Friday, October 23, 2009

for the past decade with coasts...

* 1999 – I conducted a self motivated research on seahorse exploitation rate and conservation in Palk Bay. This report was submitted to WWF-Switzerland.

* 2002 - I conducted 1100 km solo bike expedition for creating awareness on the conservation of mangroves and coral reefs in Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. Seminars and street awareness programmes were conducted in coastal villages and schools along the route. It helps to attract mass media coverage for the cause of conservation of coral reefs and mangroves of our region. This experience has provided a strong outlook on the relationship between conservation, awareness and economic status of fishers.

* 2003 - I conducted an inventorization research of flora and fauna of protected Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest in 2003. This report was submitted to Tamil Nadu Forest Department to understand the spatial distribution of mangrove associates and management with special reference to Koraiyar creek.

*2004 – I voluntarily reported the dead olive ridleys to WWF-India. As a follow up, I organized a mass sea turtle conservation awareness programmes 14 coastal villages funded by WWF. This experience energized my public communication skills and leading a team to launch the conservation task.

*2004 - I founded OMCAR Foundation ( – (Organization for Marine Conservation, Awareness and Research) to independently concentrate on conservation of Protected mangroves of Muthupet, adjacent seagrass beds and environmental awareness. This NGO is the platform that I formed for my lifetime marine conservation activities.

*2004-2009 I have been guiding mangrove ecological education field trips and coastal clean up programmes for school, college and nature club members in Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest. It helps them to understand the components, functions and services of our mangroves. A total of 1452 persons have been participated in the mangrove ecology education field trip and awareness programmes since 2004.

* Since 2005 – I initiated and Ecological Mangrove Restoration in the Protected and Unprotected coastal areas of northern Palk Bay. I have been scientifically guiding the cost-effective, natural way of mangrove regeneration for Tamil Nadu Forest Department in my District. These sites are approved as EMR sites by Mangrove Action Project. About 15 hectares of degraded mangroves are successfully restored along the coast through this programme, where partial harvest of crabs and fishes are allowed for the fishers.

* Since 2005 - In an effort to create an opportunity for international youths on mangrove and seagrass conservation issues, I have been guiding international internship students to explore the ecolgocial settings of northern Palk Bay. 12 students from University of Eberswalde, Technical Universitat Berlin, University of Cologne, and University of Queensland have been visited our area. I guide and teach them about the seagrass and mangrove monitoring techniques as a co-guide.

* Since 2005. 24 coastal village schools of northern Palk Bay region have been seen my trimester seminars on conservation of mangroves, seagrass beds. They are motivated to participate in costal clean-up, plantation, rally and field trips.

*2006-2007. I have paddled alone in a sea kayak for 600km along the coast of Tamil Nadu to create awareness on the conservation of coastal ecosystems of Tamil Nadu. Each day, I met fishers, children and media to highlight the conservation of Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve and Protected Mangrove Forests of our coast. It helps to express my commitment and enthusiasm by spending physical energy in fierce waves, currents, my time and money.

* Since 2007. I surveyed the rare, local and endemic trees on the coastal and adjacent areas in my region. This native tree species are playing a crucial role to protect against natural disasters as a back support for protected mangroves. Now, a separate nursery was established for the breeding of those rare tree species. The seedlings have been planted in school, college and streets in the coastal villages.

*Since 2007 – 18,435 tree seedlings have been donated to plant in school, college and other intuitional campuses under my leadership. This has been possible due to the engagement of our 83 eco club volunteers and other local NGOs.

*2005-2009 I have conducted an ecological research programme to assess the distribution, diversity, associated fish assemblages and socio-economics of seagrasses of northern Palk Bay, located adjacent to Muthupet mangrove reserve forest. This research programme reveals the migration of fishes between Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest and Seagrass beds to elucidate the holistic conservation approach.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some thoughts on Public Awareness Programmes

Dr. V.Balaji, Director, OMCAR Foundation,Pattukkottai

OMCAR FoundatiFont sizeon has been undertaking several environmental awareness programmes. Our way of coveying message to the community is not similar between two schools or between the two villages. I am here sharing my view here.

Awareness, usually this word is thought about talking something new to public who don’t be familiar with it. And also frequently, wherever awareness programmes are conducted, there is a question of how much people will hear your message and how it can create a change to the target people. There is need to a great deal of focus on the tactics, as much as we all realize the value of creating awareness. I here wish to share some of my thoughts on the concepts and field tactics for the NGO field workers with reference to coastal villages.

