World’s first sea cucumber conservation area in Lakshadweep
The Lakshadweep Islands administration has announced the creation of the world’s first conservation area — 239 sq. km — for endangered sea cucumbers. The announcement came after reports of smuggling of sea cucumbers and other vulnerable marine species for sale in east Asia. Hindustan Times has been reporting about the illegal trade.
Sea cucumbers are invertebrates ranging in sizes up to six feet (1.8m). The species is high in demand across south-east Asia, mainly China, for food and traditional medicine. In India, the species is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, akin to the protection for a tiger, leopard or elephant. They cannot be transported in any form for commercial use and are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which India is a signatory. A total ban on harvesting of sea cucumbers was imposed in 2001 under the WPA by the Union environment ministry.
The marine protected area (MPA) covers 685 sq. km of Lakshadweep Islands (including Lakshadweep Sea) in three locations. The first area is spread over 239 sq. km at Cheriyapani called Dr KK Mohammed Koya Sea Cucumber Conservation Reserve. The second is the largest global marine conservation reserve between Amini and Pitti archipelago, with an area of 344 sq. km, declared as Attakoya Thangal Marine Conservation Reserve. The third is the first protected area for marine birds in India across 62 sq. km (named PM Sayeed Marine Birds Conservation Reserve), home to four species of pelagic seabirds — the greater crested tern, lesser crested tern, sooty tern, and the brown noddy. This takes the tally of protected areas in these islands to four, with the declaration of Pitti Bird Sanctuary in January 2019, which was renamed on Thursday as Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary after the renowned ornithologist. Apart from pelagic birds, other species located here include the lesser sand plover, ruddy turnstone, whimbrel, and the Asian palm swift.
The creation of a protected area puts restrictions on entry and a ban on collection or trade of corals, sea cucumbers or any other Schedule I (under Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972) marine organisms. HT has a copy of the notifications that were passed on Thursday.
Conservation reserves are protected areas categorised by the Union environment ministry under the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. These categories were added because of reduced protection in and around existing or proposed protected areas due to private ownership of land and land use.
“The final notifications for all three protected areas were issued in consultation with local communities as per the provisions of WPA. 34.25% of Lakshadweep Islands (2,000 sq. km) is now protected,” said Damodhar AT, secretary (environment and forest), and chief wildlife warden, Lakshadweep. “The dream of conservationists like Deepak Apte and other scientists who have worked and proposed the declaration of Lakshadweep islands as MPAs has finally been fulfilled.”
The marine conservation area was first proposed by the Bombay Natural History Society in 2004. Subsequently, BNHS along with endorsement of Agatti Panchayat and Agatti Island community submitted a proposal in 2008 to Lakshadweep forest department for protection of these areas in 2008.
“Protection status has been granted after 12 years. These are some of the largest lagoons in the world, home to a massive marine biodiversity and a fragile ecosystem,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.
This will achieve significantly towards the Central government’s sustainable development goals and Aichi targets (international target of identifying wildlife- and marine-protected areas). This has also come at the most appropriate time while Government of India has three years presidency of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species.”
Lakshadweep is blessed with mesmerising coral paradise and other marine wildlife including sea cucumbers. HT reported on February 13 about the largest global seizure of the species as a consignment of 1,716 sea cucumbers worth Rs 4.26 crore and weighing 852 kg was seized from Suheli. On January 15 that 172 sea cucumbers weighing 234 kg worth Rs 1.17 crore were seized, and four persons arrested as part of an international marine animal trafficking syndicate, 80 nautical miles off Kavaratti Island. On January 23, the department arrested an international trade kingpin and seized a consignment of 52 dead sea cucumbers weighing 10 kg worth Rs 5 lakh. “The recent large scale detection and largest global sea cucumber offences led to the instant declaration of these reserves and also the reason for convincing the local community about the importance of marine biodiversity conservation,” said Damodhar. “For some short-term monetary gains by way of exporting sea cucumbers, a complete destruction of our ecosystem was underway. Now, this is set to change.”