INDIAN REPRESENTATIVES highlighted that over 781 whale sharks have been rescued off the Gujarat coast since 2004, and the country has underlined its plans to conserve whale sharks, dugongs, humback whales and sea turtles, at the 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP13), in Gandhinagar on Wednesday.
Speaking at ‘Marine Animal Conservation Programmes: Sea Turtles, Whale Shark, Arabian Sea Humpback Whale and Dugong in India’, an event held on the sidelines of COP13, the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) underscored the lead taken by Gujarat in the conservation of marines species.
Sajan John, manager and head of WTI’s marine conservation project, said that India had included whale sharks in the Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Conservation) Act in 2001. It was the first marine species to be given legal protection in the country.
“Whale sharks accidentally trapped were earlier killed for their liver oil. It became a legally protected species in 2001. From 2004, Gujarat introduced a policy of compensating fishermen who suffered damage to their fishing nets. Between 2004 and January this year, 781 whale sharks have been rescued off the Gujarat coast after being accidentally trapped in fishing nets and the government has paid Rs 91.20 lakh compensation to fishermen,” John said.
The WTI is working on a project of the Gujarat government for the conservation of whale sharks. Fishermen cut their nets to release whale sharks accidentally trapped during fishing operations.
Data provided by the Gujarat government showed that 115 whale sharks were rescued in 2015-’16. Of the 781 whale shark rescues since 2004, 308 were done in the last five years. “While there are no policies in place in other states to encourage fishermen to do such rescues, there have been two rescues off the coast of Kerala and a few in Maharashtra,” said John.
He said that eight whale sharks were satellite tagged to find out their migration patterns, with the study revealing that the tagged animals ranged the large marine ecosystems (LME) of the Arabian Sea, while another population group used the Bay of Bengal LME. “During our project, we also spotted eight pubs and sub-adults of whale sharks off the Gujarat coast. This indicates that the species is breeding on the west coast of India,” he added. “While the number of rescues might not look so big, these are members of a species whose population is estimated to be just a few lakhs,”
Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife) Soumitra Dasgupta said that India has undertaken projects for the protection of four large marine species — dugongs, whale sharks, Arabian sea humpback whales and sea turtles. “We know that we had been concentrating more on terrestrial species. People are very happy to talk about tigers, lions and elephants; perhaps, marine species never get the attention that they deserve. So, we are raising our marine turtle policy and marine standing policy. We will be taking stock of our coastal waters with the participation of local communities involved in fishing,” he said. He added that India had extended legal protection to these species and the results have been positive.
“The situation was really precarious but we understand with the help of the government of Gujarat, private organisations like Tata Chemicals Limited and technical assistance from different organisations like WTI, that there has been some stability as far as the population of whale sharks is concerned. People were also expressing their concerns about the Arabian sea humpback whale. You will be happy to note that this species has been included in the list of most critically endangered species of the country. The list has been expanded to 21 from 17 over the past year,” he said.
However, Dasgupta said that humpback whales also migrate to the coasts of Oman, a country which is not a party to CMS. “Therefore, we shall take up this issue with the International Whaling Commission,” said the IGF.
CMS is a global body working for the conservation of migratory species, under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Project, and has 130 countries as its members. The ongoing COP13 in Gandhinagar is a triennial meeting.
Deputy Conservator of Forests at Marine National Park in Jamnagar, R Senthilkumaran said that more than one lakh sea turtle hatchlings have been released to the sea since 2004 after ex-situ incubation at hatcheries in Gujarat. A forest officer from Andhra Pradesh said that they have set up a 100 hatcheries and over 25 lakh hatchlings have been released to the sea since 2009. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Laskshadweep officials said that they, too, have turned their focus to marine conservation in recent years.
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