Friday, May 25, 2007

Rama Setu: World heritage, evidence album

Rama Setu: World heritage, evidence album

Marine Bioreserve in Gulf of Mannar and Sethusamudram Channel Project (A cartographic and pictorial essay)

Location map. Inset: bathymetry map of the Gulf of Mannar (reproduced from Murty et al., 1994) Source:

Various alignments of Sethusamudram channel considered from 1961 (AR Mudaliar Committee Report of 1956)

Alignment No. 4 does NOT impact on the Marine Bioreserve or the National Marine Parks as discussed further through the maps and pictures given below. The choice of Alignment No. 6 (Present channel) is arbitrary and drawn without due diligence, just along the medial line between India and Srilanka. (See map of Smt. Indira Gandhi-Smt. Sirimavo Bandaranaike agreement of June 1974).

Alignment of proposed channel cutting a passage through Rama Setu

Proposed channel view

Dhanushkodi aerial view

IRS LISS-III Satellite Iagery of Gulf of Mannar

Three dimensional model for Gulf of Mannar sea floor

« The sea floor depth contours with reference to chart datum (1975) measured at Tuticorin and Mandapam coasts during April 1999 are shown in the Figures 7 and Table 1. Recent depth contour map (1999) has been compared with bathymetry map of 1975; it reflects that the seafloor level decreased along the coastal and around the islands in the study area. It may be due to emerging of land due to tectonism. Many authors have reported that the coast of Gulf of Mannar is on an emerging phase due to tectonic movement (Foot, 1888; Ahmad, 1972; Stoodart and Pillai, 1972; Loveson and Rajamanicam, 1988; Ramasamy, Ramasamy, (1996), has build up a post collision tectonic model for the southern part of Indian and in which he has observed a series of geoenvironmental problems being caused due to such ongoing tectonic movement.« (Source: )

When the tsunami struck the coastline of India on Dec. 26, 2004, thanks to the existence of Rama Setu (Adam’s bridge) which acted as a tsunami protection wall, the tsunami did not have any significant on reefs, associated habitat and resources in Gulf of Mannar. (See )

Pearl banks in Gulf of Mannar

The Gulf of Mannar, India (Source: UN Atlas of the Oceans)

117 hard coral species have been recorded in the Gulf of Mannar. Sea turtles are frequent visitors to the gulf as are sacred sharks, dugongs, and dolphins. However, the combined effects of 47 villages, with a total population of around 50,000 has meant that overharvesting of marine species has become a problem. Fish catches have declined, as have pearl oyster, gorgonian and acorn worms populations. Local fishermen rely on the reef to feed their families however destructive fishing methods combined with the stress of pollution and coral mining have meant both nearshore and offshore catches have decreased.

Examples of harvested coral (left). Photo courtesy of Topham, UNEP.

Around 250metres3 of coral is quarried from the Gulf of Mannar per day. This mining and coastal erosion combined with crown-of-thorns starfish infestations that graze on the reef has caused much coral loss. Sewage pollution on the Keelakarai coast has caused algae growth to cover corals and black and white band coral diseases have been recorded.

The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 1,050,000 hectares on the south-east coast of India across from Sri Lanka. It is one of the world’s richest regions from a marine biodiversity perspective. The biosphere reserve comprises 21 islands with estuaries, beaches, forests of the nearshore environment, including a marine component with algal communities, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves. Among the Gulf’s 3,600 plant and animal species are the globally endangered sea cow (Dugong dugon) and six mangrove species endemic to peninsular India.

The inhabitants are mainly Marakeyars, local people principally engaged in fisheries. There are about 47 villages along the coastal part of the biosphere reserve which support some 100,000 people (200,000 seasonally as of 2001). The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) has provided support to the establishment of the biosphere reserve, including the setting up and functioning of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust, which is responsible for the coordination of the management plan for the biosphere reserve in concertation with government agencies, private entrepreneurs, and local people’s representatives. Priority is being given to encouraging community-based management.

Major habitats & land cover types

Sea grass beds dominated by Hydrocharitaceae and Potamogetonaceae, Halodule uninervis, Cymodocea rotunda, C. serrulata etc.; coral reefs; mangroves including Rhizophora conjugata, Avicennia alba, Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, Ceriops tagal, Lumnitzera racemosa etc.