I think, it is the time to consider the way of creating awareness to the community, in addition to the conventional way of street plays, dances and pamphlets. Whatever effort we took for awareness programmes, the communication will reach successfully to more people, when we demonstrate it, in a way of enthusiasm to imply that “We are well prepared and understand the problem, to solve it, if the target community support it”. It just should not be to express a disconnected piece of information on an issue in a day. It should be an introduction of forthcoming chain of changes that an NGO wish to bring to the community or environment of a region.

Human, one of the superior organisms in the earth is also coming under the same category like other existing fauna, when we talk about the function of basic sense of hearing and vision. Technically, our goal is to extend our effort to reach our message to the ear and eyes of the human beings. In addition to this: life style, education status, culture, time, seasons, involvement of field staffs, relationship between audience’s daily life and our message, number, age and gender group of the community decides that how much effectively we carry out an awareness programme.

Psychologically, emotional way of conveying a message is working well, which obviously the politicians use to survive, which can be used in an optimistic technique to support our objective.

Now, come to the selection of target group. Instead of creating awareness to the whole community of a particular region, it is wise to select a particular age group in a gender or both based on your project goal. This will reduce the diffusion of funds and energy and we can concentrate that that particular group for follow up activities and to communicate our concept to other groups.

Here, when we select the age groups, we also have to remember the nature of our project and weather we need the change immediately or slowly in a long tem basis in a community. Children are fit for the second category and youths are fit for the first one. There should be a caution approach to youths of the community, and even a small misunderstanding can cause the disruption of the programme.

The sense of any awareness programme without the continuous, long vision follow up activities will be vanished from the people’s mind, even in the next day. We can say that the awareness programmes are the introduction to the unknown audiences to know about it, and we have to help them or we have to make them to help themselves through continuous follow up activities. In every place there are some persons, who already know about the issue to a certain extent, and he usually stands with several questions to ask. Convince them, they are valuable tools, if you fail to answer their questions, it would be a problem in future.

Exaggeration of issues in awareness programmes is also required on occasion, but should be carefully handled or it would deviate what we come to tell. For example when I talk about the conservation of endangered shark species in Tamil Nadu coast to the children, I have to carefully talk about the shark attacks, but when I talk about the turtles there should be some exaggeration based on the scientific publications to link the turtles to health of the ocean and our daily life.

Time also an important factor of controlling the awareness programmes. For example, when a group of people has a plan to create awareness about the sanitation issues along the coast of Tamil Nadu in the particular fixed dates. They have to travel and visit at least 5 villages in a day from dawn to dusk. The energy of team will be wasted in a less crowd morning programmes instead of well crowded evenings. The fact is, fishermen will be free in evenings, after their routine morning work. It is wise to conduct the programmes in selected villages.

Are seasons also important? Yes of course, it plays a significant role for the long distance programmes. Plan your programmes only in post monsoon and summer when they are free and not in premonsoon and monsoon. The fishing community has to prepare in premonsoon, and earn in monsoon.

Organizing the people for a programme seems to be a common work of a field staff, but not. It needs oratory skill and flexibility in approach with the nerves of the present situation of a village. When you enter a fisherman village, first meet the village head, then come to self help groups, youth groups (may an actors fans club) and finally go to the village school. It’s enough to have a considerable audience to hear your message. But, it is wise to consider weather that particular group is necessary for your programme. Sometimes, children who don’t understand your issues can start to play during your programme. This is true that we should aware before planning an awareness programme.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flora and Fauna of Muthupet Mangroves, Southeast Coast of India

(The results given below are the part of my research in Muthupet mangroves - Dr. Balaji, OMCAR Foundation)

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The Current study has recorded 201 fanual species, including 31 species of Zooplankton, 7 species of amphipods, 10 species of polychaetes, 15 species of crustaceans, 19 species of molluscs, 57 species of fishes, 7 species of reptiles, 49 species of birds and 6 species of mammals.

Krishnamurthy et al.,(1995) found 81 species of zooplankton in Pitchavaram Mangroves, Tamil Nadu. Tintinnids were the dominant mocrozooplankters with 50 species and the most important genera were Tintinopsis and Favella (Godhantaraman, 1994; Krishnamurthy, 1995). They also found 40 rotifer species in 17 genera and the microzooplanktors were most abundant in summer, corresponding with phytoplankton abundance.

Kalidasan (1991) recorded 90 species of zooplankton from Muthupet, which had the domination of copepods, on tintinids and rotifers. The present study recorded the following zooplankters as 1 species from foraminifera, 7 species from ciliata, 2 species from rotifers, 2 species from cladocera, 14 species from copepoda, 2 species from mysidaceae, 1 species from Decapoba, 1 species from doliolids and 1 species from molluscan pteropoda and larval forms of polychaetes, crustaceans and molluscs.

