Occurrence of Tropical Cyclones in the Indian Coast

by Goutham Krishna

Tropical cyclones can be defined as rapid rotating storms originating over warm tropical and subtropical oceans, with a low-pressure centre and the presence of spiralling clouds in the surroundings. They are one of the most devastating natural hazards that can cause immense damage once it makes landfall. The Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, situated in the north Indian ocean, are part of an active cyclone basin. Though it is the least active basin only contributing to 7% of the world’s tropical cyclones, its impact is high due to the densely populated coastal line bounding it.

Track map of all North Indian Ocean cyclones from 1970 to 2005

The major driving force behind the formation of a tropical cyclone is the transfer of water vapour and heat from the warm ocean waters to the atmospheric air primarily by evaporation. The pressure difference developed as an effect of this warm rising air results in the formation of tropical cyclones. The temperature of the sea surface, geographical location, atmospheric temperature etc. are key factors with important roles to play in the formation and strength of these cyclones.

The Indian Ocean is the warmest ocean in the world with an average sea surface temperature ranging from 19-30 degrees Celsius. Hence the tropical waters of the Indian ocean are highly prone to the formation of tropical cyclones. Generally, the cyclones formed in the North Indian Ocean tends to move either in the South-west direction or in the North-East direction, according to the winds. In the Arabian sea, they are most likely to move in the north-western direction, targeting the Arabian Peninsula, whereas some may move in the North-East direction towards the Gujarat / Maharashtra coast. In the Bay of Bengal, storms generally move in the North-westwards before making landfall and then change direction into North-East.

Since the Western and Eastern coasts of India are densely populated with cities, commercial and industrial centres etc. the impact of cyclones if it makes landfall will be high. Cyclone Tauktae can be taken as the most recent example of disastrous cyclonic storms. Taukte, which made landfall in the state of Gujarat in May 2021 caused at least 169 deaths and damage around 40,000 crore rupees. Heavy rainfalls following these cyclones are also disastrous as it causes coastal flooding in the impacted area. Due to global warming and climate change, the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones are likely to increase in the near future. An increase in temperature will lead to increased surface sea temperature and also will maximize the vapour content in the atmosphere and both of these will contribute enhance the intensity and frequency of cyclones.

Presently, India has advanced cyclone detection systems through which it is possible to forecast and detect each and every potential cyclonic threat at its stage of infancy. Forecasts regarding cyclones are given by six cyclone warning centres located at Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Each of these centres has its own area of operation, which cumulatively covers total coastal stretch of the country. These systems have helped to reduce the impacts and damages of tropical cyclones to a large extent. But still, a cyclone is one of the most disastrous forms of natural disaster which always has a smell of fear and panic associated with it.  

Estuaries of Kerala: an overview

by Goutham K

Estuaries can be defined as partially enclosed bodies of water found in the coastal areas, where the freshwater from rivers, lakes or streams mixes with the saline water from the ocean.  Brackish water formed by the mixing of saline and freshwater is a peculiarity of estuaries.  Estuaries are delicate ecosystems where diverse varieties of flora and fauna which are adapted to live in brackish water are seen. Moreover, many species rely on estuaries for food, breeding and various other purposes. Hence, they are considered living laboratories for bioscientists around the world.

 Due to the geographical peculiarities of Kerala, with its long coastal stretch with numerous rivers draining to the sea is home to 27 different estuaries in its 589 Km coastline. Vembanad is the largest Estuary in the state followed by Ashtamudi, Korapuzha, Paravoor and Beypore. The estuarian ecosystem of Kerala is much important in the context of diverse and rare vegetation present in these geographical zones.

Mangroves are one of the most important species that are seen mostly in the estuarine regions. Due to their salt-tolerant nature, mangroves of Kerala are usually situated in the coastal river mouths and estuaries. 18 different species of Mangroves are present in Kerala, among which Avicennia officinalis and Rhizophora mucronata are the dominant species whereas Ceriops tagal, Avicennia alba and Sonneratia alba are rare. Not only do mangroves provide better habitat structure to diverse vegetation, but also offers various ecosystem services such as protection of topsoil, coastal protection, nutrient cycling etc.

