Coral reefs in India and their conservation

Coral reefs are the skeletons of stony coral polyps cemented together. They from the most dynamic ecosystem, providing shelter and nourishment to marine flora and fauna. They are the protectors of the coastlines and the coastal populations mostly depend on the coral reef ecosystems wherever they are present.

The term ‘coral’ has been used to describe a variety of invertebrate animals of the Phylum Cnidaria including hard and soft corals. However, ‘coral’ is most often used as the common name for hard corals of the Order Scleractinia.

The Indian reef area is estimated to be 2,383.87 sq.km.

The four major coral reef areas identified for intensive conservation and management in India are:

  1. Gulf of Mannar
  2. Gulf of Kutch
  3. Lakshadweep
  4. Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The emphasis is more on preventive aspects through monitoring and surveillance. The restoration work is both costly and time consuming.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change provides financial assistance to the States for all the four identified coral reef areas for conservation and management of coral and associates.

Besides, the Ministry also supports R& D activities with emphasis on targeted research on coral biodiversity, its management and various aspects of pollution in these areas.

Coral bleaching in India

While it initially appeared that coral reefs in India would escape the bleaching event, the recent expeditions by the Natural Conservation Fund (NCF) in Lakshadweep in April and May 2016 revealed a massive scale of bleaching Around 80 per cent of the reefs in the seven islands visited by the researchers showed bleaching.

Water temperatures remained very high, between 32 and 34 degree Celcius.

The Gulf of Mannar too has exhibited 40-50 per cent bleaching.