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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Maharashtra coastline witnesses increase in marine animals getting stranded

Marine animals who were stranded included four baleen whales, nine Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, one striped dolphin, two Indo-pacific Finless porpoises and one dwarf sperm whale. All had washed ashore dead.

Written by Sanjana Bhalerao | Mumbai |
Updated: January 9, 2022 7:25:16 am
According to experts, continuous heavy to moderate rainfall during the monsoon of 2020, along with cyclones, could be the reason behind the increase in the number of strandings. (File/Representative Image)

An increase was recorded last year in marine animals getting stranded along the Maharashtra coastline. In 2020-21 alone, 109 incidents of strandings were recorded of which 27 animals washed ashore dead. Between 2016 and 2018, the state coastline had recorded 143 cases of beaching or stranding.

Live stranding, when a marine animal comes ashore and is unable to return to the sea, occurs in two forms – single stranding and mass stranding. In some cases, the dead animal also washes ashore.

According to experts, continuous heavy to moderate rainfall during the monsoon of 2020, along with cyclones, could be the reason behind the increase in the number of strandings.

During monsoon, because of changes in sea currents, choppy waters and high tides, turtles or small cetaceans that are either injured or too weak to swim get washed ashore. In some cases, these mammals are also found entangled in ghost nets – nets that are discarded and left by fishermen in the sea.

In July 2020 alone, the Mangrove Foundation or the Mangrove Cell, under the state forest department, rescued 42 sea turtles from beaches along the Konkan coast.

According to the annual report of the Mangrove Foundation, of the 109 cases of strandings in 2020-21, while 80 Olive Ridley turtles were rescued, nine stranded animals died.

Marine animals who were stranded included four baleen whales, nine Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, one striped dolphin, two Indo-pacific Finless porpoises and one dwarf sperm whale. All had washed ashore dead.

As there was no database of stranded marine animals, the frequency of strandings and the hotspots of such animals could not be identified for setting up rescue centres. As per the last year’s data, majority of the strandings – 35 – were recorded in Ratnagiri district, followed by Sindhudurg at 31. Both districts are in the southern part of Konkan.

Currently, the Mangrove Foundation has a marine animal transit and treatment centre at Airoli, Navi Mumbai, which is over 400 km from Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, which have recorded high number of strandings. To improve the response time, the Mangrove Cell plans to develop such centres in Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.

The Cell also has a marine respondent’s group in coastal districts of Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad and Ratnagiri. The respondents are mostly fishermen and local residents, who alert and assist the forest department in the rescue of stranded animals.

Further, the Foundation and the state fisheries department have come up with a joint compensation scheme under which fishermen, who release protected marine animals such as sea turtles entangled in their fishing nets, are given monetary compensation up to Rs 25,000. Experts believe that the monetary compensation and awareness programmes in coastal districts have helped in reporting such incidents.

Funds have also been set aside for building a marine animal rescue centre to deal with stranded animals, for which the Konkan Cetacean Research Team has conducted a few workshops with the Mangrove Foundation and the forest department.

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