Mangrove species in Kadalundi estuary, Kerala- source: Manorama online

Apart from this, estuarine ecosystems in Kerala are also home to various rare aquatic fauna. The abundant distribution of zooplanktons in these ecosystems plays a pivotal role in maintaining the balance of marine food chains. Zooplanktons are the intermediate link between Phytoplanktons and fishes in the marine food chain. According to the latest study conducted by a group of researchers from the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Kochi, 90 different fish species belonging to 17 orders and 48 species were reported to be found in the estuarine ecosystem of Vembanad estuary, the largest in Kerala. This figure points out a steep 40% decrease in fauna diversity compared to the figures of the 1980s. Similarly, the Kadalundi estuary in the state reported the presence of 34 different fish species of 24 families belonging to 8 orders. Likewise, each of the 27 estuaries in the state is home to varied aquatic species and vegetation that are of high ecological significance.

Similarly, due to the delicate ecological system in the estuaries, its nearby areas are suitable habitats for various traditional and migratory birds. Kumarakom and Kadalundi bird sanctuaries which are close to Vembanad and Kadalundi estuaries respectively are concrete examples of this. 170 different species of birds have been observed to date in the Kadalundi sanctuary whereas the Kumarakom sanctuary has the presence of local birds like waterfowl, koel, owl, egret, heron, cormorant, moorhen, darter, and brahminy kite, as well as the migratory gull, teal, tern, flycatcher etc. many migratory birds from Serbia, The Himalayas, reach here during seasons.

Some of the estuaries in Kerala are also famous tourist destinations due to their aesthetic importance. The Ashtamudi estuary and lake is one of the most visited destinations in the state along with the Vembanad lake and estuary. Backwaters coming from these locations are one of the unique specialities of Kerala tourism. Moreover, these estuaries contribute highly to the livelihood and economy of local communities residing in proximity due to the abundant resources present here. But aftereffects some anthropological interventions in these estuarine habitats like change in shoreline, sedimentation, improper engineering constructions etc. are causing the estuaries to shrunk, both geographically and biologically. According to a recently published report, the Vembanad estuary is shrinking by an area of 0.288 square km per year which is concerning from an ecological point of view. The Paravur estuary, which faced a shrunk in flood plain deposit from 4.95 to 2.12 km square as a consequence of land-use changes is another example of the same. Moreover, the ecological diversity and environmental degradation of the ecosystem is another example of the threats faced by estuaries of Kerala.

Travelling Back Home

by Aswin Sankar

If we take a walk in Chennai’s coastal area by 11:00pm – 04:00am during January to March we can see those females, who won the race with a rabbit in our kindergarten books, who were born in this coastal area a decade ago, travelling back home to lay their eggs. Yes, they’re Olive Ridley Turtles.

They got their name from head-shaped, olive green colour carapace. It will take 45days for these eggs to hatch. Once the babies are out, they will get into the sea for a long journey. It is a known fact that Olive Ridley turtles travel long-distance but how far? According to a paper that was published in the Chelonian Conservation and Biology, a peer-reviewed semi-annual scientific international journal of turtle and tortoise research, Olive Ridley turtles can travel as far as 9000kms! These babies which come to life in Chennai’s coastal area are capable enough to travel to Australia or South Africa or even to Japan! Though many babies come to life, only one out of 1000 turtle babies make it to adulthood.

These babies which leave Chennai within a short time after their birth comes back to the same place after 15years to lay eggs as they attain sexual maturity. After leaving Chennai’s coast, these babies feed themselves with algae, small fish and fish eggs. As they grow, they’ll have a varied diet of eating algae, lobsters, crabs, tunicates, jellyfish, shrimp, fish, and fish eggs. They can dive 200m to 500m deep for food. These varied diets help Olive Ridley Turtles to grow as big as two feet and they weigh around 35kgs. Olive Ridley turtles practice nesting in mass, solidarity and sometimes in mixed strategy. Chennai is not the only place these turtles live, they are spread across tropical waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. They can be seen in the coastal areas of 80 countries.

