In our line of work, we find livelihood and ecology inextricably linked. The Defending Our Oceans expedition is documenting over and over, how the loss of ecological resources (by overfishing for example) means both the environment and the people relying on it for a living suffer. And, conversely, we are seeing how conservation can mean more secure long-term employment. Along these lines, our report, 'India's Coastal and Marine Environment', presents a compelling argument for marine reserves along India's coast.
An Olive Ridley turtle up close and personal. Every year, thousands of Olive Ridley turtles congregate in these waters to mate and then nest in a perfectly synchronised arribada.
The Indian peninsula, bordered by the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea
and theBay of Bengal, boasts of a variety of diverse marine
ecosystems. Densemangrove forests in the Sunderbans, the world's
largest congregationsof nesting sea turtles in Orissa, delicate
seagrass beds in Palk Bay,the enigmatic dugong in the Gulf of
Mannar, majestic whale sharks inthe Gulf of Kutch and some of the
world's most beautiful coral reefs inthe Lakshadweep and Andaman
and Nicobar islands; these are just a fewof the rare treasures to
be found along India's 8,000 km longcoastline.
The beauty of the Indian marine ecosystems is matched by
theirgenerosity. The ecological wealth of the oceans provides a
livelihoodto millions of people. Even at a conservative estimate,
at least 4million people in over 4,000 fishing villages along the
Indiancoastline live directly off the seas. Thousands of others are
involvedin one way or another - selling the catch, supplying
fishing gear, etc.
The vast majority of those in the India fishing industry
aresmall-scale and artisanal fishermen - living simply, fishing
modestquantities and trading on a small-scale. However, the
growingmechanised and trawl sector is fast making life unliveable
for thesecommunities, as more and more trawlers destroy ocean
habitats in searchof fewer fish.
Wealth within measure
So well established is our belief that the oceans are an
infiniteresource, that they have become a metaphor for unlimited,
boundlessplenty - and this is as true in India as the rest of the
world. Thereality, however, is that we're using up the resources of
the oceansfaster than they can be regenerated. Globally, stocks of
most majorcommercial species are showing signs of overexploitation.
Although inIndia they have not over-exploited the ocean to levels
as critical asin many Western countries, there is a need to act
now, before reachinga state of crisis.
More and better
marinereserves - areas that are closed to allextractive uses,
such as fishing and mining, as well as disposalactivities - are the
best, strongest tool, to ensure marine habitat andrecourses are
protected for future generations. In addition toprotecting vital
marine habitat, and giving the life there a safehaven, marine
reserves also benefit fisheries in surrounding areas, asfish
catches increase. For instance, a network of marine reserves inSt.
Lucia in the Caribbean led to fish catches in surrounding
areasincreasing by 46-90 percent within five years.
Small and effective
But in India the answer does not lie in building up large,
isolatedreserves. Most Indian fisherman ply their trade in
coastalwaters, and most of the vital marine habitat near India is
also nearthe coast. There is a temptation to set aside a few large
marinereserves, as the easiest solution. However, this would mean
onlya small number of fishing communities, on either end of the
reserve,would benefit from them - while communities in between
might lose outas traditional fisheries areas are placed off limits
as part of thereserve.
A better solution lies in creating a network of small coastal
reserves,drawn up in consultation with local communities. In this
way,more local fishing communities would benefit from the reserves
and sohave a stake in creating and protecting them.
Download the report summary
Download the executive summary of the "Indian Coastal Marine Environment" report
Ocean Defenders TV
See the Espy crew mingle with Indian film stars