THE MANGROVE Cell in Mumbai is to set up a Marine Animal Stranding Management Centre in Sindhudurg district, for first response in cases of stranding or beaching of marine animals. A pilot project will be set up in the coastal town of Malwan.
The proposal has been discussed with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and a formal nod is awaited by the mangrove cell of the forest department, whose staff will be part of the Management Centre.
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There has been a need to fast-track response mechanisms when it comes to stranding of marine animals, with an increase in reported incidents in coastal districts in the past few years. Networking has already been carried out in many coastal towns to receive information of any stranding.
“The centre, on receiving information, will deploy boats to rush to the spot with parallel information also sent out to veterinarians closest to the spot to examine whether the marine animal has an injury or a health condition. It will also have a rescue kit with items like flat ropes, hammers, forceps and stretchers for both rescue effort as well as post-mortem,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell. He added that the kit has been designed as per norms of marine rescue efforts around the world and may cost around Rs 3-4 lakh.
The challenge before officials and experts dealing with the marine ecosystem was laid bare when dealing with the first case of live stranding of a 40-feet blue whale on the Alibaug coast in 2015. After a 10-hour rescue effort, the mammal could not be saved. The process to fix a protocol was then set in motion, with training from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute to forest officials and other stakeholders.
Other recent incidents like the one on Juhu beach in January, when a 37-feet Bryde’s whale was washed ashore, too turned into a public spectacle with many thronging the beach to view the dead mammal. This delayed the process of carrying the whale for an autopsy and also posed a health hazard to the crowd that attempted to get close to the mammal despite warning of the harmful gases emanating from its decomposing body.
To tackle such occurrences, a five-day national workshop was held in Mumbai last month with marine experts from UK and Thailand in attendance for capacity building of various stakeholders. Though the training was on cetaceans, which only include large aquatic, carnivorus mammals like whales and dolphins, the centre will cater to all marine animals. Vasudevan said that the centre and its responses have been developed in consultation with experts at the workshop.
“The same team that was part of the workshop will be expanded to include around 30 people including forest officials, veterinarians, NGOs and other interested citizens. We did not want to keep the centre restricted to marine mammals since other species including turtles or fish too are washed ashore,” Vasudevan said. The aim will be to set a fixed protocol and have such centres in each of the coastal districts of the state, he said.