The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve (GOMBR) is located in the southeastern tip of Tamil Nadu extending from Rameswaram in the North to Kanyakumari in the south. The extent of GOMBR is 10,500 sq.km with the core area covering 560 km, having 3,600 species of fauna and flora. More than 85 species of fauna and flora are under threat from this area for its continued survival. The GOMBR area is extending from Rameswaram to Tuticorin. It comprises of 21 Islands and this is the first Indian marine national park which is internationally recognised under the UNESCO-MAB programme. The IUCN commission on national parks and WWF identified the reserve as an area of particular concern because of its richest biodiversity and multiple use of the area.
The inhabitants are mainly Marakeyars, local people principally engaged in fisheries. There are about 47 villages along the coastal part of the biosphere reserve which support some 100,000 people. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) has provided support to the establishment of the biosphere reserve, including the setting up and functioning of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust, which is responsible for the coordination of the management plan for the biosphere reserve in concertation with government agencies, private entrepreneurs, and local people’s representatives. Priority is being given to encouraging community-based management. Major ecosystem type Islands including coastal/marine component; coral reefs and mangrove major habitats & land cover types
The GOMBR is the first marine Biosphere in India. The reserve harbours marine biodiversity of global significance and falls within the Indo-Malayan realm, which is the world's richest marine biodiversity region. All the mangrove species available in India are occurring here. Out of these species one species (Pemphis acidula) has become endemic and is found no where else in the world. All 6 genera and 11 species of sea- grass, one species (Enhalus acoroides) has become endemic and is available only here. The shallow water of this reserve has 147 species of seaweeds (algae). These sea grass and seaweeds support a complex eco-system and provide an ideal feeding ground for variety of marine animals including the globally endangered marine mammal sea cow (Dugong dugon).
It is also home to an endemic organism called Balanoglossus (Phychodera fluva), a unique living fossil that links vertebrates and invertebrates. The Gulf of Mannar is the first marine Biosphere Reserve in Southeast Asia. The Reserve was one of six areas chosen on the basis of its threatened status and richness of biological wealth for inclusion into an action programme to save India's protected areas for future generations. The islands are referred as a "biologist's paradise" and it supported over 3,600 species of plants and animals. The international union for conservation of Nature's commission of Natural parks and protected areas has identified this reserve as one of the priority sites for treatment on account of its diversity and multiple use status.
The Algae Resources:
Sea weeds or marine algae are primitive plants without any definite root, stem and leaves. They grow in the inter tidal and sub tidal areas of the sea. They flourish where ever rocks, corals and other substrates are available for their attachment. Sea weeds are renewable important marine living resources. They contain more than 16 trace elements, mineral, protein, iodine, bromine, vitamin and many bio-active substances. The Gulf of Mannar marine area has more than 147 species of sea weeds.
The sea grasses are the marine plants. The Gulf of Mannar coast and Islands are very rich in sea grasses. They are submerged marine angiosperms having adaptation to survive in the saline environment. Thirteen species are found along the Gulf of Mannar area. The sea grass beds provide feeding grounds for the highly endangered sea-mammal Dugong dugon. The sea grass beds also provide a suitable habitat for many marine animals for spawning.
Mangroves are the salt tolerant forest eco-system found in the inter-tidal regions of the sea. Some of the island such as Manoli, Manoliputti, Pullivasal and Poomarichan exhibit a rich diversity of mangrove species like Avicennia, Rhizophore, Brugueira, Ceriops, Lumnitzera and Pemphis acidula. It helps to prevent coastal erosion and provide food, shelter and breeding ground to marine organisms such as fish, prawn etc. The mangroves also act as a fish nursery.
The vegetation in the islands are not uniform but can generally be classified as littoral and swamp forests. It is characterised by the species like Thespesia, Acacia, Tamarix, Vitex, Salvadora and Ficus. Tree species like Palmyra, Casuarira, Coconut, Mango and Tamarind have been grown in some islands. Some of the islands are also have luxuriant growth of mangrove vegetation.