Though it is said that Olive Ridley turtles are abundant, in the past two decades their population has been decreased by 30% globally. The major reason for this population drop is pollution. These turtles eat plastic bags and other microplastics thinking that it’s jellyfish and other small fishes. Also, they get stuck in ghost nets and clothes which make it difficult for them to swim in the water and move inland. And due to pollution in coastal areas, babies struggle to reach the water. To prevent them from these pollutions, to ensure these babies reach the water and come back for nesting after a decade safe, there are several organizations working around the world. E.F.I. is one among them. E.F.I. conduct several beach clean-ups to keep the coastal area and the ocean clean. It is because of these organizations, even after a decade those babies who leave their home after a short time, travel back home.

Image source: Olive Ridley Project, WWF, Roundglass sustain

Shielding from sunlight, shadowing coral reefs

The loyal tube of sunscreen becomes your life savior at the beach on days when the sun blazes against your skin. The lotion squirmed out of the tube is as essential to you sometimes as is water to fish. This lotion, however, is an (un)necessary evil. Its inconspicuous disadvantages make it a lethal threat to one of the most significant components of marine ecosystems – coral reefs. 

What are coral reefs?

Coral reefs are underwater structures that are formed from the skeletons of marine invertebrates called corals. These reefs are made up of thin layers of calcium carbonate present in the skeletons of corals.

Needless to say, coral reefs are substantial components of the marine ecosystem. They provide shelter, food and substrate for a plethora of other organisms, and hence, are indispensable.

India is gifted with four coral reefs. These are the Gulf of Mannar, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and the Gulf of Kutch.

Coral reefs (Image Source)
Coral reefs in India (Image Source)

What is coral bleaching?

As global warming continues to heat oceans, the phenomenon of coral bleaching has come under the spotlight.

Coral reefs exhibit a symbiotic relationship with an algal species called zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae not only provide reefs with essential nutrients, but they are also responsible for their vibrant colours. As oceans become warmer, these algae die or are forced to leave the reef. In their absence, coral reefs eventually lose their colour and become white, giving rise to what is known as coral bleaching.

While coral bleaching as such may not lead to the death of corals, the occurrence and sustenance of this phenomenon for prolonged periods of time may do so.

Coral bleaching (Image Source)

Effects of sunscreen on coral reefs

Sunscreens contain noxious chemical substances such as as oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methyl benzylidene camphor, etc. These chemicals adversely affect coral reefs by damaging their DNA, encumbering their reproduction capabilities, causing their discoloration and so on.

When we swim out to the ocean with sunscreen smeared on our skin, certain dangerous chemicals seep into the water. We end up ticking another one of the many boxes of the potential reasons behind the end of the marine environment.

Though coral reefs enjoy the highest level of legal protection in India, under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, that is not enough to protect them from lotions that we squeeze out of tubes and rub over ourselves, often unaware about their adverse effects.

The simple fact that we are capable of learning is a hopeful reassurance for the future of our environment. All it takes for us is to learn what we are doing wrong, and what can be done to better ourselves. That’s all that takes to assure ourselves the future that we yearn.

Besant Nagar Beach: Beach Mornings

Beach Morning flowers and creepers at Besant Nagar Beach

It was around 8:00 am, the day after Christmas that I visited Besant Nagar Beach for a walk. The water was cold while the sand was humid.

26th December 2004 is remembered for the Tsunami and Ocean Earthquake that affected throngs of coastal households.

What caught my attention was the beautiful Beach Morning creepers and flowers (botanically called ipomoea pas-caprae) that smiled as solace for what the coast had felt in 2004.

The pink and green flora and fauna have a lot of stories to say that buzzing bees dance to!

“Treasure-houses of marine life”

by Abitha Begam

Have you ever heard of marine life sanctuaries? I know we are quite familiar with bird sanctuaries, but what is these marine life sanctuaries? Marine life sanctuaries are places that come under protected areas where the intervention of humans is restricted. They are completely secured by the Government and its regulations. India consists of the wealthiest coastal ecosystem and has been a home for various rare species and it consists of six marine life sanctuaries.

