The Exotic Lakshadweep Islands
The palm covered islands of Lakshadweep make up what is arguably the least known part of India. These 36 islands, totaling a mere 18 square miles, lie 180 miles off of India's western coast. Ninety-three percent of the 60,000 residents are Muslim giving these islands their own distinct culture. Nonetheless, mention the Lakshadweeps to experienced travel agents in the U.S. and you are likely to be greeted by vacant stares. Very few visitors come here from the U.S. and in fact special permits are needed to visit all but a few of the Lakshadweep Islands.
After a 90 minute flight from the subcontinent, our small group was met on the island of Agatti by Seacology's newest field representative, Vineeta Hoon. We were escorted to our boat by several locals performing a traditional knife dance (pictured right). We then boarded a boat for a two hour ride to Bangaram Island, our home for the next few days.
In the Lakshadweeps Seacology has supported two projects. On Kavaratti Island Seacology funded the construction of an environmental education center in exchange for the establishment of a 500-acre marine protected area. On Minicoy Island we funded both a museum and guard post in exchange for a 2,471-acre marine and mangrove protected area. As previously mentioned, special permits are needed to visit these islands and given Indian's propensity for red tape they are not easy to obtain. In fact just one month before our arrival the President of India came to the Lakshadweeps and she was denied permission to meet with residents on some of the islands! Unfortunately like the President of India our permits were not forthcoming. Instead we had Jafer Hisham and marine biologist Idrees Babu of Lakshadweep Marine Research and Conservation Centre (LMRCC) come to Bangaram to brief us on the progress of the projects, both of which are going well.(That's Jafer briefing us in the adjacent photo.)
In addition to their nightly briefing, Jafer and Idrees presented Seacology gifts from the respective islands. Below left, Jafer and Idrees present a painting from Kavaratti; below right, Jafer and Vineeta present a model of a traditional Minicoy boat to Seacology board member Marsha Williams.
The next day several of us went scuba diving to check up on the health of the local marine ecosystems. The news was decidedly mixed. Much of the coral reef had died due to an El Nido/global warming incident of several years ago. Coral can only live in a narrow temperature range and if the water becomes too warm the coral dies. Some of the corals were, however, starting to regenerate. The fish life was doing fine. We came across many nurse sharks, octopuses, turtles, Napoleon wrasse, etc. To mark the importance of preserving reefs we unfurled a "Save Our Reefs" banner underwater. That's me on the top left of the banner (pictured right, courtesy of Vineeta Hoon). Putting this "Save Our Reefs' slogan into immediate action, Seacology group members Marsha Williams and Stefanie Coyote spent several hours freeing a trapped turtle from a drifting fishing net.
We ended our sojourn by visiting a local school on Agatti. Below left, the Seacology group in a classroom; below right, the Seacology group with the principal outside of the school. Many of the students were dockside to see us off after our visit (pictured bottom). A perfect ending to a beautiful stay in the Lakshadweeps.