The angiosperm flora of Gulf of Mannar has a total of 784 taxa which includes 764 species and 20 infraspecific taxa (Subspecies /varieties). They belong to 433 genera and 113 families. The mainland coastal vegetation can be differentiated into sandy seashore, inland woody scrub jungle, wetland, mangrove and seagrass vegetation. In sandy seashores Spinifex littoreus is predominant. Usually associated with it are Aerva persica, Euphorbia rosea, Launaea sarmentosa and Trachys muricata. The vegetation in the woody zone is dominated by Borassus flabelifer, Acacia planiforons. Shrubs are Abutilon indicum, Azima tetracantha, Cassis spp., Leucas aspera, and Tridax procumbens. Common trees are Albizzia amara, A. lebbeck, Pongamis pinnata and Terminalia arjuna. Grasees like Aristida and Cenchrus ciliaris are seen. The Low lying marshy habitat is dominated Aeluro! pus lagopoides, Salicornia brachiata, Suaeda mariatima and S. monoica. Aquatic species Aponogeton natans, Monochoria vaginalis and Hydrilla verticillata.
There are 46 endemic taxa including one subspecies and 7 varieties.
Species endemic to Gulf of Mannar
Ipomoea pes-caprae var. perunkulamensis
Jatropha villosa var. ramnadnesis
Perotis indica var. keelkaraiensis
Species endemic to Tamil Nadu
The Coral Eco-system
Coral reefs are a special kind of shallow bottom marine habitat. It is a colony of tiny sea anemone like Polyps living together in thousands and secretes a calcareous (Lime) skeleton of calcium carbonate. The sea fan is yet another colonial form and the branches may fuse with each other to form the fan. Coral reefs have provided an ideal habitat and feeding ground for prawns, crabs, colour fishes and other various marine animals. Coral reefs absorb Carbon dioxide in and convert it into Calcium Carbonate and thus act as carbon sink to reduce the Carbon dioxide content in global environment. They also protect seashore from erosion. The corals are commonly called "Ever Green Forest of the Sea". As many as 133 species are found in the Gulf of Mannar.
The Gulf of Mannar alone produces about 20% of the marine fish catch in Tamil Nadu. Of the 2200 fish species distributed in Indian water 450 species have so far been recorded in this area. More than 50,000 fisherman living on the coast of the Gulf of Mannar directly depend on the fisheries resources of the reserve for their livelihood.
The Marine Turtle
Marine Turtle lead a completely aquatic life excepting for the female coming to sandy beaches for egg laying. Five species of marine turtles are known from this area. They are the Hawks bill turtle, Green Turtle, Olive ridley, leatherback turtle and Logger head turtle. All turtles are becoming highly endangered.
The Marine Mammals
Dolphins, Dugongs and whales represent the marine mammals in the Gulf of Mannar. The common dolphins, spinner dolphins and the bottlenose dolphins are common in this region. The sea cow (dugong dugon) and baleen whale are critically endangered living in this region. The extensive sea grass beds provide an important habitat for the sea cow which is herbivorous and voracious feeder of sea grasses.
The island of Gulf of Mannar with their luxuriant mangrove vegetation, mudflats and coral reefs from an important resting place for the birds migrating to and from other countries. The diversity of eco-system in the area has made in the wintering and mounting ground for many thousands of waders. More than 168 species of birds have been recorded.
The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve has a sound resource base. However, over the years the marine wealth has been over exploited leading to drastic loss of marine wealth and marine diversity. Presently over 40,000 local fisherman in a population of 1.60 lakhs in 125 villages directly depend on marine resource. Of late, the agriculturists from the main land area are switching over to fishing activities in a big way due to consistent failure of monsoon. The adds a new dimension to the already existing pressure on the marine resources of the project area.
