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HISTORY The coral world of Lakshadweep

Coral reefs can give you the strangest sensation in the world. One moment you can be swimming in twenty feet of water, and moments later you could be floating in 10000 feet. Nowhere else in the world can a few strokes of swimming make such a dramatic difference.

That’s what can happen to you at Lakshadweep. At the reef’s edge, the water is green and shallow and you can see sand and coral below you. Then you cross the reef, and all of a sudden the bottom of your marine world disappears. The colour beneath you turns a dark, deep and sometimes frightening blue. It’s like you have stepped off a cliff. The truth is, that’s exactly what you’ve done.

We in India are lucky to have islands like those in the Lakshadweep Archipelago. The water in their lagoons is so clear that even from a helicopter several hundred feet above, you can see fish moving in the water. The islands have palm trees and golden beaches. Yet, all this beauty fades when compared to the treasures you find underwater. Beneath, exists one of the world’s most beautiful wildernesses – the underwater realm of a coral reef.

THE MAKING Lakshadweep Adventure

When I was younger, windsurfing used to be my favourite sport. There was not a single weekend when I wasn’t on Pune’s Khadakvasla Lake. For several years we surfed in the lake waters’, till one day someone suggested we try surfing somewhere more challenging, like in the ocean. That’s when the planning began and a few months later we found ourselves in the Lakshadweep Islands – our mission to windsurf between the islands.

Thankfully none of us had any idea of the challenges that lay ahead, because if we did we might have thought twice of attempting what we planned. Out in the deep ocean there is a swell: one moment you are up 20 feet and the next you are down another 20. In addition, there are other things to worry about like sharks, barracudas and jellyfish, to name a few. Then there are winds and storms and the possibility of getting lost in the immense expanses of the sea.

Maybe it was a blessing that we had no idea of what awaited us. We sailed and we succeeded. But more important was the experience of the islands, its people, and the fabulous coral wilderness below. It was from this that my story ‘Lakshadweep Adventure’ was born – my very first book.

GEOGRAPHY of Lakshadweep

300 kms of the coast of Kerala lie a string of coral islands that stretch southwards, all the way to the to the equator. There are more than a 1000 islands in all. Some 30 odd islands, the northernmost ones, are the Lakshadweep Islands, and the rest are the Maldives.

There was a chain of volcanic islands long before in this region of the Arabian Sea. The volcanoes have died long since and the islands we see today are their remnants. Over a period of time, most islands disappear, especially when the volcano that thrust them out of the sea dies. The sea is an unforgiving place, and its waves constantly batter the islands, till they erode and fall back into the sea.

The reason the islands have survived the

onslaught of the waves is because of a marine organism called coral. Coral flourishes in shallow waters near the equator, which are warm and clear. So when these islands were formed, coral took root on their shores. Over the years the coral multiplied and strengthened into reefs. Coral is an extremely hard substance, as strong as concrete. The coral reefs that formed on these islands banded together like a concrete wall, keeping out the sea. Even today, the only reason the sea does not wash away the Lakshadweep and Maldives Islands is because of the coral that protects them.

These islands are coral atolls – islands that are protected by a coral reef that completely surrounds them. If you imagine a volcano with a crater, the reef flourishes on the walls of the crater. Inside the boundaries of the crater and coral is the lagoon, which is an area of calm, shallow water. The islands are found inside the lagoon.

So that’s what these islands are. A collection of long-dead volcanic craters with lagoons inside them . The presence of coral reefs lining the craters is what protects them and ensures their protection from the sea.

GLOBAL WARMING and the threat to the islands

If what scientists say about global warming is true then the coral paradise of Lakshadweep is doomed.

Consider this: ninety-nine percent of the area of all the Lakshadweep Islands is at sea level. So, if because of global warming the icebergs in Antarctica start to melt, and the sea level rises, the first places on earth that will go under are its coral islands. The islands are far too low to save. The world can only watch and silently shed tears for their loss of its most beautiful places.

It’s not just the Lakshadweep Islands that face submergence, but even the Maldives, and all the thousands of coral atolls spread across our tropical oceans. It will be a tragedy of global proportions. It isn’t the kind of tragedy that will result in loss of human life – probably no one will die – but the damage will be irreparable, the unique beauty and charm of these fabulous islands will be lost to us forever, a permanent blot on human conscience.