Year designated: 2001

The Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve was established by the Government of India and the State of Tamil Nadu in 1989 and was the first marine protected area to be declared in South and South East Asia. The Reserve consists of a chain of 21 islets lying off Tamil Nadu on the southeast coast of India between 8º 45' N and 9º 25' N and 78º 05' E and 79º 30' E and covers approximately 10,500 km².

The Reserve harbours marine biodiversity of global significance and is renowned for its coral reef, sea grass and algal communities. These habitats provide excellent foraging habitat for marine turtles and green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback turtles have all been recorded there. The islets and coastal buffer zone also include beaches, estuaries, salt marshes, mangroves and tropical dry broadleaf forests.

The Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve was established by the Government of India and the State of Tamil Nadu in 1989 and was the first marine protected area to be declared in South and South East Asia. The Reserve consists of a chain of 21 islets lying off Tamil Nadu on the southeast coast of India between 8º 45' N and 9º 25' N and 78º 05' E and 79º 30' E and covers approximately 10,500 km².

Sea turtle tracking map

The Reserve harbours marine biodiversity of global significance and is renowned for its coral reef, sea grass and algal communities. These habitats provide excellent foraging habitat for marine turtles and green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback turtles have all been recorded there. The islets and coastal buffer zone also include beaches, estuaries, salt marshes, mangroves and tropical dry broadleaf forests.


Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve
Gulf of Mannar is the first Marine Biosphere Reserve not only in India, but also in south and southeast Asia. The IUCN Commission on National Parks and WWF, identified the Reserve as being an area of” “Particulars concern” given its diversity and special multiple- use management status. In addition, as the first marine biosphere reserve declared in India, this area has long been a national priority.

The Gulf of Mannar and its 3,600 Species of flora and fauna is one of the biologically richest coastal regions in all of mainland of India. Some of the islands are veritable “Biologist’s paradise”’

It is equally rich in sea-algae, sea grasses, coral reef pearl banks, fin & shell fish resources, mangroves, and endemic & endangered species. It is an important habitat for the highly endangered sea mammal, the Dugong dugon commonly called as sea cow.

There are 137 species of Corals found in Gulf of Mannar. The Coral come in myriads of shapes. Some have finger like branches and others dome-shaped colony with a net work of ridges and furrows.

Sponges, although at casual glance look like plants, are animals, living singly or in colonies of many individuals. Their colours vary as much as shape, being green, red, yellow, and even black or white. In the crevices, these sponges are found with many animals, ranging from tiny crabs and brittle star to bivalve mollusks. 275 species under 8 orders are found in Gulf of Mannar.

The Gulf of Mannar (GoM) (Fig.1), which is the first Marine Biosphere Reserves established in India, lies between India and Sri Lanka, and covers an area of about 10,500 It includes 21 coral islands located between 8º 46’ and 9º 14’ N latitude and 78º 9’ and 79º 14’ E longitude. Each island has its unique characteristics, surrounded by coral reefs with rich faunal and floral diversity. There 104 coral species recorded in GoM (Patterson, 2004). Coral reefs are the most diversified and complex marine ecosystems, and the reefs of GoM are one of the greatest natural treasures. The islands in the Gulf of Mannar are classified into 4 major groups:-

1. Mandapam Group (7 islands) : Musal, Manoli, Manoliputti, and Poomarichan Pullivasal, Krusadai and Shingle.

2. Keezhakkarai group (7 islands): Yaanaipar, Vallimunai, Poovarasanputti, Appa, Thalaiyari, Vaalai and Mulli.

3. Vembar Group (3 islands): Upputhanni, Pulivinichalli and Nallathanni.

4. Tuticorin Group (4 islands): Vaan, Koswari, Kariyachalli and Velanguchalli.


· Rapid assessment of status of corals in Gulf of Mannar after the tsunami.

· To compare the data with earlier available baseline information to assess the impacts of tsunami on the degree of cover, and composition of live corals and associated benthic organisms, and selected physico-chemical parameters.

