Maldives-like development pattern likely to devastate Lakshadweep | India News


For Rohan Arthur, marine biologist and scientist with the Foundation for Nature Conservation, the Lakshadweep is a home away from home. But now there are problems in his paradise with a bunch of contentious regulations threatening to turn both life and ecology upside down. In an interview withKetaki Desai, Arthur discusses threats to the archipelago
When was your first trip to Lakshadweep and can you tell us why it is unique?
I first went to the Lakshadweep in 1996 and have been going back pretty much every year since. I am a marine biologist and I study the effects of climate change on reefs.
The Lakshadweep has been at the heart of my intellectual life, and it is a home away from home. It ticks all the boxes to be an island paradise. The people are some of the warmest and most welcoming communities I know.
As I have spent the past 20 years worrying about the effects of climate change on the reef, I have become increasingly concerned about the future of the island and the people who live there.
Among the proposed regulations, one of the most contentious is that which gives the administrator a free hand in infrastructure projects. How damaging do you think this will be for the ecology of the region?
The rules are arbitrary and unfair, and deprive local communities of their powers. They represent a change in the relationship that the administration establishes with local society – a relationship that until now has been collaborative and respectful.
What I fear about these new regulations is that by replacing all existing regulations (including several important environmental standards), they give the administration carte blanche to pursue a potentially disastrous development plan that could completely destroy the delicate ecology of the island.
Lakshadweep’s vision seems to be to build a mini Maldives. Is this such a bad thing?
At first glance, it seems quite normal to model a development plan on the Maldives, where the tourism model is in the millions. The Lakshadweep, on a casual look, resembles the Maldives in every way, shape and form. But these are completely different places.
First, the population density in Maldives is half of what it is in Lakshadweep. The Maldives are full of uninhabited islands within their atolls, ideal for tourist activities. Beyond that, the tourism model that prevails in the Maldives does not reinvest its profits back into local communities – despite high-end tourism, it is international business interests that reap the benefits. If that is your definition of progress and development, then of course that makes some sense, but not from the point of view of local communities and certainly not from the point of view of ecological integrity.
The Maldives have one of the highest levels of reef fishing, most to serve the tourism industry. In the Lakshadweep, commercial reef fishing started just a few years ago, which in itself is worrying, but add to that the extra pressures that tourism would bring, and you’re looking for something that could be devastating to the island. ecosystem.
The main ecological problem facing Lakshadweep today is climate change. What we are looking at is an island whose very livability is in question over the next two decades. Research suggests that these islands, and coral atolls in general, may not remain habitable by the turn of the century – this is only two generations away.
Why is the Lakshadweep in such a precarious position in the face of climate change?
To explain this I have to explain a bit how the coral atoll is formed. The coral atoll is a ring-shaped structure that encloses a coral lagoon. The atoll island is located in this shallow lagoon. The island itself is formed from broken coral and other materials biologically generated by the reef. Think of this atoll setting as an underwater fortress, which protects the island inside.
The highest point on the island is 2-3m above sea level, making it vulnerable to storms and waves. However, as long as the atoll frame is intact, the islands remain relatively safe. The frame is a living, self-repairing frame that depends on the constant activity of the growing coral. What has happened over the past two decades is that this framework’s ability to self-repair is increasingly challenged by coral mortality events – triggered by warming oceans. . We have had three such events since 1998, and each event has been more intense than the last.
Given the frequency of these disturbances, the reef is now in a steady state of halted recovery, which means that the ability of the outer reef to continue growing is diminishing. In a study we just completed, we show that in places like Kavaratti, the capital, the reef is eroding faster than its capacity to grow. We keep thinking about climate change that will happen in the future, it is not true in the Lakshadweep – it is happening right now. It is in this context that the administration plans to focus on the development of tourism.
How do you see the relationship between ecology and culture on the islands?
Until now, the inhabitants of the Lakshadweep have lived roughly within the limits of the islands’ ecological integrity. They are among the most educated people in the country. When I say it’s a paradise, a big part of that is also in its society. They are peaceful people who take care of each other and the place where they live. These new plans will keep islanders away from the agency. Once you’ve given that to the developers that Islanders don’t have much to say about, I shudder at the thought of where it would lead.

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