MARINE BIODIVERSITY PROTECTION IN INDIA VIS-À-VIS MARINE SCIENCES
“If you think the ocean isn’t important, imagine Earth without it. Mars comes to mind. No ocean, no life support system”- Sylvia Earle
UNDERSTANDING MARINE BIODIVERSITY
India’s Marine Biodiversity that forms a part of the greater Marine Sciences is old and among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of area. With a coastline of around 8000 km and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of roughly 2.02 m sq. km., it’s coastal ecosystem includes estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, backwaters, salt marshes, rocky coasts, sandy stretches, coral reefs, etc.
To truly comprehend what hurdles and obstacles marine biodiversity face today, we need to understand what marine biodiversity is. At the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity was concluded and biological diversity was defined as: `The variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species and of ecosystems'. Therefore, marine biodiversity refers to the richness and abundance of species in the oceans and seas.
PROTECTION OF MARINE AND COASTAL ENVIRONMENT IN INDIA
Marine biodiversity faces numerous challenges. Untreated wastewater, airborne pollution, industrial effluents, discharge of pesticides from fields, plastic and solid waste, sand mining, climate change, ship industry pollution, smuggling of sea species, over-fishing are a few of them. We exploit around 400 species as food resources from the sea, whereas on land, there are only around 10. This shows that the monitoring of marine biodiversity is loosely regulated.
To protect its marine environment, the Government of India had initiated several programmes. The said programmes acquired a new significance after 1992 to meet the objectives of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 (Product of the Earth Summit held in Rio, Brazil, in 1992) and the findings of UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III 1982), which came into force in November 1994.
Some of the Government initiatives are as follows:
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 offers protection to marine biota. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 controls pollution from land-based sources includes tidal waters. The Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1978 enacts laws for protection to marine fisheries by regulating fishing in the territorial waters. Standards for discharging effluents have been listed in the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
The India Marine Fishing Policy was adopted in 2004 to ensure sustainable development of marine fisheries “with due concern for ecological integrity and biodiversity”. The Aquaculture Authority of India which has been constituted in 2005, sets guidelines for the sustainable aquaculture development for regulating coastal aquaculture. The Coastal Regulation Zone was notified in 2011 to conserve and protect coastal stretches and to promote growth sustainably, taking into account the dangers of natural hazards in the coastal areas and sea-level rise due to global warming.
SUGGESTIONS TOWARDS A HEALTHIER MARINE ENVIRONMENT
Agenda 21 highlights the need for proper exploitation and conservation of marine living resources. Accordingly, The Murari Committee had formulated its guidelines on the same in 1996. At present, 90% of the fish potential up to depths of 50 metres is being tapped. Significant fishing efforts should be made to encourage deep-sea fishing beyond 100 metres by long-sized trawlers and long-liners, as in the shallow waters most of the fauna is removed, resulting in a decline of faunal biodiversity, cover and habitat. This will also safeguard the interests of traditional fishermen who fish only in the close sea waters as they will not be deprived of their livelihood. Therefore, It is also necessary to provide alternative means of livelihood to the families of the fisher community so that the overall pressure on coastal fishing does not increase further.
The harmful effects of anti-fouling paints used on ships on marine organisms are being studied in India. The effects include shell thickening, imbalances in growth, and the reproductive stages in larva, oysters, mussels and on primary productivity are well known. Regulations controlling the same need to be introduced.
The Mangrove system across the Coastline needs to be preserved. Mangroves provide essential habitat for many species and useful resources for humans. They prevent erosion, protect the land and the nearby inhabitants from floods and storms. They also stop the seawater from breaching the inland waterways. We as a Country have fared well in terms of Mangroves protection (only 1% was deforested between 2000-2015). This should be maintained going forward. Also, in situ gene banks, more area for marine sanctuaries and parks are necessary to preserve the biodiversity of marine fauna and flora. The role of Coral reefs in Marine Sciences needs no introduction. The total coral reef area in India is 5,800 sq. km, and is distributed between 4 major regions: Lakshadweep, Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch, and Andaman and Nicobar. They reduce coastal erosion and provide habitat for living organisms. To counter the depleting Coral population in the Country, the use of technology should be taken into consideration. Drone mounted surveillance cameras can help in determining the health of Coral reefs. Ways to recycle bleached corals should be introduced in the form of Aquaculture on man-made structures like Bridges, concrete slabs etc.
There is a need to train the Country’s forest staff personnel in marine specific activities like snorkelling, scuba diving so they have a better understanding of the Marine Biodiversity. While the Indian Forest Service (IFS) offers 7 days course on Marine Biodiversity protection, it is simply inadequate. It is to be understood that the Marine Ecosystem is different from its terrestrial counterpart. Instead of having Forest Guards looking after the marine areas, Guards should be trained who specialize in marine protection.
Sea species and birds often ingest or get entangled in plastic and other human-created debris like Plaster of Paris, which causes suffocation, drowning or starvation. These particles take up to hundreds of years to fully decompose. Humans also end up consuming small particles of these pollutants in the seafood they eat. Though India has banned the usage of plastic, it is to be noted that only 6 types of single-use plastics have been targeted which constitute around 10% of the total consumption. Moreover, this has taken a back seat since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic. Just like we have entered into a joint cooperation with Norway regarding disposal of micro-plastic, joint talks with neighboring countries should be initiated to combat other sources of wastes like Industry sludge, polymers, other plastics etc.
Recently, Eight Indian beaches were recommended for the prestigious “Blue-Flag Eco-Label Certification” which is an indication of high environmental and quality standards. More such beaches should be developed. Lastly, studies and surveys should be conducted to spread awareness among the people living near the coastal areas and their opinion should be taken before formulating any marine policy.
Utkarsh Ravi is a corporate lawyer, currently working in the corporate sector who likes quizzing and keeping himself updated with the latest developments in the legal and financial sectors. He has completed his Masters in Legal Research and pedagogy from National Law University, Mumbai and BA LLB (Hons.) from National Law University, Lucknow.
Neha Patel is a corporate lawyer, currently working in the corporate sector who believes in change starts from within. An avid reader, Neha has completed her Masters in Intellectual Property rights and information technology from the University of Mumbai and LLB from K.C. College, Mumbai.