GULF OF MANNAR MARINE NATIONAL PARK
The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park is a protected area consisting of 21 small islands in the Indian Ocean. There are some coral reefs adjacent, that belongs to this Park. These islands and coral reefs are in the Gulf of Mannar about 10 kms. away from the east coast of Tamil Nadu. The area consists of area between Tuticorin and Dhanushkodi. The extent of this area is about 160 kms. and consists of the core area which is the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve and the first ever Marine Biosphere in South East Asia. The Biosphere is separated from south eastern part of India by Palk Straits, also known as Rama’s Bridge. There is a buffer zone of 10 kms. and will include the populated coastal areas.
The Park can be accessed only with glass bottomed boats. These islands are 21 kms. away from the mainland coast. The marine life consists of plants and animals of wide diversity. The 21 islands within the park are of various sizes and in all, accounts for 6.23 sq. kms. The islands are formed in to 4 groups and the sizes as per the groups are:
- The Tuticorin group consists of Vaan (16.00 hectares), Koswari (19.5 hectares), Vianguchalli (0.95 hectares) and Kariyachalli (16.46 hectares).
- The Vembar group has Uppu Thanni (22.94 hectares), PuluviniChalli (6.12 hectares) and Nalla Thanni (101 hectares). This island has become populated of late.
- The Kilakarai group has seven islands and they are Anaipar (11.00 hectares), Vali Munai (6.72 hectares), Poovarasan Patti (0.50 hectares), Appa (28.63 hectares), Talairi (75.15 hectares), Valai (10.10 hectares) and Mulli (10.20 hectares) and
- The Mandapam group includes Musal (124.00 hectares), Manoli (25.90 hectares), Manoli Putti (2.34 hectares), Poomarichan (16.58 hectares), Pullivasal (29.95 hectares), Kurusadai (65.80 hectares) where it has been recently populated and Shingle (12.69 hectares)
Rampant coral mining has undermined the life of some of the islands. The Vaan island has split in to two and unless steps are taken, the island will cease to exist.
The entire area from Pamban to Tuticorin Barrier Reef was initially declared a Marine National Park in 1986. In 1989, the National Park was given the status of a Biosphere Reserve.
The shallow waters of Kurusadai contain three species of sea grass not found anywhere else in India. The Marine Park has a great collection of estuaries, mudflats, forests and beaches in the near shore area. There are coral reefs, communities of sea weeds, salt marshes, mangroves and sea grasses. Like some of the other marine parks in India, mangroves hold sway in the inter tidal zones of this park. There are about 5 genuses of mangroves which are Rizophora, Avicennia, Bruguiera, Ceriops and Luminitzera. A flowering herb, Pemphis acidula is the only endemic plant although the Prosopis genus tree species which had been introduced in the islands are dominant now. The trees found are those of the tropical broad leaf variety and are found on the beaches and estuaries. .There is a recorded 12 species of sea grass and 147 species of sea weeds in the entire zone. All these vegetation provides food to Dugong, the Olive Ridley sea turtles and also to the Green turtles.
Dugong, which is an endangered mammal, is the most prized of the lot. There are the Cetaceans, which include the bottle nosed dolphins, finless porpoise, sea horses, pearl oysters, barracuda, worms, spinner dolphin and the common dolphin and out of about 2200 fin fish species found in and around India, about 510 species are found in this Park. This makes the park a distinguished fish habitat in India. There are ornamental fish species like the butterfly fish, parrot fish, clown fish, squirrel fish, snappers and sergeant majors.
The island of Kurusadai has animals of the phylum family except amphibians. There are about 35 known species in the particular animal phylum family.
The invertebrates living in the park are lobsters, shrimp, 106 varieties of crabs, 17 species of sea cucumbers, 466 species of molluscs, 174 species of bivalves, 5 types of polyplacophorans, 271 species of gastropods, 16 of cephalopods, 108 species of sponge, 5 species of scaphopods, and 100 species of echinoderm.
There are 106 species of coral fauna, 300 genus of hermatypes and 11 species from 10 genuses of ahermatypes. There are 13 new found species and the Park has a vivid collection of 117 species from14 families and 40 genuses.
About 150 metre to 300 metres from these islands are found the fringing reefs and patch reefs. They are found in depths varying from 2 to 9 metres that extends up to 2 kms. in length and 50 metres wide.
The coral reefs are said to be healthy though some part of these corals are dead and covered with algae. Pollution has been said to be the cause of death of these delicate coral reefs.
This is also a stopover point for many migratory birds as most of the islands are uninhabited. The sea birds and warders are quite common apart from about 180 species of birds visiting these islands. The bird watchers will have the unique opportunity of seeing crab plovers, Bar tailed Godvit, Broad Billed Sandpiper, Red Knot, Eastern knot, Dunlin, Red Necked Phalarope, Long toed stint and flocks of Flamingoes that gather here in winter.
There are about 125 villages on the fringes of the park and only three of the islands are inhabited. They are Kurusadai, Musal and Nalla Thanni. The people are mostly Marakeyars, believed to be from the fishing community.
Visitors can avail the glass bottomed boat facilities for viewing the underwater life. Birdwatchers will have an exciting time on trips to various islands.
The access to the Park is from Mandapam. There is a railway station at Mandapam, Rameswaram and at Tuticorin. There are regular buses to this park. The nearest airport is in Madurai, about 150 kms. from the Park.
WHEN TO GO
The Park is open the year round and there is no separate season for visiting the area. However, the best season considered is from October to March. The best days, though, will be on Sundays and national holidays. Visiting the islands require at least three days.
Visit to islands are not permitted but permits can be availed to visit these islands.
The park is open from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm and then from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm.
There is an entry fee and charges are Rs.10.00 per adult and Rs.5.00 per child
For more details: The Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, 76/1, Madurai Road, Mandapam, Ramanathapuram , Tamil Nadu.
There is no parking fee
There are hotels in Rameswaram and Mandapam. Some of the hotels in Rameswaram are:
- Daiwik Hotel: Tariff is upwards of Rs.2500.00.There is a good vegetarian restaurant.
- Hotel Brindavan Residency: This is close to Rameswaram Temple. The room tariff is from Rs.1200.00 onwards.
- Hotel MCM Towers: The tariff rates start at 1000.00 and near the sea shore. There is a restaurant.
- Hotel Royal Park: The room tariffs start at Rs.1200.00 per night. There is a good vegetarian restaurant.
- Hotel Queen Palace: The room tariffs start at Rs.1300.00. The hotel is not well liked by many visitors.
- Hotel Sunrise View: This hotel is in close proximity to the sea. The room tariff starts at Rs.1300.00.