Situated about 200 to 440 kilometres off the Malabar Coast, Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea, of which 10 are inhabited. All of India’s coral reefs are Fringing reefs, except for Lakshadweep, which houses a breathtaking boundary of atoll reefs. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef that partially or entirely loops around a lagoon. This feature makes Lakshadweep a unique destination to check off one’s bucket list. This cherished uni-district Union Territory of India houses 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks. Tourist brochures allude to its scenic beauty and the multitude of activities it offers like scuba diving at Kalpeni Island or Snorkeling at Agatti Island while advertising Lakshadweep.
Lakshadweep is a dwelling ground for a large body of diverse flora and fauna. With several species of seaweeds and seagrasses, mangroves, molluscs, marine fishes, corals, and economically and ecologically crucial species like tuna, dolphins, whales, marine turtles and sharks, the colourful Lakshadweep is a melting pot of endemic wealth. Corals constitute a major part of the island’s ecosystem and play a crucial role in controlling the conditions of the island.
Coral reefs are soft-bodied underwater ecological communities with colonies of coral polyps bound together by calcium carbonate that deposit over them with time. Although mistook as plants, corals very much fall under the category of Animalia. However, being an incredible sight for sore eyes isn’t their only purpose. As humongous, breathing systems, corals have the capacity to control global warming to a substantial level by regulating carbon dioxide in the ocean. Since corals also catalyze seagrass growth, they help form a stable seabed as a consequence. Corals, along with their surrounding biodiversity, also aid in purifying the water. Researcher R.M. Hidayathulla remarks that “The corals of Lakshadweep are the lifeblood of the islands.” They especially sustain a diverse range of marine organisms in their immediate habitat, and the deterioration of coral health is bound to affect the quality of life for these organisms and vice versa.
The six species of seagrasses named in the islands of Lakshadweep, which include Thalassia hemprichii and Cymodocae rotundata, significantly help in fending off erosion of the beaches. The indigenous green turtles of Lakshadweep majorly feed on Thalassia hemprichii. This example is indicative of how codependent these species are on each other.
The practice of coral mining is increasingly becoming a prevalent plague in Lakshadweep. As a cheaper and abundantly available alternative to cement, the corals are predominantly used for construction activities like building roads, houses, seawalls etc. Seagrasses and weeds are predisposed to decrease when the coral numbers dwindle, therefore accelerating the erosion of seabeds. This is a major threat to the islands as it could eventually lead to the submergence of the entire island.
Other anthropogenic activities in and around coral islands like excessive fishing, poaching, lagoon dredging, and urbanization in the immediate environment of the corals also cause a threat to their existence.
However, the biggest evil looming over the islands of Lakshadweep is global warming. Increasing temperatures of seawater are not only perilous for the coral reef, but also to the entire island ecosystem. A report laid forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that our coral reefs could undergo a mass die-off by the year 2040.
Due to increased seawater temperature, coral bleaching has become a new nightmare. The corals accommodate algae over them, with which they have a symbiotic relationship. The corals provide the algae with a home to thrive in and photosynthesize, while the algae provide nourishment to the corals. It is these algae that decorate the corals with a hue of colours.
Although the aesthetic value of the corals is the pivotal factor for Lakshadweep being a key tourist destination, the quality and health of the corals have also slowly begun trickling into the tourist discourse. One tourism agency even advertises Kadmat Island as an “Unspoiled coral mine and marine reserve” to better appeal to the public.
- Marine Biodiversity of Lakshadweep: An overview Basudev Tripathy
- Lakshadweep island – Wikipedia
- Excessive mining leads to declining coral reefs in Lakshadweep – The Hindu
- The Great Coral Grief of Lakshadweep islands by Sweta Daga – in.undp.org
- The dying corals of Lakshadweep – earthjournalism.net