M3 Features

Bringing to life dead corals

January 18, 2016

With as much care a gardener takes to grow a new rose shrub from a twig taken out of the mother plant, Kolkata-based marine scientists belonging to Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have restored a portion of the coral reef that lay dead for 10,000 years in the country’s first marine national park in the Gulf of Kutch off the coast of Gujarat. They have brought back to life a coral reef spread over an area of one square kilometre. Tons of sediment brought down by rivers that once used to flow through the Gulf of Kutch in the past had deposited a layer of silt on the coral bed, killing them.

According to Kailash Chandra, the director of ZSI in Kolkata, this is the first time in the world that biologists have managed to restore a reef that was dead for thousands of years. It was done by transporting live corals from more than 2,000 km away and growing them in the turbid waters of the gulf.

Coral cuttings, just like rose plant twigs, can survive if transplanted in a suitable environment – which means maintaining the water’s salinity, pH level, temperature and oxygen level. Broken ‘twigs’ of corals were collected from the Gulf of Mannar, off Tamil Nadu, and airlifted to the Gulf of Kutch. Experts say this was big achievement because corals usually need clear water with a lot of sunshine. They cannot withstand murky waters. Transporting corals over such a long distance was another feather in the cap of the ZSI scientists.

The project is a joint collaboration between ZSI and Marine National Park. It kicked off in 2012 with funds from the World Bank. It was supposed to end in December 2015 but has been extended for two more years.

Corals are tiny animals about a few millimeters in size. They secrete calcium carbonate, which forms a skeleton around them for their protection. Along with other calcium secreting plants and animals, they form mountain-like structures under water, called coral reefs. India has four major reefs – at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, the Gulf of Mannar and the Gulf of Kutch.

Coral reefs are considered the rain forests of the sea because of the diversity of the animals they harbour. They provide us with fishes, support tourism and are a huge resource for the pharmaceutical industry, besides being an indicator of climate change and acting as the first line of defence against cyclones and tsunamis.

Feature image: Corals of the Andaman Islands (markstrickland.photoshelter.com)

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