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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N) is an archipelago of 306 islands and 206 rocks spread out in the Bay of Bengal. In the entire archipelago only 38 islands are inhibited, 11 in the Andaman group and the rest is the Nicobar. The total geographical area is 8,249 sq. km (Anon. 1986) and the islands stretch 700 km from north to south. The islands are summits of a submerged mountain range connecting the Arakan Yoma (Manipur – Burma) ranges, through the Coco and Preparis islands of Burma, to Banda Aceh in Sumatra and the Lesser Sundas.

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(Featherstars on Gorgonians, Image: Digant Desai)

The islands are an internationally acknowledged hot spot for biodiversity, with over 3,552 species of flowering plants (223 species endemic), 5,100 species of animals (100 freshwater, 2,847 terrestrial, 503 endemic) and 4,508 marine species (of which 220 are endemic), 52 species of mammals (33 species endemic), 244 species of birds (96 endemic) and 111 species of amphibians and reptiles (66 endemic) (Das, 1994, 1997, 1999; Andrews 2001). The islands have also reported 400 species of corals, with about 80% of the maximum coral diversity found anywhere in the world. This makes them one of the richest coral reefs in the  Indian Ocean and an area of global significance (Turner et al. 2001, Vousden 2001). This remarkable diversity is due to extraordinary variety of habitat types, ranging from sandy beaches to coral reefs, mangroves, mountains with dense forest and grasslands.

Schooling Bannerfish Heniochus diphereutesManta Ray Manta birostris

 Schooling Bannerfish Heniochus diphereutes            Manta Ray Manta birostris (mage: Digant Desai)

Star Puffer Arothron stellatusPriolepis sp

Star Puffer Arothron stellatus                               Priolepis sp

Aplysia parvulaCerberilla annulata

    Sea slug Aplysia parvula                                     Sea slug Cerberilla annulata

Platydoris scabraGymnodoris striata

Sea slug Platydoris scabra                                       Sea slug Gymnodoris striata

Gualtieris Moon Snail (Natica gualtieriana)Haliotis ovina

 Gualtieri's Moon Snail Natica gualtieriana Ear Shell Haliotis ovina

Hebra horridaNucleolaria nucleus

 Hebra horrida                                                    Nucleolaria nucleus

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Bivalve Lima lima                                                 Cerithium sp

Thuridilla lineolataFlatworm Pseudoceros tristriatus

Sea slug Thuridilla lineolata                                      Flatworm Pseudoceros tristriatus

Hermit crab Darnadus megistosStareye Hermit Crab Dardanus venosus

Hermit crab Darnadus megistos                              Stareye Hermit Crab Dardanus venosus

Falcon Mantis or Squilla Gonodactylus falcatusHeart urchin Brissopsis sp

 Falcon Mantis or Squilla Gonodactylus falcatus         Heart urchin Brissopsis sp

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eretmochelys imbricate

 Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eretmochelys imbricate (Image: Digant Desai)

Sea Shells

Sea shells do not really need an introduction. These are softbodied animals that are equipped by nature to build for themselves protective shells out of calcium carbonate. These wonderful marine animals and their equally beautiful shells have fascinated humankind for centuries, and have always been a part of human civilisation in some way or the other. Shells have been used as a currency, as a source of low-cost protein and in poultry food; they’ve been turned into souvenirs and jewellery; they have been prized for the pearls and mother of pearl they yield; they have been a rich source of calcium, and an ingredient in traditional medicines like Ayurveda and Unani; at times, they have been a symbol of worship. Shells have provided livelihood and nutrition to millions of people world over. They even form a part of our lore, with several mythical stories featuring giant octopuses, squids, giant clams and cowries.

Searching for sea shells on seashores is a skill which gets honed through experience. For a beginner, however, rock pools are the best place to start. During low tide, water remains among the rocks, forming rock pools where many species of sea shells can be easily seen.

Nassarius (Alectrion) glans glansGyrineum natator

Nassarius glans glans                                                           Gyrineum natator

Gutturnium muricinumMitra (Mitra) mitra

Gutturnium muricinum                                                            Mitra (Mitra) mitra

Cypraea tigrisConus tulipa

Cypraea tigris                                                                          Conus tulipa

 

For common marine gastropods, get my new book ‘Sea Shells of India: An Illustrated Guide to Common Gastropods’. The book illustrates about 450 common gastropod shells in colour.

