by Goutham Krishna
Coral reefs are a unique underwater ecosystem composed of reef-building coral species. Coral reefs are considered the most diverse and rich marine ecosystem on the planet, hosting about 25% of all marine species within an area less than 0.1% of the world oceans. Due to this peculiarity of the coral reef ecosystem, they are often called the rainforests of the sea. Reef-building corals are mainly found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters due to their biochemical requirements.
India, being centrally placed within the warm and tropical Indian ocean, therefore, exhibits the presence of Coral reef colonies in its marine territories. The main coral colonies in India are the Gulf of Kachchh, Lakshadweep, Palk Bay & Gulf of Mannar and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands. According to a study, the total area of coral reefs in India is estimated to be 2375 square kilometres. The three different types of reefs present in India include,
-> Fringing reefs: Reefs that are directly attached to the shore and spread towards the sea.
-> Barrier reefs: Separated from the landmass by a lagoon
-> Atolls: Continuous barrier reefs that extend all the way along a lagoon without any central islands
As mentioned in the introductory part, coral reefs are rich in species diversity. The exact number of reef species present in the world is still unknown. The coral reefs of India are also hotspots of extraordinary biodiversity. According to a study done by Venkataraman, Indian reefs have a total of 199 species, recorded from 37 genera. Reefs in Andaman & Nicobar area are the most diverse coral reef ecosystem present in India, whereas the species diversity is relatively lower in the Gulf of Kachchh.
Apart from the biocentric significances, coral reefs are important for human beings as they provide various value additions and services to humankind. The reefs have an undeniable role in industries like fisheries, pharmaceutical and minerals, tourism and allied sectors etc. Also, they provide various ecosystem services such as protection of the coastline, maintenance of air quality and Filtration of nearshore waters. Hence coral reefs have direct and indirect impacts on the economy and livelihoods at an individual and societal level. In this context, the need to sustainably conserve coral reefs from degradation becomes of prime relevance.
Presently, coral reefs in the world are facing different types of threats which are either natural or anthropogenic. Climate change and its impact on the natural equilibrium is hampering the status of coral reefs also. Variation in content of salinity and pH in ocean water, increased sediment deposition, change in temperature pattern etc. are some of the natural threats faced by coral reefs whereas anthropogenic activities like Mining, bottom fishing, Ocean pollution, unsustainable tourism etc. intensifies their extent.
The situation of Coral reefs in India is no different. Experts estimate that three fourth of the coral reefs in India will be endangered by 2030 if no progressive measures are taken to conserve them. A multi-stakeholder approach to managing and conserving the coral reef system of India is immensely important. Scientific and sustainable approaches to protect the rainforests of oceans must hence be an urgent priority for us.