Protsahan has identified 50 natural reefs that are ecologically sensitive and host a variety of underwater species.

The Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) is preparing a list of ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) in the near shore region of Thiruvananthapuram, under a pilot project to document the underwater ecosystem and traditional knowledge systems of fishermen.

The marine biodiversity mapping programme has been initiated off a 20-km stretch of the coast from Valiathura to Puthukurichy. KSBB has joined hands with Protsahan, an NGO working among fishermen, to demarcate the ecologically sensitive marine areas, identify the vulnerable habitats and formulate ecosystem- based fishing management policies.

Protsahan has identified 50 natural reefs that are ecologically sensitive and host a variety of underwater species. A detailed map of 14 major reefs along with their depth and location has been submitted to KSBB. As many as six new species were also recorded in the study area.

Biodiversity Register

The project seeks to create a Marine Biodiversity Register (MBR) of ecologically important reefs and rocky areas. The MBR will document traditional knowledge on navigation at sea, seabed configuration, ocean currents and wind patterns. It will also provide early indication on overfishing and marine resource depletion. The MBR is expected to help in the formulation of measures to protect the marine ecology and replenish fish stocks.

During the pilot phase, two artificial reefs were deposited in the inshore region off the Kannanthura and Valiathura coasts.

As many as nine unused boats were purchased with the Rs.60,000 provided by KSBB, and sunk along with coconut peduncles to create an underwater habitat for fish.

Within four days, local fishermen who had stopped going out to sea because of the falling catch, reported that the area was teeming with fish.

Traditional knowledge

“For generations, artisanal fishermen have relied on traditional knowledge to identify reefs where fishes converge. The composition of the catch revealed the existence of reefs. They used a visual triangulation method to navigate to the location. The fishermen have also been using artificial reefs made of local materials to replenish dwindling fish stocks”, says Robert Panipilla, a researcher working with Protsahan. “Sadly, much of this traditional knowledge is lost today. The majority of young fishers do not possess traditional navigational skills or the techniques to identify fishing grounds”.

“When KSBB launched the pilot project for mapping marine biodiversity, we also thought of documenting the traditional knowledge of the fisher community and providing livelihood support by restoring some of the marine habitats,” says Prof.Oommen V.Oommen, chairman, KSBB.

“As the artificial reefs were deposited in the near shore areas about 2 to 3.5 km from the shore at a depth of 20 to 30 fathoms, fishermen need to spend less fuel and resources for fishing,” he said.

KSBB member secretary K.P. Laladhas said local fishermen were now reporting a daily catch of about Rs.7,000 from the area where the artificial reefs were deposited. “They are netting commercially important species like Caranx sexfasciatus (Kannan para) and Stolephorus indicus (Kozhua). It shows that our endeavour was successful,” he said.

Prof.Oommen said KSBB would convene a meeting of marine experts for scientific validation and verification of the data submitted by Protsahan. “We hope to publish the information soon,” he said.

He added that the marine resources along the Thiruvananthapuram- Kollam coast would be taken up for documentation in the next phase.