Collective Initiative for Conservation of Aquatic Biodiversity in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra
The Sindhudurg Coastal and Marine Ecosystem (SCME) lies towards the southern end of Maharashtra’s coastline. It is a part of the Konkan region, a narrow coastal plain in western Maharashtra which lies between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. The Sindhudurg coastline extends over 121 km and has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of almost 16,000 sq.km. It consists of specialized marine ecosystems like coral reef, mangroves, algae, mud flats, lagoons and moist deciduous forest. There are several species of marine flora and fauna including, corals, sea anemones, oysters, sharks, porpoises, otters, blue whale and sea turtles. Baseline studies also revealed the occurrence of several coastal birds listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species such as grey-headed bulbul, Malabar grey hornbill, crimson-backed sunbird, vigor’s sunbird etc, along the Sindhudurg coast.
Need for the Initiative
The Sindhudurg district comprises 743 villages that mainly depend on agriculture, horticulture and marine fisheries for livelihood. The communities rely on the traditional fishing techniques, predominantly in the form of Rampani (shore seine), gill net, cast net and hook and gull method. However, since this maritime zone is a major fish landing center, many of the commercial fisheries started using unsustainable fishing practices and gears, following which, the local fishermen reported a decline in fish variety and volume of catch. This, coupled with expansion of the tourism sector and habitat degradation due to pollution from fishing vessels and other maritime traffic led to a steady decline in marine catch, i.e. from 27,283 MT in 2013-14 to 17,699 MT during 2015-16.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
The Forest Department of Maharashtra ventured into the realm of conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity in 2012 by institution of the ‘Mangrove Cell’. The launching of the UNDP-GEF Project on “Mainstreaming of Coastal and Marine Biodiversity in Sindhudurg District” in the later half of 2012 gave the Mangrove Cell the opportunity to initiate a number of innovative programmes for conservation of Sindhudurg coastal and marine biodiversity and socio-economic development of communities in the district (UNDP, n.d.). The livelihood activities under the project were implemented majorly by Self Help Groups (SHG) along with support from local institutions such as the Gram Panchayats and the Zila Parishad. As a part of the initiatives, artificial reefs were deployed in addition to transplanting corals in selected areas along the coast, due to which a 15-25 % increase in fish stocks is expected. Joint patrolling of the Sindhudurg waters by officials from the Forest, Fisheries and Police department was undertaken, to monitor the movement of fishing vessels, check the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and protect the Schedule–I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, (WPA) 1972. As a result, there is a 65 per cent decline in the number of illegal fishing vessels. More than 100,000 sq.m. of ghost nets have been retrieved and all trawlers operating in the area now use square mesh nets. Through the sea turtle conservation programme, a number of turtle nesting sites have been identified, protected and hatchlings released safely into the sea. Bycatch such as turtles, crabs, etc., are now being retrieved from ghost nets and released by the fishermen. PADI (The Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified training in scuba diving and snorkeling was imparted to local youth to serve as diving and snorkeling guides to support tourism. Livelihood activities such as crab culture, mussel & oyster culture, apiculture, System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and eco-tourism have been initiated, involving women SHGs to serve as an additional source of income. During the project period, around 14 SHGs were involved in crab farming and earned approximately INR 13,00,000/- in a span of four years. Several mangrove species have been planted in the area to increase the mangrove cover and the Burnt Island near Vengurla rock has been declared as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). As a result of the conservation initiatives, marine fisheries resource use has been rendered sustainable across 2,657sq km in the Sindhudurg Coastal and Marine Ecosystem. The mangroves provide an array of ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, wastewater treatment by breaking complex pollutants and providing a habitat to several aquatic species. As part of the project interventions, support has been provided to establish BMCs in 50 villages in Sindhudurg to manage all marine and coastal biodiversity activities in the region.
The GoI-UNDP-GEF Sindhudurg project received special mention in the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Sustainable Use of Biological Resources’ in 2018. Contact - Manjrekar Tel. +91 9833471043 Email: email@example.com