Peninsular India is bounded by water on 3 sides: the Arabian Sea in the west, the Bay of Bengal in the East and the Indian Ocean in the South. The Indian coastline runs over a distance of 7500 km (5700 kms on mainland) distributed along nine coastal states, two groups of islands and four union territories. The coastal belt comprises of a wide range of ecosystems extending from sandy beaches and mangroves to coral reefs and rocky shores.
India has a variety of natural coastal ecosystems. The Indian coastline can be divided into the Gujarat region, the west coast, the east coast and the Islands.
Coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries and deltas are delicate and fragile ecosystems rich in biodiversity.
The narrow coastal stretches are under immense pressure today as a very large segment of the population want to live there. Living on the coast is highly attractive because of
Seashores are classified into three main types, depending on their surface:
Characteristic groups of organisms live on each type of shore.
The marine biodiversity of India is outstanding in the entire south Asian region. Species ranging from the tiny sea horse to the massive whale sharks have been documented by scientists in our coastal waters.
Mangroves are generally found along the coastlines of tropical and subtropical regions, between 25oN and 25oS latitude, throughout the world. Mangroves are located all along estuarine areas, deltas, tidal creeks, mud flats and salt marshes.
India has some of the best mangroves in the world. About 380 km or 6% of the coastline of mainland India is covered by mangroves, while 40% of coasts (260 km) of Andaman and Nicobar are lined with mangroves. They are located in the alluvial deltas of rivers. The Sundarbans of West Bengal represent the largest stretch of mangroves in the country.
The mangrove is a specially adapted salt-tolerant tree. They are characterized by dark green foliage and a network of many stilt like roots that support them above water.
The mangrove swamps are highly productive and are an important nursery ground for fish, crabs and prawn. They are an essential habitat for spawning and nursery bed of marine fishes, endangered migratory birds, estuarine crocodiles, dugongs, dolphins, Royal Bengal Tiger, Olive Ridley turtles and sea otters. The east coast and Andaman & Nicobar Islands are richer in biodiversity than the west coast.
The wood, leaves and bark of mangroves are used mainly as fuelwood, thatch and for tanning leather respectively.
The principal reasons for degradation
Coral reefs have existed for close to 500 million years, making them one of the earth’s oldest, largest and most diverse ecosystems. The number of species, representing nearly every group of organism, found on them rivals that of the tropical forests.
Coral reefs are a fairy tale world of beautiful colours and changing patterns. They are also a very fragile ecosystem gravely endangered by our carelessness and ignorance.
Coral reefs are often compared with tropical rainforests in terms of their importance as a habitat and the biological diversity they harbour. Some 4,000 species of fish and 800 species of reef-building coral have been described to date, but the total number of species associated with reefs is probably more than 1 million. Coral reefs are a colony of tiny animals called coral polyps. When the animals die, they leave limestone “skeletons” that form the foundations of coral reefs. The creation of a reef can take centuries. Coral islands or atolls develop from reefs that grow up around volcanic islands.
The living coral-forming animals colour the formation in beautiful shades of orange, yellow, purple and green. Reefs grow in warm seas in temperatures between 20ºC and 30ºC, in clear, shallow, saline waters where a lot of sunlight filters through.
In India, corals are found in
Uses of coral reefs
The most colourful and diverse groups of fishes are found on the reef. They are of bright colours with bold and distinctive patterns, which serve a purpose.
Red colours appear black under water, helping a fish to go unseen; stripes help a fish to merge with the coral; spotted patterns confuse its predator. They are also of unusual shapes and characteristics. Eels, angel fish, sea snakes, pufferfishes that swell up like a balloon, fierce looking lion fish with a poisonous sting, sharks and sea horses abound in the reef. The vast variety of species include
India seems to be the first country of the Indian Ocean to possess a real navy, carrying on a flourishing trade with the Arab world. After the 16th Century, the Portuguese and the East India Trading Companies, became very active in trading with India. Today, India has many established ports along its coastline, that facilitate trade and tourism. Cargo ships dock in their harbours bringing valuable and necessary goods like oil, grains, coal, iron ore, etc. There are many natural harbours along the coast of Peninsular India, while Chennai has a man-made harbour. Ports are also useful in training and deploying our naval fleet.