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Lion’s of the Ocean

 

Lion’s of the Ocean

Lionfishes is a group of venomous marine fish, native to the Indo-Pacific and belongs to the family Scorpaenidae. Pterois is characterized by conspicuous warning coloration with red, white, creamy, or black bands, brightly coloured pectoral fins, and venomous fin rays. Lionfish venom can cause extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, redness on the affected area, headache, numbness, paresthesia (pins and needles), heartburn, diarrhea, and sweating. Rarely, such stings can cause temporary paralysis of the limbs, heart failure, and even death. Fatalities are common in very young children, the elderly, those with a weak immune system, or those who are allergic to their venom. Their venom is rarely fatal to healthy humans.

The lionfishes are voracious feeders and are carniverous. There are total 15 species of lionfishes worldwide. These are known to live up to 15 years. They feed mostly on small fish, invertebrates, and molluscs.

In India five species of lionfishes are commonly found primarily in the coral reef areas of Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar and Gulf of Mannar.

Spotfin Lionfish Pterois antennata: This is an uncommon species compared to its relatives. Note the filamentous extensions and blue spots on the dorsal fin.

Spotfin Lionfish

 

Clearfin Lionfish Pterois radiata: Has distinct horizontal white lines on its caudal fin. This is the only lionfish species which has spines without any markings.

Clearfin Lionfish Pterois radiata

 

Red Lionfish Pterois volitans: one of the most wide spread species and very popular in marine aquariums.

 

Lionfish Pterois volitans

 

Common Lionfish Pterois miles: It is smaller than Red Lionfish. The dorsal fin appears feathery and the pectoral fins are wing-like with separate broad, smooth rays.

Pterois miles

 

Zebra Lionfish Dendrochirus zebra: Pectoral fins are large, banded and fan-like that flare out on either side of the body. It has thirteen venomous spines along its back.

Dendrochirus zebra

 

Shores of Silence

Sandy Shores

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Sandy beaches are formed by accumulation of sand particles driven by wind and water currents. The sand grain profile varies from location to location but are always scattered with pebbles, gravels and broken shells. The sandy beach have many physical structures formed due to wave action and wind such as sand flat, sand dunes, sand bar, sand ditches and cusps etc. Sandy beaches are classified on the basis of sand structures formed, wave action, surf zone and the sand grain size. Water filtration and retention capacity depends upon the sand grain size. Sand water holding capacity increases with the decreasing grain size.

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Moon crab and Olive shell doing disappearing act when disturbed


The sandy shore fauna are highly adapted, diverse and ecologically significant group and depends on the sand grain size and compactness of sediment. Due to high energy waves sand substrate tends to change and hence the faunal composition. Some are burrowing, tube dwelling etc. Macro fauna of sandy beach includes molluscs, crustaceans, and polychetes. Meiofauna consist of copepods, harpacticoid and nematodes. Microfauna contain protozoan such as forameniferans and diatoms. 

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 Forameniferans                                                                   Worms

Sandy beaches are very important economically and socially. Sandy shore provides protection against strong wave actions and storms. Increasing human interaction with these areas for either recreational or for developmental purpose is an important cause of disturbance for the biodiversity of sandy shore and pollution of beaches.

Types of Beaches

The formation of various sand structures, sand grain size and interaction of waves on shore leads to different profiles and shapes of sandy beaches. The intertidal fauna varies according to the beach types.

Beaches are generally classified into three major categories based on their shape and vertical profile.

Reflective: Reflective beaches are steeper than intermediate and dissipative beaches. The surf zone is less than 10 m and sand grain size is coarse. Waves have low energy.

Dissipative: Dissipative beaches are broader and flatter. The surf zone is more than 100 m wide and sand grain size is fine .Wave action is strong in this type of beach.

Intermediate: Intermediate beaches have intermediate characters of reflective and dissipative beaches.


Sandy shore fauna
Sand crabs are known make spectacular designs on beaches. Olive, button and screw shells and moon crabs are common inhabitats of sandy beaches. Golden Jackel hunt ghost crabs while several birds feed on burroing worms. Sea turtles use them for egg laying. Some specialized sea slugs inhabit sandy shores.
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Take a walk on the nearby sandy shore and try to note different types of burrowing animals.

Fascinating Inter-tidal Life

Inter-tidal areas provide a number of opportunities to understand rich marine biodiversity. Many animals are small and cryptic and thus need little patience to find. Coming winter take a walk on the shore and explore fascinating sea life. Do not collect the animals. Its best watch them live than in jars. For identification use Field Guide to the Marine Life of India.

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DSCN69921Asteronotus cespitosus

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