Isias tropica, a calonoid copepod was most abundant species in February, March and April samples collected from station 1. Station 2 and 3 showed no difference in domination of particular species. Oithona sp., are particularly abundant in many studies of mangrove plankton (Kathiresan and Bingham, 2002) but here the abundance of Oithona sp., and Paracalanus parvus were equally observed in April, May, June and July. All the samples collected during the study period, showed the domination of copepods with the peak in May. Osore (1992) also found similar result.

The muddy substratum of mangrove ecosystem may be a favorite place to a variety of epibenthic, in faunal and meiofaunal invertebrates. Because, mangrove sediments generally support higher densities of benthic organisms than adjacent non-vegetated sediments (Edgare 1990; Sasekumar and Chong 1998). The most successful benthic species in mangrove ecosystem are those that can adapt to salinity and temperature stresses that are characteristic of this environment (Ferrari et al., 1994)

Polychaetes are the dominant macrobenthos in mangroves (Guerreiro et al., 1996), there were 10 polychaetes were identified from Muthupet mangroves during this study period. Isopods and amphipods also contributed a major part in benthic samples and 7 species of amphipods were recorded, and the burrowing isopods also do major destruction to mangroves, which significantly affect root growth and development (Ellison and Farnsworth, 1990; Santhakumari, 1991). Commonly found polychaete species in station 1 and station 3 were relatively less in station 2 , which may be due to the absence of mangrove vegetation in station 2.

In crustaceans, 4 species of shrimps 2 species of prawns, 5 species of brachyuran crabs, 2 species of hermit crabs and 2 species of cirripede were identified. Analyses of commercial prawn catches have repeatedly shown strong correlation between abundance and biomass of shrimp and extent of the surrounding mangrove areas (Sasekumar et al., 1992; Kathiresan et al., 1994; Vance et al., 1996). The mangrove waterways directly serve as nursery grounds for juvenile penaeids that move offshore and enter the commercial fishery as they mature (Kathiresan and Bingham, 2002).

The mangrove leaves and other parts were decayed on the substratum. The detritus thus produced may attract the juveniles and larvae of crustaceans. Robertson and Blaber (1992) proposed explanation for this relationship as the organic detritus exported from the mangroves provide food and habitat for juveniles (Daniel and Robertson, 1990), and the creeks receive high levels of terrestrial runoff.

Muthupet mangrove system has Penaeus monodon, Penaeus indicus, Metapenacus dobosonii, Metapenaeus monoceros and prawns like Macrobrachium idae and Macrobrachium rude. The freshwater species were relatively lesser than shrimps in commercial catching. The crabs Scylla serrata, Portunas pelagicus, Calappa lophos, Neoepisesarma brochii, and Sesarma fascianata were recorded. Scylla serrata was found among dense mangroves of waterways and Neoepisesarma brochii was relatively higher in number at mudflat mangroves (near lagoonal mouth) than station 1 and 3.

Baby crabs were observed among the partially submerged pneumatophore meadows of Avicennia marina, which are extending towards creeks. Hermit crabs Clibanarius longitarsus and Clibanarius pedavancis, were occupying the dead mollscan shells, which were commonly seen in station 2 but not in station 1 and 3. It may because, the station 2 is located close to mouth of lagoon, where accidental entry of molluscan shells and hermit crabs may be possible.

Barnacles are the crustaceans under cirripedes which can grow abundantly on mangrove roots and pneumatophores (Foster 1982, Bayliss, 1993). Balanus amphitrite is the most common, abundant in each and every exposed rigid substratum (dead wood, roots etc.,) from water level that is submerged during high tide. Density of barnacles is greater on lower surfaces than upper surfaces of mangroves (Ross and Underwood 1997). The vertical zonation and dense arrangement of barnacles on mangrove roots showed the immense competition for attachment. The recruitment of barnacles and other sessile invertebrates in mangroves is largely controlled by larval abundance, tidal currents, duration of larval life and density of adult populations (Bingham 1992; Young 1995). The partially submerged pneumatophores of Avicennia marina were attached with Balanus amphitrite randomly.

The mangrove molluscs are one of the major populations of marine origin fauna of Muthupet mangroves. Bivalves and snails are the primary representatives of molluscan population. There are 19 species of molluscs were recorded in the present study including bivalves such as Modiolus metcalfei, Perna viridis, Meretrix meretrix, Meretrix casta, Katalysia opima, Anadora granosa, Anadora rhombea. The Oyster Crassostrea madrasensis, Saccostrea cuculata were forming the extensive beds in lagoon.