One among them is the Rani Jhansi Marine National Park, which was named in the remembrance of Laxmibai, the queen (Rani) of Jhansi. It was found in 1996 in the Bay of Bengal with an area of 256.14 sq km which is present over Ritchie’s archipelago. The national park is completely reserved and activities like deforestation, hunting and poaching are strictly prohibited. The periphery of the park is lined with the mangrove forest and it is popular for its fruit-eating bats. They form the house for many species like dugongs, crocodiles, coral reefs, leatherback turtles and olive ridley turtles. The interesting fact about this park is it is very much suitable for people who desire to explore the underwater life of the creatures.

“Why are these fruit-eating bats so special? They are special because they are the only type of bats that rely on smell and vision rather than the solar system, the other fact is that they disperse undigested seed or pollens into the environment through which a healthy ecosystem develops”

Gahirmatha Marine sanctuary is a happy spot for turtle lovers which is located in the state of Odisha. It is said that during the pandemic situation, around 4.5 lakh of olive ridley turtles had been nestled, the presence of thick mangrove forests lining the coastal line and the swampy forests creates a home for these turtles. It is considered as the world’s largest olive ridley turtle nesting site and has been protected by the Odisha government which starts from the Dhamra River in the north and ends in the Brahmani River in the south that covers an area of 1435 sq. km.

Source: https://curlytales.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Untitled-18-2.jpg

Another interesting marine national park in Tamil Nadu is the Gulf of Mannar which consists of coral reefs and a group of 21 small islands. It is a protected area and access for the public is very limited. It is considered one of the richest and largest national parks. The park houses some rare species like the sea horses, sea cucumber, pearl oyster, dugongs, mangroves, seagrasses and some of the other vulnerable mammals. The biosphere extends up to 6.23 sq km lining between Tuticorin and Dhanushkodi.

Malvan marine sanctuary, which is in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra is a famous tourist hotspot. It covers an area of 29.22 sq km. This place is considered the perfect spot for watching dolphins galloping in the sea. It forms a major habitat for the species like sea anemones, molluscs, pearl oysters, various types of coral reefs and a home for a variety of fishes like Putitor mahseer, catfishes, black-headed gulls, plovers and some of the birds like waterfowls, tern and plover. The tourist spot near the sanctuary offers some activities like scuba diving and snorkelling.

The fun fact about the place is “it is called as low budget Andaman and Nicobar Islands due to its crystal-clear water surface”

Source: Vibrant holidays https://i2.wp.com/thestrongtraveller.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/15562842904-min.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1

Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is an archipelago of 20 islands and rocks. This national park is situated near Wandoor in the Andaman Island which belongs to the south Andaman administrative district. For protecting the coral reefs and the nesting sites of turtles in 1983, this park was created. During the tsunami, though it had not got so much damage, it was restricted. Still, there are some islands that are protected. The two major important island groups are labyrinth and twin islands. They form the house for various coral reefs, colourful fishes, molluscs, shells, starfishes and saltwater crocodiles. It has also been found as a phenomenal spot for bird watching.

Source: jolly buoy island (one of the islands in the park) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Jolly_Boys_Island_2010.jpg

“Did you know, which is the very first marine national park in India?”

Marine national park present in the Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat, is the very first national park in India, which consists of 42 islands. This park majorly focuses on the conservation of the coral reefs present in the 33 islands. Some of the best-known islands among them are Pirotan, Karubhar, Narara and Positra, which consists of sandy beaches, mangroves and swamps. These islands act as a home for various species like a sea mammal, sponges and various types of fish. The park has been declared in the category II area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Source: Nat Geo Traveller https://i2.wp.com/thestrongtraveller.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/fish-min-1.jpg?resize=768%2C576&ssl=1

Floating Plastic Islands!

by Abitha Begam

Have you ever imagined an island made of plastics with a beach, lined with a plastic coastline? Yes! Kudos guys, we have made it. Have you ever thought about where all our plastic wastes are? Where does it go? Where does it gets settled?

