Vaan Island or Vhan Island, in India’s Gulf of Mannar has been rapidly disappearing into the Laccadive Sea but a determined group of marine biologists are going to save it.
A tiny island between India and Sri Lanka, the island is regular surrounded by almost a hundred fishermen on their boats.
The well defended island falls in the spaces of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. which is also the coastal lines of the most biologically diverse and most varied waters of India.
These waters are home to 23% of India’s 2,200 fin fish species, 106 species of crab and more than 400 species of molluscs, as well as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, the finless porpoise and the humpback whale.
An estimation of 150,000 fishermen rely on these waters for their livelihoods. The only way they can get to these waters is because of the Vhan Island. The Vhan island is a 30 minute boat ride away from the mainland and gives easy access to 47 villages that are physically supporting the heavily populated coastline.
Vhan Island has always been a refuge from storms for fishermen and a hotspot for researchers.
Sounds fine and heartwarming, but here’s the kicker: the island may not be there for long, as it’s been rapidly shrinking. Why you ask?
Sadly, that’s due to fishing habits that are not maintainable, the rising sea levels (damn you climate change!) and historic coral mining, which has now been banned in the area.
In the fight to buffer waves reaching the islands, artificial reefs were deployed…and for the moment at least, that measure seems to be effective.
It’s just a stop gap measure and to give Vhan Island and its neighbours a longer-term future, the ecosystem as a whole needed replenishing.
One way seems to be through the use of nature itself.
Gilbert Mathews, a marine biologist at the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) in the nearby coastal town of Thuthukudi in southern India, turned to seagrass, a plain and innocuous-looking type of marine plant, as a way to save the island ecosystem.
Often mistaken for seaweed, seagrasses are plants that grow underwater and have well-defined roots, stems and leaves. They produce flowers, fruits and seeds, and play a vital role in maintaining a marine ecosystem.
Like corals, these tufts of grass provide a habitat to many splendorous sea-creatures, such as seahorses and lizard fish, which can be found in seagrass throughout the year.Gilbert Mathews, SDMRI biologist
Every month the team measured environmental parameters that could affect seagrass growth, such as water temperature, salinity, acidity, turbulence, sedimentation and dissolved oxygen levels.
In five months the team began to see signs of success. It seemed the island’s seagrass was growing back.
The seagrass meadows that had acted as donors had replenished the lost stock and were as dense as ever.
But, as fish and other marine life began to return, so did the fishermen. Nets from bottom-trawlers began to pull up the newly transplanted seagrass.
In the long run, enforcing India’s laws against disturbing seagrass will have to be part of the solution.
It just goes to show that even changes to an island can have a major impact. Climate change not only is making life worse for humans, it’s also effecting our environment heavily and it’s getting increasingly important for us all to chip in to halt and eventually reverse it.
…that is if we’re able to.