September 24, 2003
This little private marine museum tucked away in a corner of Diu used to be known for its collection of corals and rare sea shells. Last week, wildlife authorities raided the building to uncover a huge business in the smuggling of exotic marine species and sealed the museum.
The Sea Shell Museum, located on a property taken on lease from the state government, was run by a former merchant navy man, Captain Devjibhai Phulvaria.
Phulvaria, who claimed to have an avid interest in marine life and an impressive collection of sea shells and corals, received government approval to set up a private museum for ‘‘educational purposes.’’
However, the museum which was inaugurated by the Collector of Diu in 2000, turned out, police say, to be an elaborate front for a flourishing, illegal business in rare marine species.
Western regional deputy director (wildlife preservation), Shekhar Kumar Niraj, told The Indian Express today: ‘‘We kept a close watch on this museum for over two years because of intelligence reports that an illegal market of protected marine species was thriving here. However, even we were surprised by the quantity and quality of the seizure.’’
‘‘What really got us going was a tip-off from Rameshwaram that a huge order has been placed for corals and other species,’’said Niraj.
The raids on September 18 and 19 unearthed a huge quantity of marine wildlife contraband protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
Species such as rare corals and giant sea turtle shells were being sold to tourists from this museum, said officials.
Items seized in the raid include 1,050 specimens of highly endangered sea shells. Some of these are found only in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Gulf of Mannar and could fetch as much as Rs 10,000 each even in the local market.
Besides sea shells, officials also seized more than 2,000 kg of corals, mostly collected from the Gulf of Kutch.
Notably, the Gulf of Kutch is a State Protected area and a part of the Marine National Park.
The team of officials also found specimens of the sea horse which are found in the deep seas and attract considerable demand in South East Asia and East Asian countries for use in medicinal preparations.
Four rare Green Sea turtles, of which not more than 8,000 are reported to survive in the wild in Indian waters, were also seized.
The value of the contraband has been assessed by the officials to be about Rs 7 to 8 lakh in domestic market, which could easily exceed Rs 20 lakh in the international market.
The accused, Phulvaria, has been remanded to 15 days judicial custody and shifted to Diu jail.
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