Fishing is an important livelihood of the people in India. Besides, seafood is a cheap and nutritional component of their diet. The total commercial marine catch for India has stabilized over the last ten years at between 1.4 and 1.6 million tonnes, with fish from the clupeoid group (e.g. sardines, Indian shad and whitebait) accounting for approximately 30% of all landings.
Our country has a long coastline along the mainland and numerous islands. It has achieved commendable success in Goa and Kovalam regarding beach tourism. Beach tourism involves water based activities like, bathing, diving, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, wind-surfing, sailing, sun bathing and beach football, etc.
Indian coastal areas are richly endowed with cultural heritage. They have sweeping golden beaches and roaring waves with temples, palaces, gardens, hills, wildlife sanctuaries and a variety of fairs and festivals.
In most of the shores, tides slowly rise and fall a few feet twice a day, and causes difference in water levels. The rise in water level is high tide and the fall in water level is low tide. The energy produced by the periodic rise and fall of ocean water, due to the gravitational force of the moon, sun and earth can be harnessed to produce electricity. Tidal energy could become an important source of energy in future, because it is a renewable resource. Tidal energy like solar energy and wind power is a relatively “Clean” source that does little damage to the environment.
Coal, oil and natural gas can be obtained from under the seabed. Many minerals are also present in sea water. The most common one is salt. Seawater is evaporated to get salt.
India has large reserves of beach sand minerals, such as ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite and garnet. These deposits are mostly located in the coastal stretches of peninsular India. Ilmenite is the largest constituent of the Indian beach sand deposits, followed by sillimanite and garnet. India is one of the leading producers of garnet in the world.
It is the process of removing dissolved salts from ocean water. The average salinity of sea is about 3.5%. In 1869, the first patent for desalinization was given in England.
There exist two main ways to desalinize ocean water: distillation and reverse osmosis. The former is the simpler and less costly method - heat is used up to evaporate fresh water from salt water, leaving the salts behind. In reverse osmosis, sea water is forced under high pressure through a filter. The salts are left behind.
Pollution changes coastal habitats and destroys fish and other species. Most of the trash and pollutants produced by human activities end up in the world’s oceans and remain in water near the coastal areas. They are directly drained or dumped into the ocean either on purpose or by accident (oil spills). Sewage and sedimentation from land-clearing and construction are the two most serious causes of coastal pollution. Rivers dump a lot of pollution into the sea, like sewage, industrial effluents, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and sediments.
There are six major types of pollution that affect the world’s oceans and coasts: sewage, litter, petroleum, synthetic chemicals, toxic metals and radioactive materials.
Indian coasts have a large variety of sensitive eco-systems. Sand dunes, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and wetlands deserve special mention. They are the spawning grounds and nursery of a number of commercially important fish, gastropods and crustaceans.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in India comprise national parks and wildlife sanctuaries declared in coastal wetlands, especially mangroves, coral reefs and lagoons, under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. There are a total of 26 Marine Protected Areas distributed in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Orissa, West Bengal, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The total area of the MPAs in India is 5,318.9 sq. km, which is very small (3.4%) compared to total extent of the Protected Areas (586 PAs covering 15.64 million ha. area) in the country.
In order to protect the coastal environment, the Govt. of India has issued a Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification in 1991 under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. According to the Notification, all the coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action (in the landward side) up to 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) and the land between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL are defined as Coastal Regulation Zone. Many restrictions are imposed on the setting up and expansion of industries, hotels, resorts, residential buildings and other kinds of developmental activities.
In supersession of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change have notified a new Coastal Regulations vide G.S.R 37(E), dated 18th January, 2019. The new CRZ Notification, 2019 has removed special provisions for Goa and Kerala and have been made uniform throughout the coastal states.
Coastal areas are classified into four categories depending on the importance of the area.
To access the complete notification in Hindi and English, click here.
Last Modified : 9/30/2020