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

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In order to Rohan Arthur, a marine biologist and scientist with the Foundation for the conservation of nature, the Lakshadweep it is a home away from home. But now there are problems in his paradise with a bunch of controversial regulations that threaten to turn both life and ecology upside down. In an interview withKetaki desai, Arthur analyzes the threats to the archipelago
When was your first trip to Lakshadweep and could you tell us why it is unique?
I first went to Lakshadweep in 1996 and have been back almost every year since. I am a marine biologist and have been studying the effects of climate change on reefs.
The Lakshadweep has been central to my intellectual life and is a home away from home. It meets all the requirements of being an island paradise. The people are among the warmest and most welcoming communities I have ever been to.
While I have spent the past 20 years concerned about the impacts 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 controversial is the one that gives the administrator a free hand with infrastructure projects. How damaging do you think it will be for the ecology of the area?
The rules are arbitrary and unfair and take the agency away from local communities. They represent a change in the relationship that the administration is establishing with local society, a relationship so far 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 make the island’s delicate ecology fall apart. undo completely.
Lakshadweep’s vision appears to be to build a mini Maldives. Is that such a bad thing?
At first glance, it seems perfectly normal to model a development plan in the Maldives, where the tourism model is making millions. The Lakshadweep, to the naked eye, looks like the Maldives in every way, shape and form. But they are completely different places.
First, the population density in the Maldives is half that of the Lakshadweep. The Maldives have a large number of uninhabited islands within their atolls that are perfect for tourist activity. Beyond that, the prevailing model of tourism in the Maldives does not return its profits to local communities; Despite high-end tourism, it is international business interests that reap the benefits. If that’s your definition of progress and development, then sure, it makes some sense, but not from the perspective of local communities and certainly not from the perspective of ecological integrity.
The Maldives has one of the highest levels of reef fishing, mostly to cater to the tourism industry. In Lakshadweep, commercial reef fishing began only a few years ago, which in itself is concerning, but if you add to that the additional pressures that tourism would impose, we are seeing something that could be devastating to the ecosystem.
The main ecological problem facing Lakshadweep right now is climate change. What we are seeing is an island whose habitability will be in question for the next two decades. Research suggests that these islands, and coral atolls in general, may no longer be habitable by the turn of the century – that’s only two generations away.
Why is the Lakshadweep in such a precarious position when it comes to climate change?
To explain that, I need to explain a bit how the coral atoll is formed. The coral atoll is a ring-shaped structure that encloses a coral lagoon. The island of the atoll is within that shallow lagoon. The island itself is made up of broken corals and other biologically generated materials from the reef. Think of this atoll setting as an underwater fortress, protecting the island within.
The highest point of the island is 2-3 m above sea level, which makes it vulnerable to storms and waves. However, as long as the atoll frame is intact, the islands remain relatively safe. The framework is living, self-healing and dependent on the constant activity of the growing coral. What has been happening for the last two decades is that the ability of this framework to self-repair is increasingly being questioned by coral mortality events, triggered by ocean warming. 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 state of constant stalled recovery, which means that the outer reef’s ability to continue growing is diminishing. In a study we just completed, we showed that in places like Kavaratti, the capital, the reef is eroding faster than its ability to grow. We keep thinking about climate change that will happen in the future, that is not true in Lakshadweep, it is happening right now. That is the context in which the administration intends to focus on tourism development.
How do you see the relationship between ecology and culture on the islands?
Until now, the people of Lakshadweep have been living within the boundaries of the islands’ ecological integrity. They are among the most educated people in the country. When I talk about it being a paradise, a lot of that also resides in your society. They are peaceful people who take care of each other and where they live. These new plans will remove the agency from the islanders. Once you hand that over to developers the islanders don’t have much to say about, I shudder to think where it would lead.



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