carbon sink providing benefits to the entire country,” said Vardhan Patankar, programme head (marine conservation), WCS-India.
Marine biologist Deepak Apte, director, Bombay Natural History Society, said, “This is refreshing news about the state’s intent to declare Angria Bank as protected. It was due to marine biologist Sarang Kulkarni’s efforts, who first video-graphed these reefs and prepared base documents in 2010 that drew focus across international platforms. Subsequent expeditions under Mangrove Foundation provided further scientific evidence of the need for its protection.”
As per a proposal prepared by the Maharashtra forest department to protect the bank, the name Angria was derived from Kanhoji Angre, who served as an admiral under Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Considering the strategic location of the bank, the anchoring point was identified as a naval base for the Maratha empire against the Dutch, British and Portuguese. Using this point, Angre ensured never to allow enemy ships to pass the anchoring point and is said to have not a lost a single battle at sea. His name was spelt as ‘Cunhojee Angria’ in British documents, which led to the name of the submerged plateau as Angria Bank. In 1951, the Indian Navy commemorated their naval prowess by naming the Western Naval Command INS Angre in tribute to Kanhoji Angre.