SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Reefs get a relook

ECO-TOURISM

SURESH NAMBATH

BACK IN FOCUS: Most coral reefs have benn found to be intact.

BACK IN FOCUS: Most coral reefs have benn found to be intact.  

Most coral reefs have benn found to be intact.

FOR years, coral reefs and marine life have helped define the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as an international tourist destination. But when the tsunami struck on December 26 last year, corals were farthest from the minds of the civilian authorities and the defence services engaged in rescue and rehabilitation. As the huge seismic sea waves left vast stretches of destruction on the land, no one had the time or the resources to study the effect of the tsunami on the reefs

Now, however, with the civilian administration and the defence establishment restoring near-normality to the islands after a trying period, the corals are getting a look-in again. In any case, without tourism, the islands cannot attain the pre-tsunami normality.

Sarang Kulkarni of Reef Watch Marine Conservation, with help from the administration, undertook a survey of the coral reefs, nearly two months after the tsunami. In several areas, mostly those not badly affected by the tsunami, the coral reefs were intact.

Neil and Havelock showed up a breathtaking range of corals. But Jolly Buoy, ordinarily the biggest attraction for coral lovers, appeared hit.

UNTAPPED POTENTIAL: the Havelock Island.

UNTAPPED POTENTIAL: the Havelock Island.  

the Havelock Island.

In a reworking of the tourism strategy, Lieutenant Governor Ram Kapse decided to put the glass-bottomed boats at the Jolly Buoy in the service of the Neil and Havelock islands. Thus, coral reefs will remain an attraction, if not Jolly Buoy. "The survey found that the species of live corals at Havelock is huge," says Prof. Kapse. Most of the islands that were damaged by the sea were those that could be directly approached from the south-east, and Havelock was not in this category. While recognising that some of the popular destinations have, at least for the moment, lost their tourism potential, the administration is opening up new destinations, and new avenues at old destinations.

Thus, Havelock, already famed for its white sand beaches, would now offer coral reefs too for the tourists. Baratang Island, which is about 100 km by road from Port Blair, will be promoted more for its mud volcanoes and limestone caves and less for its beaches.

Although Little Andaman was badly affected by the tsunami, and the beaches might no longer be as attractive as in the pre-tsunami days, the waterfalls in the deep forest are safe destinations even during these times of tsunamis. But not all the problems at Hut Bay, the entry and exit point to the island, have been wished away.

As the tsunami slowly fades from memory, tourists are returning to the islands though the numbers are nowhere near those of earlier years. However, even as the tourist season coincided with the rescue and rehabilitation phase in the post-tsunami period, tourism managers have been thinking of new ways to sell the off-season. In tsunami-affected Andamans, the monsoon is now being sought to be projected as a tourist's delight.

"Everybody loves the rain," Prof. Kapse reminds you. After all, if nature is the selling point of the islands, then the rains too should fit in.

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