The Muthupet mangroves provide an ideal environment for production of oyster beds, which are an important part of the habitat (Rajapandian et al., 1990). The dense oyster bed of elevated muddy substratum of lagoon is usually exposed in low tide. Fishermen are avoiding these Oyster beds as they wounded the feet and damaged the nets. So, the oyster beds thus protecting the benthic organisms from human, and serve as the micro hot spots of benthic organisms of the mangrove ecosystem. Teredinids (Shipworms) and Pholads are the burrowing bivalves of Muthupet mangroves, which are destroying submerged roots and branches. Seven species of which were recorded from Pitchavaram mangroves, Tamil Nadu. (Sivakumar and Kathiresan, 1996).

Cecilia Pandian(1996) recorded 73 species of finfishes in Muthupet mangroves but the present study recorded 57 species of finishes. Fish distributions and abundances may also change on dial and seasonal cycles (Chandrasekaran and Natarajan, 1993). Fishes in mangroves are important predators on amphipods, isopods, shrimps, nematodes, insects, gastropods, other fishes and algae. (Erondu 1990, Rooker 1995).

In Muthupet mangroves, fishes like Mugil cephalus, Liza parsia, Terapon jarbua, Oreochrombis mossambica, Chanos chanos were abundant. Terapon puta, Eteroplus suratensis, Leiognathus brevirostris, Platycephalus indicus, Plectorhinchus gibbosus were commonly collected fishes from Muthupet lagoon.

The moving dense school of fish juvenile was observed in lagoon and creeks. So, it is common to find large number of larvae and juvenile fish in net samples from mangrove habitats (Dennis 1992). This high density of fish juvenile may be due to the supply of appropriate food and turbidity of water which may reduce predation and protection from structural complexity of mangroves (Robertson and Blaber, 1992). Another interesting fish to observe on muddy substratum of lagoon shore is the mudskipper Boleophthalmus boddarti. It is a specially adopted fish which has a variety of anatomical, physiological and behavioural adaptations to tolerate environmental stresses (Ogaswaswara et al., 1991).

There are 3 amphibians Rana hexadactyla, Bufo melanostictus and Rhacophoras maculatus were recorded in addition with reptiles Testuda elegans, Naja naja, Bungarus coerulas and Enhydrina schistose. An (Unidentified) Gecko was also observed among the wooden reaper of forest shed, in station 1.

Oswin (1997) reported 160 species of birds including permanent residents, seasonal and local migratory birds. The migratory birds usually come to Muthupet during monsoonal season (September – January) are contributing a major part of the bird population. So, the present study period of summer season did not come across those previously recorded seasonal migratory birds. Local migrants and permanent residents were common among 49 species of recorded birds during this study. Among the birds, the pond heron Ardeola grayii, is commonly found in lower branches of Excoecaria agallocha and Prosopis chilensis along the landward creeks. Pariah kite Milvus migrans, Brahmini kite Haliastur indus, were observed at the upper canopy of the mangroves, the nests of Brrahmini kite Haliastur indus were constructed at the top branches of mangroves. Blue rock pigcon Columba livia, and Indian king dove Streptopelia decaocto and spotted dove Streptopelia chinensis were found at the interior landward mongroves but not frequently. The Lesser pied king fisher Ceryle rudis, Common pied king fisher Alcedo atthis and white breasted pied kingfisher Halcyon symrnensis were seen while they were busy to fish along the creeks of Korayar river

The wholes (nests) of Green bee – eater Merops orientalis were excaved at the sides of small mud elevations, found at the landward sides of the forest. Little cormorant Phalacrocorax niger were usually found at the water surface in wider creeks. Hussain and Acharya (1994) stated that 52 mammals were once lived in Sunderban mangroves. Oswin (1997) reported 13 species of mammals in Muthupet mangrove forest. The present study recorded only 6 species of mammals among which, common jackal Cannis aureus is the major predator on marine and terrestrial origin organisms of Muthupet mangroves. Indian field rat Mus booduga, common house rat Rattus rattus, short nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx were found commonly during night. So the present study recorded higher number of species in fishes (57) and lower number in mammals (6).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Muthupet Mangrove Reserve Forest and Lagoon - An Enchating Place for Eco-Tourists


Muthupet is situated 330 km south of Chennai city and lies close to Point Calimere on the southeast coast of peninsular India (Latitude 10046’: Longitude 79051’E). It is at the southern end of the Cauvery delta, covering an area of approximately 6,803.01 ha of which only 4% is occupied by well-grown mangroves. The rivers Paminiyar, Koraiyar, Kilaithankiyar, Marakkakoraiyar and other tributaries of the river Cauvery flow through Muthupet and adjacent villages. At the tail end, they form a lagoon before meeting the sea. The northern and western borders of the lagoon are occupied by muddy silt ground which is devoid of mangroves. The mangroves beyond Muthupet lagoon are discontinuously found along the shore and extended up to Point Calimere.