General observations:

· No significant damage to status of corals;

· The water was clear without turbid nature;

· No unusual water currents;

· Due to strong waves during tsunami few table corals (Acropora cytherea) were tilted and few branches of another species (Acropora intermedia) broken;

· Gravel sand seafloor near the reef area was replaced by about 1 cm thick fine sand.

· No sand or other debris deposited on the branching and massive corals; and

· No impact on sea grass beds near the reef areas, but due to strong wave action more sea grass fragments were washed ashore.


In general, Tsunami impact has been observed in the coastal region in Gulf of Mannar. However, no significant impact was noticed on reefs, associated habitat and resources in Gulf of Mannar except minor transitional damages.


1. English. S, Wilkinson. C, Baker. V (eds). 1997. Survey manual for Tropical Marine Resources. Published by Australian Institute of Marine Science: 390 pp.

2. J.K. Patterson Edward, Jamila Patterson, M. Venkatesh, G. Mathews, C. Chellaram and Dan Wilhelmsson (2004). A field guide to stony corals (Scleractinia) of Tuticorin in Gulf of Mannar, Southeast India, 80 pp.




The Gulf of Mannar has a chain of 20 islands located between 8 º 48' N, 78 º 9' E and 9 º 14' N, 79 º 14' E on the southwest coast of India

Reef Structure and Corals:

All islands in the Gulf of Mannar have fringing reefs. In addition, there is a 8 km long reef in the Palk Bay adjacent to the Gulf of Mannar, as well as patching coral formation in the passage (Adam's Bridge) between India and Sri Lanka.

Noteworthy Fauna and Flora:

The Gulf of Mannar is particularly important for Green turtle and sea cow population, both of which depend on the large seagrass beds particularly around Musal, Appa and Balayamunai islands. Olive Ridley turtle is also occasionally found in this area. The pro-chordate Balanoglossus is found in the northern reefs.

Mangroves are found on all islands and are particularly extensive in the Mandapam group.

Status of Reef & disturbance / deficiencies:

The high turbidity of the water due to large scale coral mining and coastal erosion from mainland cause deterioration of the reefs.

Exploitation of coral & shells for lime industries and hunting of dugong & turtles is still prevalent.


Most of the islands have no freshwater and are therefore uninhabited. The most productive chank and pearl oyster beds in India are found near Tuticorin and Kilakarai. The Windowpane oyster Placuna placenta is also found in the same area. Large quantities of molluscan shells for the ornamental trade are collected in this area. Recently, native people of this area have begun developing tourism also.

Chank or turbinella pyrum (a species unique to Gulf of Mannar and Indian coastline. The species occurs only here and NOWHERE else in the world. This is a 8500 year-old industry. At Kilakkarai, the chank are procured by West Bengal Handicrafts Development Corporation.)

Coral reefs at Mandapam near Kurusadai island in the Gulf of Mannar.

Often referred to as a "biologist's paradise" Kurusadai island is said to exemplify the biological wealth of the Gulf of Mannar. The island is noted for the presence of a unique endemic organism called "balanoglossus" (Ptychodera flava), a taxonomically unique "living fossil" that links vertebrates and invertebrates.

A sea anemone in Kurusadai.

Gulf of Mannar coral reef

Coral reef at northeast of Single island

“Along the coast of Gulf of Mannar, sea cliffs have been observed in Mandapam, Rameswaram, Pudumatam and Appa Island coastal areas. Generally the sea cliff and caves are made up of calcareous sandstone and located at the high water level. Due to intensive action of waves on cliffs at some places sea caves are formed. Such caves have been observed near Mandapam coastal area and Southwestern and Southern coastal areas of Appa Island. At some places, these features have been destroyed due to slumping of upper cliff materials.” (Source: )

Gulf Of Mannar Marine National Park

A sanctuary with a difference, the Gulf of Mannar, falling in the Indo-Pacific region is said to hold one of the world's richest biological resources.

Habitats of seacow (Dugong-Dugon)

Habitats of Sea grass
Source: World atlas of seagrasses [Fig. 9.1 notes
Abundance of seagrass species at various depths in the Gulf of Mannar (southeast coast)]


State : Tamil Nadu
Area : 10,500 sq. km.
Endemic Flora : Morning glory, Jatropha, Halophila grass
Endemic Fauna : Sea Cow, Sea Anemone, Sea fans

The Gulf of Mannar reserve is the first marine Biosphere Reserve established in India and is situated along the southern coast of Tamilnadu. The Biosphere Reserve includes the Gulf, the adjoining coasts and also the small islands dotting the gulf. The reserve also includes a Marine National Park.


