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India has vast marine resources in the form of coastline (over 8000 km), exclusive economic zone (EEZ, 2.02 million km2) and various ecosystems of coastal area including estuary, coral reefs, marshes, mangroves, lagoons, rocky and sandy areas. The geographic territory of India is an integral part of Central Indian Ocean Region consisting of three distinct marine ecosystem zones such as the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kachchh and Lakshadweep also fall within the marine waters of EEZ ( Exclusive Economic Zone) of India.
Indian Ocean, the third largest ocean in the world, surrounds India on three sides. This ocean is a chest of unseen treasure. There are several resources in the ocean which are beneficial to human beings. Resources in the seas and ocean include fish, coral reefs, fungi, minerals etc. These resources help in economic prosperity and social welfare of the country. The marine fish production of India is about 40% of about 4 million metric tons coming from the countries bordering Indian Ocean.
Marine Resources of India
India is bestowed with an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.02 million square km in a coastline of 8129 km. The rivers and canals constitute 197024 km, reservoirs constitute 3.15 million ha, ponds and tanks 2,35 million ha and lakes constitute 1.35 million ha.
India is placed third globally in fisheries and second in aquaculture. The estimated number of marine fish species known from India constitutes 21585 species out of which 41.2% inhabit freshwater and the remaining inhabit marine water.
Marine fisheries in India is a multi-species fishery. Around 1400 finfish species are harvested from the sea of which 263 are commercially important. Apart from this 36 species of penaeid shrimps and 34 species of cephalopods are also harvested in which 15 species of penaeids and 8 species of cephalopos are commercially important.
The marine fauna found in the Indian Ocean consists of sponges, worms, crabs, mollusks, sea urchins, brittle stars, starfish, and small but exceedingly brightly colored reef fish etc. Among the fishes, the most abundant ones are several species of flying fish, luminous anchovies, lantern fish, large and small tunnies, sailfish, and various types of sharks. Sea turtles and large marine mammals such as dugongs, toothed and baleen whales, dolphins, and seals are found in various places.
Types of Marine Resources
Marine resources are divided into three categories:
- Biotic resources (eg. fishes, sharks, turtles, marine mammals etc.)
- Abiotic resources (eg. mineral and energy)
- Commercial resources (eg. navigation, aviation, trade and transport etc.)
Types of Marine Ecosystems in India
India has all the types of marine ecosystems present in the world such as:
- Coral Ecosystem – These provide shelter and food to thousands of marine flora and fauna.
- Mangrove Ecosystem – These reduce coastal erosion. They are a source of wood products and act as a nursery ground for marine products.
- Seaweed Ecosystem – They contain trace elements, vitamins, minerals, proteins, iodine etc.
- Estuary Ecosystem – They act as feeding and nursery ground for several marine species.
- Pelagic Ecosystem – They are the most productive of all the ecosystem. Pelagic is the upper portion of the sea water column where different types of marine organisms live.
- Benthic Ecosystem – This is deeper part of the ocean where sunlight does not reach. Millions of bacteria and animals live in this part. Productivity in this ecosystem is less than that compared to Pelagic Ecosystem.
Importance of Preserving the Marine Resources
The marine fish diversity of India is in ever-increasing danger with depletion of living resources despite the acknowledged notion that it is crucially important for the survival of humanity. India has been exploiting her seas since ages by fishing which has been a traditional occupation of the coastal fishermen community. Export of marine resources like pearl, dried and cured fish has also added to the depletion of these resources. Some of the major markets for marine product exports from India are Japan, USA, European Union, Middle East etc.
According to the IUCN extant (2014), 50 species are threatened (6 of them critically endangered, 7 endangered and 37 vulnerable), while 45 are near-threatened. Overdependence on fish has led to overfishing resulting in the dwindling of diversity and abundance of stocks. Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute has initiated marine stock assessment practices in India and its report in 2016 recorded a total of 709 species which is lower than 730 species recorded in 2015 in the landings showing an alarming situation on the exploited marine fishery resources of India. This situation demands restorative measures such as restocking, stock enhancement and sea ranching.
India’s first research institute, National Center for Marine and Biodiversity, lays emphasis on coastal and marine area management. Their aim is to achieve sustainable development.
India has laid rules to improve fishing practices and fisheries management to avoid over-exploitation of fisheries resources or loss of biodiversity. In India, fishery is governed by different acts introduced by the government over the years. Some of these acts are:
- Indian Fisheries Act, 1897
- The Wild Life Protection Act, 1972: This provides legal protection to several marine animals. There are total of 31 major Marine Protected Areas in India covering coastal areas that have been notified under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- MFR (regulation) Bill, 1978 formulated after the EEZ declaration
- MFRA of maritime states enacted from 1980 in all maritime states
- Maritime Zones of India Act, 1981
- Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification (1991 and later versions) prohibit developmental activities and disposal of wastes in the coastal ecosystems.
- The National Committee on mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs constituted in 1993 advise the Government on relevant policies and programs regarding marine species.
- The Biological Diversity Act of India,2002 and the Biological Diversity Rules 2004: This is related to the protection and conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use and equitable sharing of its components, Intellectual Property Rights, etc.
Apart from the government, there are several local committees who have come forward to protect the maritime ecosystem. CMLRE is implementing a national R&D program on Marine Living Resources (MLR) with an inbuilt component on Societal Services to support the fisher folks of Lakshadweep Islands. The Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) scheme of Department of Fisheries, has made provisions for encouraging sustainable marine fisheries activities, development of fisheries management plans, development of Integrated Modern Coastal Fishing Villages, promotion of Sagar Mitra, installation of bio-toilets in fishing vessels, communication and tracking devices, livelihood support during fish ban period to fisherman families etc. for conservation of fisheries resources.
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