As a result, the marine resources of the Gulf of Mannar are over exploited for beyond the carrying capacity. Due to lack of awareness and poverty, the fisher man are forced to indulge in destructive fishing practices such as dynamite fishing, using "Taallumadi' and 'Rollermadi' kind of nets. It is estimated that for every 1000 kg of fish collected, 325 kg of variety of marine organisms are discarded and allowed to die outside the sea. Thus huge quantities of a wide variety of untargeted marine organisms are thrown on the shore as debris. Further illegal coral mining for cement industries and indiscriminate collection of sea grass for industrial use collectively cause the collapse and breakdown of variety of sensitive marine eco-system. Presently it is estimated that 65% of the existing coral reefs in the project area are dead, mostly due to human interference.
III. Need to Protect the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve
The present rate of degradation, if allowed to continue will result in the total disruption of the sensitive eco system and consequent drastic depletion of the marine wealth and its biodiversity. This in turn would make the lives of the several thousand fishermen much harder. Hence there is an imperative need to protect the marine wealth of the Gulf of Mannar by means of regulated harvesting of marine resources and the amelioration of sensitive marine eco-system, which is currently under tremendous threat.
IV. Project Activities
A project proposal on "Conservation and sustainable use of Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserves Coastal Biodiversity" has been approved for assistance from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The objective of the project is to conserve coastal biodiversity and to reduce the pressure on the marine sea resources caused by overexploitation and shift it to land based activities through employment generation. The project with an outlay of Rs. 123.94 crores will be implemented by this department through a trust, which has been constituted by the Government. This project was launched by the Hon'ble Chief Minister with the assistance from Global Environmental Facility (GEF) was received from Rs.50.00 lakhs. During 2003-20004 the scheme is proposed to be implemented with an outlay of 5.15 crores.
The statutory Trust by name Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust for inter-sectoral linkage already formed under this project will ensure that Government departments, research institutions, local communities and NGO's work together in a co-ordinate way for integrating biodiversity conservation into Coastal Zone management plans, simultaneously ensuring livelihood security for the people of the region.
V. Eco Development Committee (EDC)
The Forest Department and Fisheries department will play an important role in involving local communities in conservation efforts through sustainable use of marine resources. Since the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere reserve is subjected to more anthropogenic and social pressure, village level committees called Eco-development committees will be constituted in all the 125 GOMBR dependent villages. Each house will be represented by a male and female member in the committee.
Each village committee will prepare a micro plan for the conservation and sustainable use of local marine resources, identifying alternate livelihoods for the dependent families of the village. The other Government departments like Fisheries, Rural Development, Animal Husbandry, Agriculture, Horticulture etc., will be involved for the creation of profitable alternate income generation activities for the marine dependent families, so that the current pressure on the marine resources get progressively eased. The micro plan of all the 125 dependent villages will collectively form the basis for the formulation and implementation of various activities in respect of conservation, sustainable use of marine resources, as well as socio-economic upliftment of the dependent fisherman communities.
The following income generation activities and other activities identified by the EDCs will be experimented for evolving site specific revolutionary activities.
» Coir Rope Making
» Fishnet Fabrication
» Pearl & Sea weed Cultivation
» Palm candy making
» Dry fish processing and marketing
» Sheep rearing
» Palm leaf product
» Candle making
» Chalk piece making
VI. Eco Tourism
The islands of Gulf of Mannar and its beautiful coral islands are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving method of Eco - tourism. The development of eco-tourism is to create awareness among the fisher-folks, students and publics about the biological and ecological significant of GOMBR and to establish a sustainable alternative source of Income to the near by fisher - villages. Eco tourism will be allowed only in the areas other than National park of the Biosphere Reserve and will be regulated as per the provision of the wild life (Protection) Act, 1972. The identified areas will have all the representatives of the marine life of the entire Gulf of Mannar Biosphere reserve, and will be convenient to the tourists to visit these tourism areas.
Location Map of Gulf of Mannar
Related Research Institutions
Check list of Corals in Gulf of Mannar Biosphere