Programme Director, WWF-India
With a coastline of over 8000 km, two major island chains, and an Exclusive Economic Zone of over 2.20 million square kilometer, India is host to a wide array of marine and coastal ecosystems ranging from mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass, intertidal habitats, sandy and rocky beaches, estuaries, salt marshes that hosts an astonishing variety of biodiversity. These ecosystems are also critical sources for livelihood and food security for over 30% of our nation’s population.
India has 936 species of marine algae, 2000 species of molluscs, 388 species of sea slugs, 38 species of lobsters and 120 species of hermit crabs. We have 15000 species of sponges and 627 species of hard corals. The oceans around us are home to a total of 2618 species of fish species from coastal and marine ecosystems. Lakshadweep Island alone has recorded more than 603 species (Jones and Kumaran 1980) while 1000 species have been reported from Andaman & Nicobar Islands. A total of 55 species of commercial shrimps and prawns have been recorded in India, the east coast of India contributes to 24.5% and west coast contributes to 75.3% to the country’s production as wild caught.
Five species of sea turtles have been reported from Indian waters. Of these, leatherbacks have been recorded to travel over 4000Km from a recent telemetry study to nest on Great Nicobar Islands. Besides, India has one of the largest mass nesting beaches of olive ridleys in Odisha. Indian seas support 25 different species of marine mammals, the majority of these are oceanic forms and have frequent incidences of stranding on shores. All marine mammal species are protected by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Currently, India contributes to 7.33% of global marine biodiversity, however, there is a potential for further exploration and taxonomic studies may reveal more new species.
The marine biodiversity in the country, has been recognised as an essential source of ecological values and economic services that has led to indiscriminate exploitation of its resources, threatening several species to the point of extinction and irreversible habitat degradation. In addition, anthropogenic activities, like, destructive fishing practices, shipping, coastal developments, discharge of untreated effluents from industries has further deteriorated coastal and marine biodiversity.
India’s marine environment is under threat from several large and complex threats such as seabed mining, overfishing, illegal fishing, unsustainable aquaculture and pollution. In addition, unregulated or poorly regulated habitats have been degraded by infrastructure development and unscientific tourism planning.
WWF-India’s marine programme has been over the past few years been working over a range of issues such as fishery management, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, habitat degradation, illegal wildlife trade, unsustainable tourism and plastic pollution among others. The programme has witnessed significant growth, both in areas of work and the strength of the team. We have been able to launch new projects on marine debris and threatened species, undertake habitat monitoring surveys and initiate policy interventions on issues such as unsustainable tourism development and harmful fishing subsidies.
To develop a structured approach to marine conservation we identified the following thematic areas for our work:
Michael looks after marine related projects in Odisha and actively interacts with communities to sensitize them on wildlife conservation. He is also involved in conservation of marine turtles and dolphins and takes an avid interest in wildlife photography.
Sumer is a marine biologist who tackles issues related to the management of ghost gear and Marine Protected Areas. He is a dive professional and once worked with a dive school in the South Andaman Islands. Sumer is a passionate birder who also enjoys an occasional game of squash.
Abhishek works across India's west coast, on projects such as cetacean monitoring, marine tourism, and biodiversity outreach. He enjoys involving communities in marine science, and never says no to seashore walks, chats with fishers, and long trips on fishing boats.
Samyuktha works with fishing communities along the Odisha coast to address bycatch mortality among sea turtles. She believes that research and conservation form a solid and unshakeable foundation for a living planet and loves long chats and is a passionate writer.