Holothuria edulis. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
MPAs are traditionally used as effective spatial conservation tools with objectives towards natural marine resource conservation and sustainable livelihoods for communities dependent on it. These areas are crucial for ensuring protection to threatened habitats and species such as coral and seagrass habitats and marine mammals, turtles, sharks and rays etc. Studies have also shown that MPAs can help improve biomass and densities of various marine species. Moreover, they also serve towards generating additional income and livelihoods for dependent communities through ecotourism. MPAs can even benefit fisheries by rebuilding fish stocks, improving catch outside the protected area through a phenomenon called the spillover effect. MPAs, therefore, lead the way towards restoring productivity of oceanic regions and prevent further degradation of the marine resources.
Anemone hosting a family of clownfish. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
As per the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA), protected areas are categorised either as national parks, sanctuary, conservation reserves, or community reserves. Currently, India has over 130 MPAs in its coastal states, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep islands (excluding the newly declared areas in the Lakshadweep islands). The declaration of these new sites adds to 6271 sq.km. of MPAs. Moreover, this contributes towards India’s attempts at achieving Aichi Target 11 of conserving 10% of its coastal and marine areas as well as Target 14 where ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, contribute towards safeguarding local communities’ health, livelihoods and well-being, by 2020.
A typical hustle-bustle of evening fish market in Lakshadweep. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
Currently, there are other on-going efforts towards adding certain vulnerable areas into the MPA network. One of these efforts includes notifying Angria Bank- a submerged bank off the coast of Maharashtra- as a designated area. Angria Bank is characterised by rich coral and algal habitats that support the presence of healthy numbers of various trophic guilds. If notified, this area will be the first protected area in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which sets a precedent for more MPAs in the country’s EEZ.
Fishing is one of the main occupations for Lakshadweep islanders. Excess fish is often dried in the sun to be consumed during difficult days. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
In addition, the Kerala Forest Department also plans to add various sites in the state under protection. In the past, institutions like the Wildlife Institute of India have paved the way towards identifying marine areas in need of conservation called Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas (ICMBAs).
Thriving colonies of corals inside the marine protected area of Lakshadweep. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
While notifying MPAs is a crucial step towards conserving important marine areas, it is important to plan the framework, implementation, and compliance of policies and guidelines for effective management of these areas. Several lacunae exist in the management of existing MPAs, including socio-economic conditions, proper biological assessments, climate change mitigation strategies etc. This results in protected areas without proper conservation outcomes for marine species and endangers livelihood opportunities of dependent communities. Going forward, it is going to be crucial to fill these gaps through consultation with various stakeholders such as local communities, government and non-government agencies etc., consistent monitoring of marine habitats and threatened species; in order to ensure conservation and livelihoods success within the MPAs.
A group of butterflyfish nibbling on coral polyps inside marine protected areas of Lakshadweep. Photo courtesy: Vardhan Patankar
Declaring three new protected areas is definitely going to be beneficial not only to marine life but also to livelihoods of the islanders. Despite difficulties surrounding the implementation of MPAs, their importance is well worth the extra effort when the best interest of the environment and local communities is in mind. We hope that in the coming years India leads the way in declaring unique MPA’s such as Angria Bank- a submerged bank off the coast of Maharashtra that will give India international recognition and fulfillment of conserving unique biodiversity.
By Marine Conservation Team