What is Happening in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? | People for the Planet
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Blessed with a luxuriant tropical rainforest canopy, Andaman and Nicobar islands are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna spread over 96 sanctuaries and 9 national parks. These cluster of islands are a biosphere reserve in themselves. The islands host the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the only tri-service geographical command of the Indian Armed Forces. While the Andaman is shelter for four indigenous ‘Negrito’ tribes- the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese, Nicobar islands are home to two ‘Mongoloid’ tribes namely the Shompen and Nicobarese. Like Andaman and Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep is an archipelago of the southwestern coast of India. The oldest inhabitants of Lakshadweep are said to have migrated from the Malabar coast of Kerala.
What possibly could go wrong in these beautiful islands? In Lakshadweep, an island sank under the sea, and nobody even noticed. The government agency tasked with mapping the country’s territory show Parali I as a small island in the Bangaram atoll but the inhabited island is not there anymore. Andaman and Nicobar Islands which host 89% of India’s coral diversity. But the survival of these coral reefs is threatened because of increasing acidification of the ocean as a result of rising carbondioxide levels. When reefs are subjected to continued developmental stresses, the local fishing communities who depend on them for food and economic security are also affected. Lakshadweep, the only coral island chain in India, on the other hand has clearly started showing the impacts of climate change, with higher waves during the southwest monsoon and increase in the number and intensity of storms. This is impacting the livelihood of the people as coconut trees fall in high winds and fish catches decline.
The inhabitants of Lakshadweep are also at the risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as gastroenteritis and cholera. Malaria and pneumonia have also been reported in the islands. These diseases point towards the most widespread environmental problem namely, the lack of sanitation facilities posing grave risks to human health. 99% of the population Great Andamansese in Andaman and Nicobar have succumbed to British colonization and have been wiped out since. The remaining have been displaced and moved to the islands’ capital Port Blair, as their village was damaged in the 2004 tsunami. The Onge’s home (forests) have been plundered by poachers and loggers. Other indigenous tribes have also suffered similar fate, loss of habitat either in the name of development or due to the effects of climate change. What one needs to understand is that the tribal people of Andaman and Nicobar islands are neither ‘primitive’ nor living in the ‘stone age’. Their way of life has not remained unchanged for thousand years. Like all peoples, their cultures have been continuously evolving. The tribes however need to be protected so that they can survive and thrive. This is possible as long as their land and resources are secure.
What can be done? Integrated conservation and reef management practices. As these reefs are shared resources, mitigating the effects of development on the islands , their inhabitants, and coral reefs requires integrated cooperation between locals, the tourist industry, state administrative officers, and the Centre. Only when all these perspectives are outlined can realistic conservation solutions be produced. In the meantime, training local administrators on basic marine conservation. Integrating knowledgeable locals into protecting coral reefs, and ensuring that violations of environmental protections are punished could go a long way in kick-starting the conservation process. Any development activity in A&N islands should take into account the geological, socio-cultural and ecological factors of the islands since they are one of the most seismically active zones, with earthquakes occurring almost twice a month. Thus government’s luscious plans of building big infrastructure in the name of ‘eco-tourism’ should be monitored and local people’s opinions should be taken into account as they are more familiar with the islands’ topography. Indigenous people protect 80% of our planet’s biodiversity, giving us all the more reason to resonate their voices and help them be heard because they truly are THE people for planet.