The project has a broad aim of conserving the poorly known gorgonian fauna of the Indian Ocean. This will be achieved through the following objectives: 1) to understand the diversity of gorgonian fauna in the coastal and coral reef ecosystems of India 2) to map the distribution as well as understand the habitat associations of gorgonian fauna in the coastal and coral reef ecosystems of India 3) to determine the threats to gorgonian fauna and their habitats in the Indian Ocean region including the impacts of coral bleaching events 4) to determine extinction risk based on IUCN Red List Guidelines and develop draft Red List assessments for the major gorgonian species of the Indian Ocean region.
Following are the major outcomes of the project.
a) Useful information on the knowledge, perception and attitude of fishers toward conservation of gorgonians (listed in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act) was collected which will form the baseline reference for long-term conservation actions.
b) Awareness campaigns in the form of education classes and distribution of brochures among the stakeholders throughout the project period helped in creating a better understanding of gorgonian fauna and the need for its conservation.
c) Generated baseline information on the diversity and distribution of the gorgonian fauna in the sampled sites. The target species was noted to be more widely distributed in the Gulf of Mannar region and Coromandel Coast (Point Calimere North to Andhra Pradesh border).
d) The threats to gorgonian gardens were mostly attributed to anthropogenic effects like destructive/unregulated fishing practices like trawling and bottom-set gillnets (predominant in almost every fishing grounds in Indian mainland), pollution (eg. waste water outlets in Mumbai, running into the ocean adjacent to large patch of intertidal sea fans), excessive siltation (eg. in Vizhinjam (Kerala) due to dredging) and occasional natural calamities like cyclones and tsunamis, particularly to those restricted to the shallow regions (eg. Lakshadweep islands). Since there is no comprehensive historical data on the distribution and diversity of gorgonians, any conclusions on local extinctions could not be made. At the same time, we foresee new threats like developmental activities to be sanctioned by the government (Mumbai, Vizhinjam and Lakshadweep) and continuing island erosion (Lakshadweep) which may affect the gorgonian colonies in future.
e) Better collaboration with research institutions like Central Marine Fisheries Institute, Department of Science and Technology and Department of Forest and Environment, of the Government of India, dive centres and NGOs has helped initiate plans for a continued monitoring of ‘gorgonian gardens.’
f) Owing to the lack of data, instead of conducting the Redlist assessments of gorgonians, data gaps were identified and prioritized for future action.
A workshop named GORGON-IND: Conservation needs and priorities for gorgonians in India, was conducted in joint collaboration with Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala and Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) at Trivandrum, India. Ten experts representing five institutions (both from the government, non-government and civil society) from different parts of India participated in the assessment workshop. All the participants were introduced by Dr. Biju Kumar, Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Kerala and a brief introduction to the background, need and importance of the present workshop was given by Dr Ranjeet K, Head of Department of Aquatic Environment Management, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies. This was followed by a brief discussion on conservation and importance of gorgonians.
Outcome of the draft assessment meeting is summarised below
i) Priority matrix created and circulated among the gorgonian experts for populating the cells with relevant data
ii) Research priority was listed for future endorsements
iii) Initial talks were undertaken to formulate a network of Indian gorgonian researchers and experts (GORGON-NET) under the South Asian Invertebrate Specialists Group
iv) A monograph on gorgonians of India based on the data of the ‘priority matrix’ along with an updated checklist to be published in Journal of Threatened Taxa and summary to be published in Current Science
V) Organize a workshop to bring in experts from outside India to clarify taxonomic ambiguities and molecular techniques
Vi) Capacity building exercise every year for students
Project 172516912 location - India, Asia