Conservation of Whale Sharks by the Gujarat Forest Department, Wildlife Trust of India & Tata Chemicals Limited on coasts of Gujarat
Saurashtra is a peninsular region in the state of Gujarat, along India’s west coast and it’s waters are known to serve as the breeding site for the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest living fish. The maximum size of whale sharks could be as large as 20m. These gentle giants migrate from the coast of other continents to give birth in the warmth of the Arabian Sea along the coast of Saurashtra. Their white spotted coloration makes them easy to distinguish.
Need for the Initiative
An increase in demand in the world market for whale shark fins, meat and valuable oil extracted from their liver, untill 2000, led to a targeted increase in their harvest in Saurashtra coast. As per the State Forest Department of Gujarat, on an average, 200 whale sharks were killed annually in the state till 2001. Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) estimates that over 500 whale sharks were hunted along the Gujarat coastline in the year 2000-2001 alone. A report by TRAFFIC India in 2001 had documented a total of 600 whale shark landings between March 1999 and May 2004. The TRAFFIC survey also revealed that a large number of catches (145) were recorded off the Veraval shores, a fishing village on the coast of Gujarat. Furthermore, accidental capture in fishing nets and collision with the boats are other major threats faced by the whale sharks in Gujarat waters. According to IUCN assessment (2016), whale shark population is declining and hence its global status has been changed from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a decreasing trend in population.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
This prompted the Gujarat Forest Department along with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Tata Chemicals Limited (TCL) to launch a Whale Shark Campaign in the year 2004, across 160 km in the Saurashtra coastal area, covering coastal areas of six fishing villages- Veraval, Sutrapada, Dhamlej, Chorwad, Porbandar and Mangrol, in the range of three coastal districts (Girsomnath, Junagadh and Porbandar) of Gujarat. As a part of the initiative, the Gujarat Forest Department provides financial compensation to fishermen who voluntarily cut their nets to rescue the whale sharks that get entangled in fishing gillnets while fishing activities. Through the Rapid Action Project, WTI provided over 1,500 manually operating cameras to local fishermen, enabling them to document the release of the fish and nearly USD127,533 has been paid to them for over 650 (785) rescues, between the years 2005 to March 2019. Satellite tagging has also been initiated to monitor the whale shark movement to develop improved conservation models. Several awareness campaigns such as the annual Whale Shark Day celebration on August 30th among the various groups of fishing communities, street plays, rallies and exhibitions, have encouraged the communities to conserve the species. By soliciting the support of the popular religious leader, Morari Bapu,communities started associating the fish to the incarnation of a Hindu deity and accorded it the status of a beloved daughter ‘Vhali,’ coming home to give birth. The initiatives have resulted in zero-mortality due to any anthropogenic threats, along the coast of Saurashtra and across approximately 100- 120 nautical miles off the shore of the six villages. Gujarat Forest Department, WTI and their partners in conservation played an instrumental role in getting the whale shark listed under CITES Appendix II and Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Thus whale shark became the first species of fish to get receive such protection under the Indian legal framework. The campaign united stakeholders from diverse backgrounds – fishing communities, school children, government, NGOs, corporates, coast guard, scientists and spiritual leaders, to collectively take action for the conservation of the species.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
The Junagadh Forest Division received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards under the category ‘Co-Management’ in 2014.
Contact - Farukhkha Bloch Tel. +919904565412 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org