Conservation of Marine Biodiversity through Artificial Reefs and Sustainable Fisheries by Participatory Learning Action & Training (PLANT), Tamil Nadu.


Tamil Nadu is situated at the southeastern extremity of the Indian Peninsula and is one of the oldest maritime states with a coastline of about 1,076 km. The state is endowed with a variety of coastal and marine ecosystems including mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, dunes, beaches, mudflats, salt marshes, wetlands, estuaries and marine waters.

Need for the Initiative

Unsustainable and unregulated fishing along with extensive agricultural and industrial activities has exerted significant pressure on coastal ecosystems. The use of unselective fishing gears such as trawlers[1] harmed coral reefs and locally threatened species such as milk sharks, seerfish, sea turtles, sea cucumbers, white fish, false trevallies and seahorses, which often get caught in the net as bycatch. Following the Tsunami[2] in 2004, voluntary organizations distributed Fiber-Reinforced Plastic (FRP) boats and nets to the fisherfolk, who harvested juvenile fish in large numbers. This led to a further reduction in aquatic fauna with no opportunity or space for breeding and regeneration.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Participatory Learning Action Network and Training (PLANT), an NGO working for the socio-economic betterment of the local communities in the state, initiated the reconstruction of the coastal ecosystem along the C-Pudupet village in Cuddalore District in Tamil Nadu in 2004. The conservation initiative commenced with the identification of a core area of 1,000 sq.m, deemed as an Indigenous and Community Conserved Area (ICCA), in which 200 artificial reef structures were created to expand the surface area for the settlers and foulers to colonise, increase the complexity of the ecological niche and provide adequate habitat for various aquatic organisms. These artificial reef structures were created by combining modern scientific methods with the traditional technique called ‘Mullam’[3]. An adjoining 5,000 sq.m area was designated as a secondary protected area and an additional area of 10,000 sq.m was marked as a buffer zone that serves as a coastal ecosystem reserve. The initiative has been implemented with support from the Village Monitoring Committee (VMC) which manages and protects the conservation area. The Committee comprises a President, Vice President, Secretary, Joint Secretary, Treasurer and two executive members. PLANT initiated reconstruction of the country’s coastal ecosystems across 17 villages in the state of Tamil Nadu. The presidents of all the VMCs in the project villages across Tamil Nadu are linked together through a community based federation called the United Network of Agro & Aqua Villages Upliftment (UNAVU). It has its headquarters stationed in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The presidents of all the VMCs of the member villages (villages with the conservation initiatives), constitute the general body of the Federation. PLANT is engaged as an advisor to the UNAVU and assists the communities with technical inputs and conflict resolution. UNAVU conducts quarterly meeting of all VMC members under the PLANT project, where annual plans/ targets, issues and solutions are discussed. The VMC in C-Pudupet, in consultation with PLANT, has set certain regulations for the management of the conservation area. It has implemented a sustainable fishing system according to which the use of unsustainable fishing gears and Fibre Reinforced Plastic boats using gill nets have been prohibited. A ban has been imposed on all mechanized fishing vessels within the 5 nautical miles of the reef zone. The number of fishing boats allowed on the shores per day is decided by VMC by maintaining a roaster and adhering to a rotation system.A maximum of 20 fishermen are selected by the VMC at a given point of time, who are allowed to fish at a distance of 5,000 sq.m from the reef. The fishermen have been trained in sustainable fishing practices by PLANT. Records for post-harvest collection by each fisher folk is maintained by the VMC. Fishing activities are regulated through the traditional ‘Padu’ system, which mandates an equal distribution of fishing ground in all the neighboring villages, facilitating fair access and benefit-sharing of the resources. Members of UNAVU and each VMCs, carry out regular patrolling to prevent trawlers and other illegal fishing activities in the reef zone. As a result of the conservation efforts, there is a significant increase in the population size and diversity of fish species in the ICCA of the C-Pudupet village. 38 marine species including; carangids, rays, butterflyfish, squirrelfish, groupers, red snappers, catfish, etc. with an average shoal size of approximately 200 individuals are found in each reef. The reefs contribute to reduction of annual carbon dioxide emissions by 732kg to 2000 kg per annum. An estimated US$1,90,000 worth of biodiversity product and ecosystem services are being provided per annum by the ecosystem which now supports more than 600 families in the village. It was estimated that average annual income by conducting fish catch in the reef zone is US$19,870. The initiative was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change, the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, the Central Institute of Brackish water Aquaculture, the Marine Product Export Development Authority, the Central Institute of Fishery Technology, the Tamil Nadu State Fisheries and the Ministry of Shipping.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

PLANT received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Sustainable Use of Biological Resources’ in 2016.

Contact -R.T. John Suresh Tel. +91-44-9840740929, 91-44-9445837173 Email:,