It’s yes! Obviously, the answer would be to the ocean. Not all plastics enter the ocean but the majority do. Many of the plastic waste gets escaped from the environment reaches the nearby water bodies or gets dumped nearby and ends in the ocean. Whereas some plastics like microbeads present in the cleansers and toothpaste, intentionally makes a way in ease. All these plastics in combination with the microplastics form garbage patches.

So, now you can ask me a question, how do these large bottles, bigger plastic bags get shredded? Yes, I will explain you. Collectively, the plastic material discharged in the ocean will be left as such, during the season of monsoon, the ocean currents (gyres) formed drift all the garbage present on the surface of the ocean. Among them, some of the garbage when gets stuck into the aggressive ocean currents becomes microplastics and forms a garbage patch area.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Around 8.3 billion tonnes of garbage had been discharged into the oceans all these years. All this garbage mainly plastics forms patches over the oceans, some gets sunk while some float. There are five major offshore plastic accumulation zone namely North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and the Indian ocean garbage patches among which The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is considered as the largest.

“Do you know how big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)? It is three times bigger than France in size”

Source: https://www.iberdrola.com/wcorp/gc/prod/en_US/comunicacion/docs/Infographic_five_plastic_islands.pdf
S.NoName of the garbage patchDiscovered inArea of the patch (Estimated)
 1.North Pacific19971.6 million Sq Km
2.South Pacific20112.6 million Sq Km
3.North Atlantic2009Estimated to be spread over 100 km
4.South Atlantic2017About to be estimated
5.Indian ocean20105 million Sq Km

According to a study made in 2010, it is found that India disposes nearly of 0.6 million tonnes of plastic wastes annually while China topped with 8.82 million wastes per year. These wastes collectively form garbage patches in the ocean.

According to a study led by Mirjam van der Mheen, as there is no direct technique for measuring the plastics present in the ocean, the team has made to retrieve data from 22,000 satellites since 1979, has made a simulation on how the monsoon currents drift the garbage in the ocean.  to their surprise, they have found how the Indian Ocean garbage patch has been missing.

Source: Simulation results of Mirijam van der Mheen study.

Due to the unique physical features of the Asian continent, the Indian ocean does not form a gyre, which obviously never let the garbage patches be present. The fact of the missing garbage patch is due to the monsoons that get created in the ocean. Hence due to the Asian monsoon system, the stronger trade winds push the waste towards the west of the southern Indian ocean making a way towards the south Atlantic Ocean.

These microplastics and the litter ends up in marine pollution and pose a serious threat to marine biodiversity. Some recent reports of South Africa highlighted the baby sea turtle dies due to the consumption of plastics.

So what’s in our hands, as it is a man-made crisis, it is completely possible to solve the problem, which requires some initiative and awareness from our side. Primarily reduction in the production of plastics could be made in control. Secondarily reduction in the usage of plastics can make it possible.

 Even a small change from our end can make bigger differences. Carrying a bag for groceries and purchase, switch over to steel lunch boxes and bottles, avoiding cosmetics consisting of microbeads, taking part in ocean clean-ups and by being minimalistic.,

Even your smaller change matters!

Faunas of the Indian Ocean

by Abitha Begam

India is not only a country of diverse cultures, languages but also has a very rich biodiversity, one such type is the Indian ocean. The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean counting after the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean, which stretches from Africa to Australia. It has been the home of 115 species of aquatic animals to date. Due to its fewer plankton levels, the ocean has minimal species when compared to other oceans. Though there are lesser species, some of them are very rare among them.

The Indian Ocean wildlife is majorly found in the coral reefs of Africa and Australia. The most interesting fact about the Indian ocean is, it is the warmest ocean on the earth and 40% of the world’s offshore oil production has been carried out in this ocean. The major primary islands of the Indian ocean are Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka which serves as a home for various species of fauna. The wildlife of the aquatic animals has always been parallel to the wildlife of the terrestrial animals. Due to the fragile environment, aquatic animals are facing some serious issues.

