Agatti Conservation Reserve, Lakshadweep, India
The Lakshadweep Islands are a group of islands ~200-300 km off the coast of Kerala in the Arabian Sea. These islands contain highly diverse reef formations, hosting endangered animals and plants. This biodiversity hotspot is home to over 700 species of fishes, 150 species of corals, 12 species of marine mammals, 20 species of reptiles, 95 species of birds, 600 species of mollusks, 200 species of echinoderms, 2000 species of lower invertebrates, 95 species of marine algae, and more than 400 species of terrestrial plants. In addition, the uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep are the second largest nesting grounds for green and hawksbill turtles.
These islands have largely suffered from the El Niño 1998 bleaching event, in addition to direct and indirect human impacts. The main human threats are population growth, pollution, lagoon-based tourism development, coral collection, beach armoring, and fishing from mainland fishing vessels. Islanders still practice traditional pole and line fishing methods for tuna. Additionally, various stresses and the increased harvesting of live bait (for tuna fishing) within lagoons have resulted in the decline of bait fish and additional stress on the reefs. The impacts of climate change are not fully understood; however, erosion due to sea level rise is a current threat.
The Agatti Conservation Reserve resulted from a collaboration between Bombay Natural History Society, Lead International, and funding from the Darwin Initiative to conduct intensive ecological and social surveys on all of Lakshadweep’s 11 inhabited, and 14 uninhabited, islands.
The protection of Agatti’s coral reef was motivated by its unique biodiversity and the pressing livelihood needs of Agatti’s fishing community, who directly depend on these biologicaly diverse resources. Agatti Island has healthy coral reefs with the most significant giant clam (Tridacna maxima, T. squamosa) populations of all surveyed islands in Lakshadweep. The proposed conservation area includes the best coral habitats for giant clams within the Agatti lagoon. To improve the livelihoods of Agatti’s fishing community, conservation goals also aim to improve the declining bait-fish populations, critical to their main economic activity of tuna fishing. Thus, the management objectives of the Agatti Conservation Reserve are as follows:
- To develop and implement an ecosystem approach to conserve globally threatened giant clam (Tridacna maxima and T. squamosa) populations
- To establish a sustainable harvesting system of live-bait stock and other natural resources
- To increase the resistance and resilience of the reef by decreasing local, direct human impact on the reef
- To increase the adaptive capacity of local community members by improving their livelihood, making their natural resource use more sustainable, and creating economic opportunities through eco-tourism
By monitoring 165 permanent transects across all islands for three consecutive years, changes in lagoon ecology, reef integrity, and giant clam population structure were ascertained. Simultaneously, socioeconomic surveys were conducted to document natural resource dependency and traditional practices. Based on the surveys, Agatti Island was short-listed for India’s first Conservation Reserve for the following reasons: highest giant clam densities; quality reef and reef integrity; highest tuna fishing area, with footprints extending to over six islands; very high pressure on live bait harvesting; very high pressure on lagoon resources; potential for increasing tourism with a first entry point for air travelers going to other islands, including resorts in Agatti; and islanders willingness to participate in conservation and restoration activities.
After Agatti was short-listed for the establishment of an MPA, the next step was community consultations. Eight local community facilitators were chosen to undertake these consultations. After significant training in various aspects of MPA management, and socioeconomic survey methodology, these facilitators then undertook a series of consultations from 2006 through March of 2008, in two phases. In the first phase over 80% of the adult population of ~16,000, were consulted through community meetings and household interactions. A series of documentaries and issue-based posters were prepared and used during community meetings, and traditional knowledge of natural resource use was systematically documented. Based on the ecological, socioeconomic, and traditional resource data, 10 km2 of lagoon reef was identified as the MPA area. The second round of consultation focused on this MPA area, including its management and monitoring. Based on these data, the Agatti Conservation Reserve management plan was developed in consultation with locals. With later consent from Agatti Panchayat in January of 2008, the Agatti Conservation Reserve was established. The proposal is now with the administration for final deliberations and notification. The successes of this MPA will subsequently be determined based on the next 10 years of data resulting from annual monitoring of 30 permanent transects.
Resilience concepts were introduced in the Agatti Conservation Reserve design after the Project Giant Clam team—a group of individuals from the local community originally charged with conducing surveys on the islands—participated in a Reef Resilience workshop organized by IUCN and partners in Bentota, Sri Lanka in early 2007. These concepts were useful in developing the final management plan, and have improved the sustainability of the plan, helping make the MPA model more robust and responsive in the event of an emergency or crisis. Because the entire Project Giant Clam team is from the local community, community confidence was gained.
Subsequently, team members were provided opportunities to present their work in national and international seminars, which further helped to build the trust of the local community. Project Giant Clam, with its team of eight facilitators, three scientists and over 100 volunteers, is now known on each island, and is receiving requests to start similar programs on many of them. For outstanding work done by the community facilitators, they received the prestigious ABN Amro-Sanctuary Asia award for conservation in 2008. In addition, Mr. Deepak Apte and his team from Lakshadweep received the coveted Whitley Conservation Award in May, 2008, for their work in Lakshadweep. Project Giant Clam is now a training center on natural resource management, including MPA process and advocacy. The Sandy Beach Cultural and Ecotourism Society, a local youth group, has developed a glass bottom boat business to cater to domestic tourism, and a turtle nest protection and watch program after participating in the ecotourism training.
- Integration of indigenous knowledge and credible research helped make the MPA management plan more inclusive.
- Community consent ensured volunteer implementation of MPA management plan goals until the time at which the government finalized the notification process.
- Community-managed conservation reserves are less vulnerable to political changes, and work effectively with very low operational costs.
- Community confidence was gained by using local residents to head up conservation efforts, and having them present their work at local and international seminars helped build trust among locals.
- Effective partnerships with various government offices can help in undertaking programs at different economical levels, with less than 15% administration costs (allowing more money to fund educational material and field work).
- Involvement of women, and the active participation of women groups, were critical parst of the Agatti Conservation Reserve process, ensuring that the project did not get derailed.
- The local community’s high literacy rate (87%, third highest in India), and complete dependency on natural resources, helped communicate the message of resource conservation and management more effectively.
- During community consultation processes, staying politically neutral was key, and resulted in the unanimous support of the Agatti Conservation Reserve.
- Recent success and high support for MPA development is due to transparency of the process, integration of credible science, broad based consultations, reorganization of traditional knowledge and customary laws, and local capacity building.
- Engaging the community from the beginning of the project was vital for the project’s success.
Bombay Natural History Society
S.B. Singh Road, Mumbai 400 001
Sundial House, 114 Kensington High Street
London W8 4NP, UK
- Department of Environment and Forests
- Department of Science and Technology
- Ministry of Environment and Forests
- Panchayat of various islands
- Biroba Film, Pune, India
- Darwin Centre Live, Natural History Museum, London, UK
- EarthCare Films, New Delhi, India
- Field Studies Council, with their Darwin Initiative Project, Shrewsbury, UK
- Global Footprint Network, Canada
- Global Islands Network, UNEP
- Heriot Watt University, with their Darwin Initiative Project, Edinburgh, UK
- IUCN, Gland, Switzerland
- LEAD-India, New Delhi, India
- Marine Research Assessment Group / DFID Fisheries Management Science Programme, London, UK
- National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, India
- Smithsonian Institute, USA
- Duke University, USA
- National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India
See LEAD's Lakshadweep Darwin Initiative for links to other relevant documents.