Coral reefs are considered the rainforests of the sea. Southeast Asia is at the heart of the most productive and diverse ecosystem knows as “the coral triangle”. Its incredible biodiversity holds more than 77 percent of the almost 800 reef-building coral species described by scientists. Coastal resources, coral reef fisheries, in particular, are a vital source of food and employment for the local community. The estimated total annual benefit of sustainable coral reef fisheries across Southeast Asia is about US$2.4 billion per year.  Coral reefs also facilitate the growth of mangrove vegetation and seagrasses provide a rich habitat for a  variety of marine species and also help to prevent shoreline erosion.

In a recent statement, the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) noted that widespread bleaching (destruction) of corals was reported for the first time in recent history from the Andaman Islands. This has far-reaching implications for the whole ecosystem. The destruction of the reefs directly affects nearly 3,000 species of living organisms. Already, a number of human activities threaten coral reefs in the country. The dredging of the seabed, fishing, the construction of jetties, and the disposal of untreated effluents into the sea are clearly the prime causes. Moreover, in regions like Lakshadweep, the local people use corals as construction material. The problem of effluent disposal is particularly pronounced in the Gulf of Kutch, while activity in the port of Tuticorin affects the reefs in the Gulf of Mannar.


On the recommendations of the National Committee on Mangroves and Coral Reefs, the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the Government of India has established Indian Coral Reef Monitoring Network (ICRMN). The important activities cover monitoring the health of coral reefs, training and capacity building and strengthening of institutions for effective management of coral reefs, and database management of coral reefs in the country. Environmental Information Centre on Mangroves, Coral Reefs, Estuaries and Lagoons has been established by the Ministry under the ENVIS Programme at Centre of Advanced Study (CAS) in Marine Biology, Annamalai University, Parangipettai. The Centre has brought out comprehensive documentation including Status Report and Bibliography on coral reefs in India. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification (1991) issued by the Government of India underwater dredging and underwater blasting in and around coral formations is also prohibited. Coral reefs in the Gulf of Mannar (Tamilnadu) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been declared as Biosphere Reserves.


Coastal resources are important for 350 million people in Southeast Asia living within 50 km of the coast not only for their livelihood but also for the economic growth of the country.  Despite recognition of the serious problems on the state of the coastal resources, information regarding particular threats and mitigating measures to specific threats is limited. This lack of information provides an obstacle to effective decision-making concerning coastal resources. Environmental education, mainly on coastal ecology for school students, has to be given priority as part of the restoration of the coastal ecosystem.


Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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