Importance of marine protected areas in India

By Chandrika Kapagunta on June 29, 2016

Marine parks and marine reserves come under Marine Protected Areas (MPAs’), areas which are designated and effectively managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats and species. Which contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic and cultural enrichment (Reuchlin-Hugenholtz & McKenzie, 2015). These marine protected areas include subtidal and intertidal regions like wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs, seaweed and seagrass among others. According to the United Nations, as of 2014, a total of 3.41% of the world’s marine area is protected. CBD Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 aims to cover 10% of the world’s marine areas by 2020 (Deguignet et al., 2014). These marine protected areas, in general, can fall under 3 categories:

  1. A core system of No-take areas (NTAs’) within a larger marine protected area,
  2. A larger system of multiple-use marine protected areas and
  3. A national marine protected area system which falls under the national integrated coastal management programme and Exclusive Economic Zones frameworks (UNEP-WCMC, 2008).

While the No-take areas and marine protected areas are fully protected and include marine reserves and marine conservation zones, no form of fishing or industrial development is allowed within these limits. In the case of large multiple-use of marine protected areas, the marine parks and habitat or species management areas that fall under this category are partially protected. And are designed for different objectives like biodiversity conservation, cultural heritage protection and sustainable management of resources (Brander et al., 2015). Currently, the largest marine protected area in the world is the Natural Park of the Coral Sea (France) which covers approximately 1.3 million square kilometres.

An institutional and legal framework for Marine Zone Protection in India

Several different agencies at various levels take part and contribute towards the regulation and maintenance of marine protected areas. In India, all marine protected areas fall under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). It is the nodal agency at the central level and responsible for:

  • Planning,
  • Promotion,
  • Co-ordination and
  • Overseeing the implementation of environmental and forestry programmes (Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project, 2012).

At the state level, the Department of Forests (under the Ministry of Environment and Forests) acts as the nodal agency for the same. While Departments of Fisheries is responsible for managing the fisheries resources in their particular state (Ramya Rajagopalan, 2008). The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) deals with the science and technology research of exploitation of ocean resources (living and non-living). The ministry is connected with several institutions like:

  • National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research,
  • Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Project Directorate and
  • Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project, 2012).

In terms of legal framework, the history of marine environment protection policies dates back to 1897, when the Indian Fisheries Act, offering protection to fisheries against explosives was passed. Since then, numerous acts were passed with regards to geographical, economic and biological protection and categorization of marine and coastal zones of India. Inspite of the existence of these frameworks and guidelines, the Indian marine and coastal ecosystems are under threat which is affecting the 250 million people living near and depending on these marine resources.

A majority of these threats arise from:

  • Increasing industrialization and urbanization activities,
  • Habitat conversion,
  • Over-exploitation and harmful harvesting practices of some species and
  • Worse of all, industrial and domestic sewage discharge.

At times like these, it becomes important to undertake projects and rope in the local communities to not only preserve their environment but also learn the art of sustainable management of resources. The recent success of UNDP- Sindudurg (Maharashtra) oyster farming project earned the local fisherwoman a means of sustainable and environmental livelihood. Similar projects can go a long way in preserving our precious marine and coastal ecosystems while providing means of sustainable livelihood for the local communities.

Year Act Details
1950 Coast Guard Act To combat marine pollution. The 1996 National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan is included in this act.
1972 Wildlife Protection Act Provides protection to important marine species like turtles, several species of fishes, corals, sea cucumbers, sharks etc. under Schedule I and Schedule III of endangered species list. Also, MPAs are declared under this act.
1986 Environmental Protection Act Provides protection and improvement of the environment Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (1991) was passed under this act, responsible for regulating activities near coastal zones.
2002 Biological Diversity Act Issues guidelines for conservation of biological diversity, besides promoting sustainable management of bio-resources. National Biodiversity Authority and State Biodiversity Boards formed under this act.

 Important constitutional Acts related to the marine wild

Projects are undertaken to support Marine Protected Areas in India

According to the World Bank, India has approximately 1.6% of its marine and coastal regions protected under the Marine Protected Areas as national parks, sanctuaries and community reserves. A total of 131 Marine Protected Areas of which 25 are in the peninsular region and 106 in the islands of India (ENVIS Centre on Wildlife & Protected Areas, 2015). The Government of India under the Ministry of Environment and Forests has undertaken different projects in collaboration with national or international institutions and NGO. These projects focus on developing an integrated and sustainable management approach for marine resources as well as the conservation of the biodiversity, either by conducting surveys, restoration works or spreading awareness to local communities. Important and ambitious projects include the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management (ICMAM) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZM). While ICMAM aims to fulfil the UNCED Agenda 21 (sustainable utilization of marine resources and prevention of marine degradation), ICZM (aided by the World Bank with $286 million) focuses on planning and implementation of coastal management strategy which is piloted in West Bengal, Odisha and Gujarat (Government of West Bengal, 2012).

Also, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with Ministry of Environment and Forests established and funded the Mainstreaming Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Conservation into Production Sectors series of projects for mainstreaming environmental management and biodiversity conservation in Sindudurg (Maharashtra), East Godavari District (Andhra Pradesh) and Gulf of Mannar (UNDP in India, 2016). Recently, a collaboration with the German government led to the inception of the Indo-German Biodiversity program, involving the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Ministry of Environment and Forests. Under this program, GIZ and Ministry of Environment and Forests started the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Existing and Potential Coastal and Marine Protected Areas project, targeting Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (GIZ, 2014).

Name of MPA State Category Area Covered (km2) Year of establishment Common species
The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Tamil Nadu Biosphere Reserve 10,500 1989 Corals, sponges, Dugongs, Spinner dolphins, Common dolphins, Finless Porpoises
Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve West Bengal Biosphere Reserve 1,73,645 2001 Crocodiles, Otters, Olive Ridley turtles
Gulf of Kachchh Marine National Park & Sanctuary Gujarat National Park & Sanctuary 620.81 2008 Green sea, Olive Ridley, Leatherback turtles; Humpback Dolphin, Sting Rays
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park Andaman and Nicobar National Park 281.5 1983 Leatherback, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley turtles; Dugongs, Salt water crocodiles
Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary Odisha Sanctuary 1435 1997 Olive Ridley turtles
Malvan (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary Maharashtra Sanctuary 29.12 1987 Spinner dolphins, Olive Ridley turtles

 List of famous marine protected areas (MPAs) in India

A lot more has to be done to protect marine resources

While the government has established policies and legislation for conserving marine resources the State Government bodies and respective forest and fisheries departments are facing issues to implement these regulations. Conservation efforts and social-economic factors are often at odds since local communities rely on marine resources for their daily livelihood and in such scenarios, the government along with local NGOs’ must strive for training the local communities for sustainable management of the resources rather than denying them access and rights to the resources.