Gujarat coral reefs a virtual gold mine

March 27th, 2011 - 12:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Gandhinagar, March 27 (IANS) Every square kilometre of Gujarat’s coral reefs in the Gulf of Kutch is helping the state generate or notionally gain Rs.7.95 million ($177,158) annually in various sectors, including fisheries and tourism.

This has been revealed in a study commissioned by the state on economic valuation of coral reefs spread over nearly 250 sq km in the gulf, E. Balaguruswamy, principal chief conservator of forests and member-secretary of the Gujarat Ecology Commission, told IANS.

The entire three-dimensional, shallow water structures in the Gulf of Kutch are estimated to have an economic value of around Rs.2,200 million every year, the study said.

Considered a cradle of evolution, coral reefs provide habitat for commercially valuable fish, harbour vast biodiversity with unknown potential uses, provide varied and high value benefits but continue to be threatened by varied human activities.

The study covered benefits from the coral reefs accruing to sectors like fisheries, tourism and recreation, new drug and biochemicals and building materials. It also tried to monetise their natural gains like prevention of coastal salinity ingress and development of biodiversity.

“The maximum value is for fisheries followed by coastal protection and biodiversity benefit,” Balaguruswamy said.

According to the member-secretary, it is for the first time that the value of coral reefs in preventing salinity ingress along the coastal aquifer has been reported.

It has clearly proved that any decline in the “coral health” would entail loss in the values and subsequent decline in societal well-being, he said.

The study was ordered because the coral reef ecosystem, like many other ecosystems, is severely threatened all over the world because of over- exploitation through commercial fishing, coral mining, pollution and climate change.

“A rigorous assessment and a thorough understanding of the costs and benefits of any project helps make effective decisions. It is in this context that this study was done,” said union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh in his message carried in the report.

“Gujarat’s Gulf of Kutch is considered very unique in terms of ecology and location -except for the Red Sea, the coral reefs here are at Earth’s northernmost limits,” he said.

“A drastic decline in the health of coral reefs all over the globe which help reduce the impact of the waves on the shore has a direct bearing on the rising erosion and beach loss and increasing damage from storms,” said Balaguruswamy.

The Gulf of Kutch, about 170 km long and 75 km wide, encompasses an area of 7,350 sq km and lies between the Kutch mainland and the Saurashtra peninsula along the Gujarat coast.

Coral reefs, mangroves, lagoons and sea-bed grass are part of a mosaic of its natural ecosystems which make up the entire gamut of coastal and marine systems.

The high productivity of coral reefs, which contain more species per unit area than any other ecosystem, within these otherwise unproductive waters makes them critical to the survival of the ecosystems and hence human beings, the study said.

Globally, many people depend in part or wholly on coral reefs for their livelihood and around eight percent (0.5 billion people) of the world’s population lives within 100 km of coral reef ecosystems.

According to the Gujarat study, the average annual fish catch value for the entire Jamnagar district was about Rs.3,138 million. For the coral-associated fishing areas, the fish catch value was about Rs.1,431 million - almost half of the total.

Thus, any changes in coral reef health will have significant impact on fish productivity and total revenue generation, it said.

According to the study, a total annual fish value of Rs.1,284 million could be linked to the coral reefs and its associated systems in the Gulf of Kutch, which leads to a fish value of Rs.4.64 million per year per sq km.

During 2008-09, the total fish production in Gujarat was estimated at 766,000 tonnes, worth Rs.30.63 billion. The marine fish production constituted about 89.16 percent of the total fish production, the study said.

(R.K. Misra can be contacted at )

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