Image by © Vardhan Patankar
India is a diverse and unique land. India represents 2.4% of the world’s landmass and supports a population of over one billion people. Along with supporting such a large population, India is also one of the 17 mega-biodiverse countries in the world, with 7.8% of the recorded species of the world, including 45,500 recorded species of plant and 91,000 recorded species of animal.
The coastline of India is equally impressive. India has an extensive coastline of 7517 km length, of which 5423 km is in peninsular India and 2094 km is in the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. This coastline also supports a huge human population, which is dependent on the rich coastal and marine resources.
India’s coastal and marine ecosystems are under threat. These marine ecosystems have tremendous ecological and economic importance and are protected via policies and regulatory framework. However, various direct and indirect pressures in the form of economic development and overexploitation are having adverse impacts on the coastal and marine biodiversity across the country. Diligent efforts to protect the marine protected area( MPA) network in India whilst including community participation is required.
Marine Protected Areas(MPA) in India
An MPA is considered to be any coastal or marine area in which certain uses are regulated to conserve natural resources, biodiversity, and historical and cultural features. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines an MPA as “any defined area within or adjacent to the marine environment, together with its overlying waters and associated flora, fauna, and historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by legislation or other effective means, including custom, with the effect that its marine and/or coastal biodiversity enjoys a higher level of protection than its surroundings”. The MPA network is a very crucial tool being used to actively manage marine conservation along with enhancing and supporting the well-being of people dependent on the coastal ecosystems for their livelihoods.
The first MPA in India was designated in 1967 for the protection of wetlands and of the birds migrating there, even before a specific legal framework for protected areas (PA) was put in place. In India, PA’s that fall entirely or partially within the swathe of 500 m from the high tide line and the marine environment are considered to be in the MPA network Scientific monitoring and traditional observations confirm that depleted natural marine resources are getting restored and/or pristine ecological conditions have been sustained in well managed MPAs.
MPA’s of India
The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, Sundarbans National Park, Gulf of Kachchh National Park, Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary and Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary, on the mainland, have unique marine biodiversity and provide a range of ecological services to the local communities. The total area of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is 4947 km2, of which 1510 km2 is protected under the provisions of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
There are 105 PAs in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and all are part of the MPA network of India. These MPAs cover about 60% of the terrestrial area of the islands and protect more than 40% of the coastal habitat. The important MPA’s in this region include the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park and the Rani Jhansi Marine National Park.
There are 12 identified protected areas in India which are labelled as trans-boundary protected areas under the framework of the IUCN Trans- boundary Protected Area programme. Out of the 12 protected areas, 2 are MPAs (Sundarbans National Park and Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve). India has also designated six UNESCO World Heritage Natural sites, and Sundarbans National Park is one among them.
Image by © Vardhan Patankar
Why are MPA’s important?
Coastal ecosystems are under threat as human-driven impacts due to population growth, economic development and urbanization are going to increase in the coming decades. These actions are major causes of ecosystem degradation as they convert important habitat to other forms of land use for development. Other actions such as overexploitation of species and associated destructive harvesting practices, the spread of invasive alien species and the impacts of agricultural, domestic and industrial sewage and waste also are a major threat to these delicately balanced important coastal ecosystems. Development and creation of new ports and harbours all along the coasts also threatens the coastal biodiversity. Along with these man-made issues, natural disaster’s such as tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes and storms alter the habitats and damage the coastal ecosystem.
The MPA network in India has been used as a tool to manage natural marine resources for biodiversity conservation as well as for the well-being of the people dependent on it. Studies have shown that depleted natural marine resources are getting restored and/or pristine ecological conditions have been sustained in well managed MPA’s
India’s Step towards Conservation of MPA’s
In 2004, the Seventh Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP7) to the Convention on BiologicalDiversity(CBD) agreed that marine and coastal protected areas, implemented as part of a wider marine and coastal management framework, are one of the essential tools for the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. The meeting noted that marine and coastal protected areas have been proven to contribute to (a) protecting biodiversity; (b) sustainable use of components of biodiversity; and (c) managing conflict, enhancing economic wellbeing and improving the quality of life. Following on this, Parties to the CBD subsequently agreed to bring at least 10% of the world’s marine and coastal ecological regions under protection by 2012. In 2006, only an estimated 0.6 % of the world’s oceans were under protection.
India has taken several steps towards achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, especially Target No. 11 which states that “at least 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved in networks of protected areas” and Target No.14 which states that “ecosystems that provide water, health, livelihoods and well-being are restored and safeguarded”.
Towards achieving these two targets, 106 coastal and marine sites have been identified and prioritized as Important Coastal and Marine Areas (ICMBAs) by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). 62 ICMBAs have been identified along the west coast of India, and 4 have been identified along the east coast. These sites have also been proposed as conservation or communities reserves to increase participation of the local communities in governance.
Along with identification and notification of MPA’s, more efforts are required to secure and strengthen community participation in the management of the MPA network in India. it is a known fact that coastal ecosystems are amongst some of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change. Therefore, it is of the greatest importance to have a climate change adaptation plan for the coastal and marine protected areas in the country. Coordination among all the organizations/institutions that work for conservation of threatened marine species and the welfare of coastal communities is crucial for conservation of our coastal ecosystems.