The Indian Ocean has been the treasure trove for various aquatic animals, though it has lesser marine life, it has consisted of a rich and very rare array of species at specific islands and coastal areas. In which some are endangered and could not be existed at all in the other parts of the world. Among them, some of the species are briefed below.

Okay, let me test your knowledge about aquatic animals.

Which is the only aquatic habitat with no sense of smell and earflaps and also with a small hump on the back? Yes! You are right, they are the Humpback whales.

Source : BLACK TOMATO (https://www.blacktomato.com/destinations/iceland/swim-with-whales/)

Habitat: Found near the shores of the ocean and all around the world

Favorite food: Krills

Diet: omnivores in nature

Endangered level: low, once it was about to be endangered

Interesting fact: they follow a newer type of migration like they could be found in the polar climate regions during summer and tropical to sub-tropical climate region in the winter for mating. They can also travel around 16,000 miles a year.

Humpback Whales are majorly found in the islands of Madagascar. The interesting fact about them is, the male humpback whales have the ability to produce a beautiful song in their throat. It has got a small hump in the back and so it was named after it. Their senses are made specifically to adapt to their underwater habitat. They weigh about 40-100 tons and have a lifespan of nearly 45-50 years. They were on the verge of extinction, but now it has been completely recovered.

Have you heard about vegetarian marine mammals? Yeah! you are reading right, Dugongs are one among them!

Habitat: Warmer tropical waters and seagrass forests present in the Pacific and Indian ocean

Favorite food: Seagrass

Diet: Herbivores in nature

Endangered level: Medium, close to getting threatened

Interesting fact: they can live up to 70 years

Dugongs are a type of mammal which are similar to manatee which is commonly known as sea cows. They are of brown-grey color, which weighs up to 150- 400 kg. It is the state animal of the Andaman territory and is found as an isolated breed in the National Park of Gulf of Kutch. They are herbivorous and grow at a length of 2.7m-3m. Because of their friendly nature, it allows the visitors to see in close. They have some specific dietary habits and hence it cannot be caged. They also have a strong history, whereas a 5000-year-old cave has depicted the images of Dugongs, symbolizing their origins from Malaysia.

Do you know: Tortoise and Turtles are not the same! They look alike but still have many different features. The life span of tortoises exceeds more than turtles.

Habitat: Shallow marine waters

Favorite food: jellyfish and tunicates

Diet: Carnivores in nature

Endangered level:  Medium, only the breeds living on the pacific coast are endangered.

Interesting fact: they can live up to 50-60 years

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are the turtles that have been named after their olive-green color present in their shell that is found predominantly in the Indian ocean, which grows to 62-70 cm in length and weighs about 35- 35 kg. They have predominant nesting sites in India and they are majorly in parts of Odisha, Chennai, and Ratnagiri. They are now found in Versova beach of Mumbai. The female turtle’s nests in mass nestlings are named arribadas. They lay a batch of 110 eggs in a single clutch which requires an incubation period of 52-58 days, two times each season.

Habitat: Tropical coastal waters present in the coastlines of South America, China, Africa, and India.

Favorite food: Squid

Diet: carnivores in nature

Endangered level: Medium, under threatening

Interesting fact: they have stripes in the back which gets faded later and hence it is named the tiger shark

Tiger Sharks are considered one of the biggest sharks in the world. They are carnivorous and they weigh about 385- 635 kg with a life span of 30-40 years. They are also known as leopard sharks, as they have ferocious teeth resembling leopards through which they can even bite the shell of a turtle. They move slowly in general, but in case of attacking their prey, they can move at a speed of 20 mph. This fish in other terms it could be called garbage fish as it just swallows any trash other than its prey. Plastics, empty cans, and plates are majorly found in their stomachs. They also migrate with respect to the temperature of the water.

Habitat: Tropical coral reefs present on the coast of Australia and Southeast Asia

Favorite food: Algae

Diet: omnivores in nature

Endangered level: low, concerned less

Interesting fact: Male fish does major works like waiting for the eggs to hatch and fanning of the eggs. Clownfish is a famous fish, which got popularized by the film “Finding Nemo”. It is bright orange-colored with stripes of white in between. They are also known as false clownfish, anemonefish, and false percula. They are majorly found in shallow waters of the Red Sea, Indian ocean, and the western pacific. These fishes weigh about 250 gm and grow at a length of 10cm- 18cm. These fishes are born with both male and female sex organs at the time of birth and adapt themselves according to the stage where they are in their lifecycle. They are not considered as endangered but in case of coral reef destruction, their life may go in vain.

