Sunday, December 22, 2013

Of Crabs, Starfishes and Stingrays

In the crisp clear darkness of the pre-dawn sky a million lights loom large. This is the Jamnagar Refinery simply put, the biggest petroleum refinery in the world. It is one of the few places in the world where you can truly appreciate what big really means.

A steady stream of tankers and trucks streams in and out of the refinery as we have a cup of tea at a stall outside its gates. We seem to be the only people having a cup of tea as everyone else is having it out of saucers. This part of Gujarat seems to like its tea in exactly that fashion. The refinery is however not our destination. We're headed to Narara, gateway to one of the most unique wildlife reserves in India - The Marine National Park.

The Gujarat coast off the Gulf of Kutch is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world and its rocky beaches, sandy shoals and coral islands offer a unique insight in to the rich aquatic life with having to dive, snorkel or even head off-shore. We arrive at the park gates just as the eastern horizon is lighting up. The watchman who doubles up as the guide is expecting us and we head straight to business.

We've chosen our arrival here carefully as the access to the park is governed by the coming and going of tides. As the sky turns blue, the receding tide opens the vast expanses for us. Apart from the four of us, the only sign of life are the odd storks and plovers picking mussels left behind by the tide.

As we entered slightly deeper water little splashes betrayed the positions of some of the most prolific predators in these parts.  Several crab species were spotted but the most interesting were the aggressive Neptune Crabs (Grapsus intermedius) and the Hairy Crabs (Pilumnus vespertilio).

In fact the entire stretch of water we were wading through was full of life. Our guide pointed out at least 11 species of coral, 3 species of sea anemone, 2 species of star fish and 2 species of sea slugs among others.

We waded through what seemed like a a forest of kelp. Every leaf, every rock, coral or crevice had a surprise for us. It was quite simply magical. But as the initial euphoria of being part of such a wonderful eco-system wore down, a different feeling took over.

Every step we took, we seemed to disturb something. Our arrival surprised a Brittle Star sunning itself on some exposed kelp. A puffer fish startled by our splashing feet puffed itself in self defense finding itself surrounded by three giants. What looked like rocks were living, breathing coral. Even the sand underneath our feet seemed upset at being shuffled.A curious Stingray however, did not seemed perturbed by us. It swam in circles around us, darting between our feet - quietly confident in the power of the brutal sting in its tail.

We had had enough - imagine someone walking into your home first thing into the morning. Stomping on your bed while you are still in it, spilling the food from the spoon while you're eating, leaving muddy footprints on your white marbled floor. I am sure the animals were feeling the same way despite us being as careful as we could. As much as we enjoy being out in the wild, this just did not feel right.

Back on the shore, molluscs had drawn curious patterns on the wet sand - nature's own art form. We had experienced one of the greatest spectacles on earth. But we weren't sure if we ever wanted to do it again.


Normally I would have left details on how to get to the Marine National Park. As much as I have loved to share my experience with you all, I strongly believe that is not the right way to experience nature. This is akin to violation and there is next to nothing to prevent idiots from spoiling this fragile ecosystem. I urge the Gujarat Government to disallow tourists from walking in to the coral reefs and work with conservationists to come up with safer alternates for nature lovers to enjoy the treasures of the Marine National Park

1 comment:

Apurva Bahadur said...

What an amazing photo essay. Great stuff, straight from Shanky's heart.