Coral Reefs of the Andaman Archipelago

History of the ‘emerald’ archipelago :

Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean are known for its pristine beauty and is an archipelago of around 550 islands between the Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea. Recollecting our history of 1014 AD , Rajendra Chola of the Chola Empire used these islands as a naval base to conduct expeditions planned against the Sriwijaya Empire (Indonesia today).

The oldest residents of these islands are the indigenous people who have lived there for 30,000-60,000 years. Classified as a union territory, it is a thriving commercial fishing port, hub for tourism , defense base for our Armed Forces and thick with evergreen forests, dazzling white beaches that gradually slope onto the ocean floor carpeted with coral reefs seen from the sky.

Knowing the reefs and the corals that thrive on it :

Reefs are ridges of material made from rock formations, sand or corals(tiny organisms living in colonies) and found near the surface of oceans . In the Andaman archipelago , coral reefs are an underwater paradise brimming with colorful marine life, magnificent corals and covering around 12000 square kilometers of a bustling ecosystem. What makes the corals so colorful are the tiny algae living inside the coral tissues that secrete pigments that are visible through the clear body of the coral skeleton.

Image from round.glass/sustain

Why are the Andaman coral reefs so precious ?

Coral reefs are most unique that support more species per unit area than any other marine environment and scientists estimate that there may be millions of undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs. Coral reefs account for more than a quarter of all marine life.

  • The intricate gaps between the three-dimensional coral structures provide an underwater environment for a host of marine life to survive and thrive. The Andaman archipelago has around 1200 species of fishes belonging to 165 families , 179 species of corals, marine worms, crustaceans, clams, and many other animals and plants, all of which play a unique and vital role in the coral reef ecosystem.
  • Coastal protection : The coral reef structure acts as a natural buffer and protects shorelines against waves, storms, and floods , helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion.
  • Coral reefs are an important food source for the people who live near reefs, and, as nurseries, are vital to the world’s fisheries. Many of the compounds found on corals reefs and proteins derived from sea animals are being used in human medicines to treat cancer , arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.
  • Read this fascinating article on ‘designer toxins’ that use coral snake venom and produce life-saving drugs for hyper-tension, high blood pressure and heart-attacks.

Did you know ?

Most white sand beaches are actually made of Parrotfish excreta (yes, you read that correctly!).In the Andamans , Parrot fish(in picture below) are a highly endangered species and at the risk of extinction due to spear-fishing . They are saviors of the coral reefs by consuming and scraping the extra algae from corals and excreting soft white sand in return.

Species such as parrotfish spend 90% of their day cleaning the reef by grazing on coral-damaging algae(Pic credit : Alamy)

Reality today and effects of climate change on corals reefs :

El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific and have a large-scale impact on the global weather conditions and affects the monsoon climate of the Indian subcontinent. Due to warmer temperatures corals get ‘bleached’ and large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves.

The tragic tsunami in the Indian Ocean of December 2004 wiped out around 97% of the mangrove cover, destroyed majority of the coral reefs and many beaches simply vanished. Affected countries were mainly India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

In the past decade, the Andaman coral reefs are healing and bringing in tourism income for the local communities, but major threats to the corals such as increase in water temperatures due to global warming, sediment deposition , increased salinity of water , over-fishing , marine pollution etc., remain.

Published by Meena Iyer

Sustainability champion and naturally committed to support the cause of healing our planet impacted due to climate change.

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