Skincare Chemicals and Corals – A Cause of Concern?

Our obsession of skincare and its products is inevitably eternal, but so are its impacts. The environmentally-derogatory effect that virtually unlimited skincare products such as sunscreens have, cannot be compensated for by nature’s limited lifespan.

When we go to the beach or on vacation, for example, practically everyone applies sunscreen to their body. It’s possible that the sunscreen you use won’t stay on your skin. Sunscreen can wash off and into our waterways when we swim or shower. Corals and the fragile marine environment are harmed by sunscreens and other cosmetics. Physical (mineral) and chemical sunscreens are the two most common forms. Mineral sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier on top of your skin that reflects the sun’s rays away from your body. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens contain synthetic substances that absorb UV rays before it reaches your skin. While applying sunscreen before going to the beach can shield us from the hazards of the sun, it can have the opposite effect when it comes to life under water.

A research paper from Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands revealed the devastating impact that sunscreens have on coral life. The team examined the effect of Benzophenone and Oxybenzone (ingredients in sunscreens) on coral forms as well. It was proved that these chemicals, use in over 3,500 sun-care products affects the DNA of coral life, and results in an increase in the number of coral deformities and abnormalities.

It was further reported by the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the chemicals in sunscreens can induce defects in young mussels, and decrease the fertility of fish.

The next time you decide to go to the beach or visit a national park, make sure to keep the following points in mind:

  1. Avoid aerosols.
  2. Try not to visit beaches, etc. between 10 AM and 2 PM.
  3. Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene are all dangerous substances to avoid.
  4. Look for Protect Land + Sea Certification on items.

The misery of seahorses

On a planet where humans kill millions of their own kind, Damocles’ sword always lies hanging over the heads of animals. That’s a given when animals face the deadliest threat everyday – us.

Things sadly become worse for one of the most fascinating creatures on this planet – the seahorse. One instant it tries hard to live through another day of a plastic-filled nightmare, and the next instant, swoosh! It gets mired in the mesh of a fishing net and that’s the end of its story.

Seahorses in the side-lines

Catching or trading of seahorses is prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. While this has reduced their direct fishing, the number of seahorses being caught as by-catch has increased alarmingly. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, around 13 million seahorses were caught as by-catch in India’s coasts, with Tamil Nadu catching the most.

Areas of southern India where seahorses are found (Image Source)

Why are seahorses being caught as by-catch?

Contemporary fishing techniques involve the use of highly sophisticated gears which not only catch the required kinds of fish, but also those not needed. Usage of nets with mesh sizes smaller than 10mm, trawling near the shore, usage of destructive fishing equipment, etc. – unlawful activities like these are responsible for the dropping seahorse numbers.

Image Source

What happens to the seahorses caught as by-catch?

On the one hand, banning the fishing of seahorses has been advantageous in India to a certain extent. On the other hand however, this has induced several fishermen to sell them in markets for handsome profits. Many a times, these creatures are taken back home and stored in aquariums, where they are deprived of their natural habitats and eventually succumb to starvation or disease. Unregulated trade of these marine horses has also emerged as a concern-causing threat in recent times.

Image Source

Do we need to protect seahorses?

Seahorses ostensibly seem insignificant members of the environment, but in truth, hold a very pivotal place. These unique creatures are vital components of the ecosystems where they are found. Not only do they predate on creatures found in the lower oceanic levels, they also serve as food for several other animals. Thus, reducing their numbers would be equivalent to amputating a significant part of the environment adversely.

Increasing by-catch of seahorses is a wakeup call for taking further steps towards marine conservation. The case of the horses of oceans shows that legal protection has been helpful on paper, but more needs to be done to implement their protection in practice.