This book is a compilation of various presentations made at a workshop held in late December 2008 at the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI), Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. Twenty six select papers presented at the workshop that fall into four broad thematic categories namely (1) Coral Status and Conservation (2) Coral Associates (3) Reproduction, recruitment and restoration and (4) Coral environment and threats, are presented in detail. With an adequate coverage of a range of issues and themes, this book is a welcome appraisal of the current status of coral reefs in India, the threats they face and ongoing conservation initiatives. There is a strong skew towards work from the Gulf of Mannar region with little information on ongoing research initiatives from the far more critical coral reefs of the Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This indicates the need to initiate and support more research from the island ecosystems of India and to involve more institutions and organisations involved in coral reef research in these regions.
The introductory chapter by Bhatt et al. sets the right context for the book by providing information on the status and trends of Indian coral reefs, the threats and stresses they are subject to, ongoing management efforts and recommendations for better management of coral reefs in India. The three chapters that follow provide more location-specific information on the status of coral reefs from various sites including the Gulf of Mannar, Lakshadweep, Gulf of Kutch and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A study on the recruitment of corals in the reefs of the Gulf of Kutch is a useful attempt to understand the often overlooked demographic processes that underlie coral reef dynamics. The next chapter by Padmakumar and Chandran reviews the biodiversity of octocorals of India providing an excellent resource for interested students and researchers. Melkani then reviews the success of the Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) and women Self Help Groups (SHGs) set up by the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust as part of its sustainable marine resource use programme, which has important lessons for management practitioners.
The section on coral associates begin with reviews of reef associated ecosystems including mangroves and seagrass ecosystems focusing on their current status and conservation needs. Other chapters in this section examine crustacean and marine ornamental fish resources of the Gulf of Mannar, and giant clams of the Lakshadweep Islands. Rao provides an overview of reef fish diversity in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with records of 720 species of reef associated fishes belonging to 90 families. Shanker et al. reconstruct the evolution of research and conservation initiatives of marine turtles in India, including a summary of threats. Two chapters dealing with single species conservation follow; the first deals with a status survey of dugongs in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the other deals with a community based whale shark conservation project in Gujarat.
The following section has the only chapter that deals specifically with coral reef related processes by Diraviyaraj and Patterson which provides a detailed summary of the reproductive and recruitment patterns of corals from the Gulf of Mannar. This clearly highlights a fundamental problem with Indian marine biological research—a conspicuous absence of process based studies.
A section on threats to coral reefs begins with the often overlooked issue of coral diseases. Ravindran and Raghukumar’s review identifies coral disease as a potential structuring force of future reefs of India. This prediction is supported by Thinesh and Edward’s study that reveals an alarming loss of live coral cover due to diseases in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.
The final chapters review the important natural and anthropogenic threats to coral reefs, including climate change, and their impacts on the Marine National Park in the region, identifying lack of local awareness, capacity and alternate livelihood options as the main impediment to their successful management. The closing chapter by Edward and Bhatt notes the biological invasion of the coral reefs of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay, an issue that has the potential to become one of the most serious threats in coming years.
Both books are landmark publications with contributions by some of the leading coastal and marine biologists and resource managers in India, providing concise syntheses of past and ongoing research and conservation initiatives in India including the islands of Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar. The books provide up-to-date information on the current status of these ecosystems, a critical assessment of existing legal frameworks and also a series of recommendations that are aimed at addressing current concerns and issues surrounding the management of coastal and marine resources in India.
Naveen Namboothri is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. firstname.lastname@example.org.