Coral reefs, also known as sea rainforests, support a diverse range of marine species as well as the livelihoods of coastal communities. The Tata Chemicals plant in Mithapur is near the Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park, which is a Biodiversity Hotspot and protects coral reefs. Based on field observations and a review of the literature, it was determined that the Gujarat coral reefs, including the Mithapur coral reef, need conservation assistance because the natural regeneration process is slow. And so began the historic Coral Reef Restoration Project in 2008.
Tata Chemicals’ mould-breaking CSR project
A first-of-its-kind attempt to move live coral fragments over a distance of more than 1,200 kilometres – from the Lakshadweep Islands to the Mithapur Reefs – was part of the ground-breaking CSR project funded by Tata Chemicals, in association with the Wildlife Trust of India and the Gujarat State Forest Department.
New statistics on the impact
The results are there for all to witness. This corporate social responsibility initiative aided in the creation and testing of long-distance coral transportation and transplantation protocols, which will now serve as a foundation for the global research community working on coral conservation. It has been instrumental in creation of 3,149.6 square metres of additional hard surface area in the form of artificial reef structures
These conservation efforts have truly been a win-win since they have enhanced fish catch in the project area to over 3 kg. per hour as compared to 0.6 to 0.7 kg. per hour earlier, and increased fish diversity in the area from 55 species in 2010 to 64 species as of 2020. The rare seahorse and the Starry Pufferfish (Arothron stellatus) made a reappearance – these are species recorded only twice before in Indian waters. Apart from these, 63 species of molluscs and 12 species of seaweed have also been recorded.
In an exclusive chat on the eve of World Environment Day, Alka Talwar, Chief – CSR & Sustainability, Tata Chemicals, revealed the Best Practices and interventions behind this corporate social responsibility initiative for the marine environment.
This flagship project is counted among the most exemplary corporate-led environmental programmes. Could you throw light on the Best Practices followed?
The Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration Project is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between a corporate (Tata Chemicals), a premier conservation institute in the country (Wildlife Trust of India), and the state Forest Department to restore a coral reef. To give direction and supervision on project activities, a Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) and a Governing Council (GC) comprised of experts in marine biology and the Forest Department were constituted.
From 2008 to 2014, the effort focused on mapping the biodiversity and the boundaries of the Mithapur coral reef. This was done to build a baseline of data and to better understand the current state of the reef. The second phase, which lasted from 2014 to 2018, was focused on obtaining corals from Lakshadweep for transplantation at Mithapur. Acropora humilis, a fast-growing branching coral species, was cultivated at a nursery in Lakshdweep and then brought to Mithapur to aid in the reef-building process. The attempt was a partial success.
One of our Best Practices was to engage, educate, and train the reef-dependent fishermen on the importance of coral reef protection and to provide them with tools for tracking coral reef health. Engagement sessions with the reef’s fisher population were organised to better understand their needs and alleviate their worries and apprehensions.
What were the key initiatives undertaken in the CSR project?
Apart from educating reef-dependent fishermen, limestone boulders were used to build an artificial reef at Mithapur because their rough surface mimics a natural reef substrate and aids in coral larvae recruitment. A coral nursery has also been raised to facilitate the development of a coral garden using locally available coral species.
The Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park is one of India’s biodiversity hotspots. In what ways is this project reviving this hotspot?
The Mithapur coral reef is close to the protected Gulf of Kutch Marine Sanctuary and is in an eco-sensitive zone. The restoration of Mithapur reef will aid in the strengthening of habitats and the enrichment of marine species, which will also aid in the enrichment of the biodiversity of the marine sanctuary protected area.
The establishment of artificial reefs helped in the preservation of the rich and complex ecosystem of coral reefs. The limestone boulders helped to shield marine life from strong waves and currents, and the establishment of “non-take zones” has contributed to an increase in live coral cover throughout the years, as well as an increase in the region’s fish stock.