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Spectrum Tours » National parks in india » Marine National Park

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A marine paradise teems with fantastic life-forms incredibly close to India's largest congregation of oil refineries near Jamnagar in Gujarat. The country's first marine reserve spreads along the south coast of the Gulf of Kutch for nearly 170 km and, together with its archipelago of 42 islands, sprawls over 163 sq km of intertidal zone.

The islands form a variegated cornucopia of colour and form. Coral reefs fringe 33 of them. The world here is like a large corporation, taking care of food, shelter, growth and security, and is marked by interdependent relationships between the various life-forms. Corals occur only on continental shelves that lie in warm, shallow and clear waters. The reefs are dominated by limestone shelters created by innumerable polyps, tiny soft-bodied marine animals. Extravagantly diverse in shape and size, and outrageously coloured, the reefs are a haven for myriad life-forms. In the Marine National Park, more than 200 species of molluscs have been identified along with as many of fish and nearly 60 of corals. Starfish, Brittle-stars, Sea-urchins, Sea-cucumbers and over 50 kinds of sponges are found in these waters, as are dolphins and the rare Sea-cow or Dugong. Sea-turtles are known to nest on the pristine beaches of several islands. A wealth of marine species is supported by the mangrove-dominated ecosystem of the park.

Along the shoreline and numerous creeks are impregnable mangroves with nutrient-rich ooze that shelter a baffling array of life. Many fish species spend a part of their lives in these shallow waters, while a multitude of birds find nesting and roosting sites amongst the mangroves. The park, especially around Beyt Dwarka, Okha and Pirotan Islands, is a paradise for birds. Strategically located along major avifaunal migration routes, it is blessed with a wide tidal range and nutrients. During winter, a legion of waders, such as flamingos, sandpipers, plovers and stints can be spotted in the park. Herons and terns and several other birds breed on the islands in summer. Boats are available for the keen bird-watcher.

James Hornell, the famous marine biologist who surveyed the region in 1905, remarked, "Never before in my life have 1 seen such a rich marine biota in so confined a place. It's God's own gift from heaven." In this fragile marine ecosystem, the fantastically attractive corals are a temptation to the casual visitor. The reefs are helpless against sedimentation and pollution. Over the past few years, refinery projects have burgeoned along the nearby coast and oil spills occur with unflinching regularity. Satellite data collected for 1975-85 indicates that sand-mining for cement has, in just a short decade, reduced the mangrove forests to half their extent.

MAMMALS Dugong, Gangetic Dolphin, jackal, Jungle Cat, Black-naped Hare

REPTILES Green Sea-turtle, Leatherback Turtle, Common Monitor

BIRDS RAPTORS White-tailed Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, Common Kestrel, Laggar Falcon, Peregrine Falcon

SCRUB/OPEN AREAS Grey Francolin, Indian Courser, Great Thick-knee, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike, White-eared Bulbul, Variable Wheatear, Clamorous Reed Warbler

WATERSIDE Lesser Flamingo, Greater Flamingo, Crab-plover, Great Cormorant, Western Reef Egret, Great White Pelican (above), Dalmatian Pelican, White Stork, Demoiselle Crane, Common Crane, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Pallas's Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Tern, Great Crested Tern

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