Agatti is the only island in the Lakshadweeps with an airstrip, so it is the most popular tourist destination. Careless boating (including dropping anchors), diving, fishing, and snorkeling can also damage the coral. Waste leaks from poorly maintained septic tanks or is released directly into lagoons, damaging the reefs. Trash, especially plastic, fouls the reefs and directly injuries animals such as green and hawksbill sea turtles. The Lakshadweep Islands are coral islands, sprinkled over 8,000 acres of ocean off India’s west coast. Agatti Island sits in the center of the group. Unfortunately, the reefs have been badly damaged by major bleaching events, making them more vulnerable to other stressors.
Agatti has a population of about 10,000, most of whom make a living by farming or fishing. The fishers catch valuable skipjack tuna with an ecofriendly pole-and-line method, which avoids bycatch. The community has informally created a 500-acre Locally Managed Marine Area, where fishing and other activities are restricted. Our nonprofit partner REEF (the Research and Environmental Education Foundation) and the community are asking the government to give it permanent legal protection.
REEF thinks a public education campaign is key to long-term support of conservation on the island. With Seacology support, they are launching a yearlong program, called “Our Reef, Our Life,” directed at students, teachers, and the public. It will use media, competitions, projects, and field trips to stress the crucial nature of the reef and the responsibility to protect it. A team of volunteers, including fishermen, will help with outreach. Regular beach clean-ups will help drive home the need to address waste problems before they further damage the reefs.
The centerpiece of the effort will be an environmental education center. It will be both a tangible, everyday reminder of environmental protection and a venue for conducting environmental education and outreach to local people and tourists. The building will also be used by youth clubs, women’s groups, and others, becoming a valuable resource for the community.