Muthupet mangrove forest was under the control of Chatram Department from 1853 to 1912 (Chengappa, 1918). The Government of the Presidency of Madras Gazette (1937) shows, from 1923 to 1936, half of the revenue obtained from selling mangrove products was paid to the revenue department and the remaining half was spent to maintain the “Chatrams” (Charity homes). The Government declared the Muthupet mangrove forest as revenue forest in February 1937 and accordingly the mangrove forest was handed over to the forest department of the Madras Presidency.


The forest is maintatained by Tamil Nadu Forest Department. The entire mangrove forest is divided into Palanjur reserve forest, Thamarankottai reserve forest, Maravakkadu reserve forest, Vadakadu reserve forest, Thuraikadu reserve forest and Muthupet reserve forest.

Muthupet Lagoon (also Mullipallam lagoon)

The word 'lagoon' refers to the shallow salt or brackish water body that lies close to the sea. Muthupet reserve forest covers the lagoon, river creeks and the mudflats. Muthupet (mullipallam) Lagoon is a spectacular natural creation, which is 8 km from nearby Muthupet town and can be reachable only by boat. The lagoon is shallow with the average of 1m depth. The bottom of the lagoon is formed of silt clay substratum. The tidal fluctuations can be observed well with the exposure of oyster beds and roots during low tide.


The tidal fluctuations are playing a major role in dispersing the mangrove seeds. Dense mangroves mostly cover the lagoon shore. The islets are found on western side which are submerged during high tide.

The salinity is the major environmental factor, controlling zonation of Muthupet mangrove forest. Avicennia marina is the conqueror of the forest which is found as a single dominant species.

Southern side (mud flat) separates the lagoon from adjacent sea that also leaves a permanent mouth of lagoon with seasonally opened shallow waterways. The width of mudflat is increased from lagoon mouth to the eastern direction. The mudflat looks like a desert in summer, but the presence of dead gastropods under the surface soil layer and the erosion of soil at the centre of mudflat reveal the submergence of mudflat during flood. There is a difference between the lagoon shore and seashore of the same mudflat, in the aspect of distance of mangroves from fluctuating water level.

The mangroves have grown close to water level in lagoon side but not in seashore. The reason may be the difference in the nature of fine clayey silt deposition that carried by the rivers.

The salt marshes are found as under herb as well as lining the inner side of the forest. In the degraded central part of the mudflat, the soft fine silt is found only around the salt marshes. But, the remaining barren ground is hard (clay) which may due to the erosion of surface silt by wind or floodwater. Thousands of partially decomposed rooted trunks that found on the southeastern side of Muthupet lagoon are indicating the past, indiscriminate exploitation. (100-150 m in width and 5-6 km in length). The density of mangroves in eastern side of Muthupet lagoon is comparatively lower than other areas. Tamil Nadu forest department has excavated about 12 canals across the mudflat. Each main canal which enhances the water movement between sea and lagoon, has several sub canals on either side with an substantial number of mangrove seedlings. The western side is not straight a protruding land pocket has formed an islet like structure. This part of the lagoon lies near to Koraiyar river mouth with small mangrove patches.

Tourism and its impacts

Increasing numberf of tourists in Muthupet mangroves and lagoon is affecting the presitine state of the forest. The tourists who are anaware of the value of Muthupet mangroves are used to dump their food wastes and plastics in mangroves.

Please visit to see our effort. If you like to visit Muthupet mangroves, then prepare to bring back all of your plastic,food (even degradible) from the forest.

How to reach Muthupet mangroves?

Muthpet town can be reached from Chennai by Bus. The route is Chennai - Pondicherry - Chidambaram- Thiruvarur - Muthupet.

It is better to stay in Pattukkottai (25km), if you prefer lodging. From Muthupet town, take a auto to Petttai village. Get the written permission from the forest department office and boats are available (Rs. 700/day).

Early morning is the best time to enter in to Muthupet Forest, when the birds and fishers are busy in the canals. An umbrella is essential, even if you have a hat. This will prevent the UV in mid day in the hot creeks while returning.

Bring a plenty of water (don't throw any bottles!!!), fruits and biscuits as you will be hungry. You can eat the food anyone of resting huts, constructed by Tamil Nadu Forest Department.

For more information, feel free to contact

OMCAR Foundation