YOUNG WORLD

Adventure underwater

Corals : Sea animals called polyps

Corals : Sea animals called polyps  

REEJA RADHAKRISHNAN

A visit to the Andamans was not only interesting but also extremely educative for Sheroo as he checked out the scene on the sea bed!

I've been having a series of misadventures lately that I sought advice from friendly neighbourhood Uloo Owl. The Wise One suggested I cross the seas for a change of fortune.

Cross the seas I did, taking up a long-standing invite from Roc the Croc, my salt water crocodile pal who lives in the Andamans. Andaman and Nicobar islands, off the Bay of Bengal is a cluster of over 500 islands, with only about 30 of them inhabited by humans. But the biodiversity there is simply amazing; lush evergreen forests, mangroves and a mind-boggling variety of underwater life. My head is still spinning with the sights I saw, courtesy good old Roc.

Roc lives in the mangroves. These swamps are submerged in salty sea water and the trees have roots which stick out of the water so that they can breathe. Mangroves are found in sheltered coastlines near creeks or backwaters. Roc lives in one such creek in Chidyatapu, known more for birds than crocs.

The dense evergreen forests cannot be home to predators like us. But chital (spotted deer), wild boar and elephants were introduced here by the British in the early 19th century. The elephants were brought mainly to log wood from the forests. What is amazing is that these jumbos can swim! That's how they moved from island to island to work. But wild and free they are not.

At the bottom of the sea

Messing through the mangroves I saw a tadpole-like creature skipping through the mud and water — a mudskipper, much like his name suggests.

Next, we waded out to the seaside. A snow-white beach with an impossibly emerald sea stretched out before me. Something tickled my feet and I looked down to see a little blue shell walking away slowly. “A hermit crab, the beach is full of these fellows,” says Roc with a grin. Sure enough, around me are many walking shells — green, red and yellow, big and small. Hermit crabs move into abandoned shells of snails and carry around these makeshift homes on their backs. When they outgrow the home, they simply move into a bigger accommodation!

“Time to hit the reef party, partner,” cried out Roc as he slithered into the water. The water was a warm, clear blue and to my amazement I could see the sea bed very clearly. We were off to explore the coral reefs! The scene changed rapidly and suddenly I was in the midst of an underwater jungle.

Giant corals loomed before us, some like branches of a tree, some like the human brain, fingers and even antlers.

Corals are actually sea animals called polyps. They have a mouth surrounded by tiny arms called tentacles to grab a bite, be it plant or animal. Once they find a place to build a home, they stick themselves there using a body glue; usually on a piece of dead coral. Here they continue to build upon that structure using the juice from their bodies. These become hard as rock and coral homes grow one upon the other. This is how coral reefs are formed.

These glitzy places are bustling with activity — fishes of all hues swim in and out. I saw some purple mouths open and close discreetly —Clams! Another creature with no body parts I saw was Mr Sponge. Looks nothing like Sponge Bob though! Hard to believe all these guys are sea animals and not plants. Dark cucumber-shaped things were moving on the sea bed — Sea Cucumbers. Poachers love to get their greedy hands on them, says Roc. A flash of orange passed by — a Starfish! These guys eat polyps for dinner. “Time for our dinner,” says Roc and we swim ashore. Before long, Roc rustles up a delicious dinner with grilled Mangrove Jack (translate that to delicious fish!) and stir-fried squid. The chitals can wait!



A Children for Animals and Nature Unlimited (CANU) Initiative





Holy Cow, mermaids?

Dugong, ( a marine mammal) is the state animal of the Andamans.

They are also known as sea cows.

They are grey in colour and weigh about 400 kilos.

They feed on sea grass found in the sea beds.

They stand upright while eating with their flippers in front like arms.

From a distance, in the moonlight, they almost appear human.

Sailors and pirates mistook them for mermaids!

They are often hunted for their meat and oil.



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