About 160 species of algae have been recorded here of which some 30 species are edible seaweeds. The area is also rich in sea grasses which provide food for sea mammals, particularly the dugong. The mangrove vegetation of the islands consists of species of Rhizophora (Red mangrove), Avicennia (Black mangrove) , Bruguieria (Large-leaved orange mangrove), Ceriops (Tagal mangrove) and Lumnitzera (Sandy mangrove). About 46 species of plants are endemic to Gulf of Mannar.


The Gulf area has beautiful coral reefs that harbour a wide variety of marine vegetation and animals. Productive beds of pearl oysters, prawn species, edible bivalves, sea anemones, ascidarians and the sea cow (Dugong dugon) occur in the Reserve.

Among the fauna, the invertebrates are represented by 280 species of sponges, 92 species of corals, 22 species of sea fans, 160 species of polychaetes, 35 species of prawns, 17 species of crabs, 7 species of lobsters, 17 species of cephalopods and 103 species of echinoderms.


Illegal coral mining for cement industries and indiscriminate collection of sea grass is the main threat to the reserve. 65% of the existing coral reefs in the area are dead, mostly due to human interference.

Coral in the Gulf of Mannar

Pamban island in the Gulf of Mannar. This region has some of the most important coral reefs off the mainland coast of India [STS033-76-60, 1989].

What Alignment 4 means:

Malabar Bowen map (1747) drawn by Netherlands shows Ramarcoil I (that is, Rama temple).

Map drawn by Joseph Parks, Australian Botanical explorer (1788) shows Ramar Bridge (Map in Sarasvati Mahal Lib., Thanjavur)

Map of 1804, by James Rennel, First Surveyor General of India, renamed Ramar Bridge as Adam’s bridge

Source: Asiatic Society, 1799, Asiatick Researches: Or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, P. 52 refers to the bridge called Setband (alt. spelling, setuband like Allahband; setu-bandha), broken in 3 places. It also notes “The people call it a bridge; or otherwise it appears to have wood growing on it, and to be inhabited.”

Religious and cultural sites, 8th-12th centuries Schwartzberg Atlas, p. 34.

Islamic expansion and changing Western views of South Asia, 7th-12th centuries Schwartzberg Atlas, v. , p. 33.

Setupati coinage, 16th and 17th century Obverse: Sri Ganapati, seated.Reverse, in Tamil, Se-Tu-Pa-(Ti missing).

(Nagaswamy R. 1979. Thiruttani and Velanjeri Copper Plates. State Dept. Of Archaeology, Tamilnadu. Madras. See: L’Hernault F. 1978. L’Iconographie de Subrahmanya au Tamilnad, Institut Francais d’ Indologie. Pondichery, p.111, ph. 63.) The copper plates indicate that Aparajitavarman went to Setutirtha. Parantaka Chola offers setutirthasnaanam and tulaabhaaram – 10th century).

Translation of Section 14 of Velanjeri copper plate of Paraantaka Chola I issued in the 25th year (that is, about 930 Common Era) is as follows:

“This ruler (Paraantaka) performed tulaabhaara with gold acquired by his valour, at the beautiful Sriraamatirtha, where the ablest of monkey flocks built the bridge; at the Kanyaatirtha which subdued the southern quarters, and at Srirangam beautiful by the areca groves, where Sri Vishnu reclines on his serpent couch.”

Sanskrit text in grantha script of this section reads as follows:

“ramie sriramatirthe kavivara nikaraih baddhasetu prabandhe kanyaatirthe jitaanaamadaritamapi dis’e mandane dakshinasyaah srirange caahis’alyaas’ayitamurabhidi s’yaamapoogaabhiraame hemnaaviryaancitena kshitipatikarot yastulaabhaarakarma”

Udayendiram plates of Cola king Parantaka I (AD 907-955) refer to his adoption of the title Samgramaraghava like Rama.

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