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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman Islands offer white sandy beaches where you can relax, soak up the sun and enjoy various adventurous water sports activities. The Exotic Andaman tour package is a well-planned itinerary devised to offer you a memorable holiday. It includes a visit to the Radhanagar Beach, snorkeling at Elephant Beach, light & sound show inside the Cellular Jail, enjoy coral reefs to enjoy their abundant sea life and relaxing at Bharatpur beach and Laxmanpur Beach. Andaman is an ideal place for you to wind, away from stress of city life.

The Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago consists of over 345 islands, islets and rocky outcrops, with land area extending up to 8,249 km2 and a coastline stretch of 1,962 km; the Andaman Islands constitute 6408 km2 and the Nicobars 1841 km2. The Andaman Islands are the extension of the submerged Arakan Yoma Mountain range of Myanmar and the Nicobars are the continuation of the Mentawai Islands to the south and southeast of Sumatra. These two island groups situated in the Bay of Bengal span 6°45′ N to 13°41′ N (740 km) and 92°12′ E to 93°57′ E (190 km). The nearest land mass to Great Nicobar Island is Sumatra, 145 km. southeast; and the Myanmar coast is roughly 280 km north of Landfall Island, the northernmost island in the Great Andaman group.

The geology of both island groups has been described in detail (Oldham 1885; Gee 1925; Mahadevan & Easterson, 1983). The topography of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is hilly and undulating, the elevation in the Andamans is from 0 to 732 m, Saddle Peak being the highest in North Andaman Island. In the Nicobars the elevation rises from 0 to 568 m, Mt Thuillier being the highest peak on Great Nicobar Island. The Andaman Islands support one of the world’s most extensive mangrove ecosystems, almost 101,172 ha. Due to their long isolation, these islands have evolved significant diversity of flora and fauna with a high level of endemism; including Andaman affinities to Indo- China and Nicobar affinities to the Indo- Malayan.

Of the 306 islands in the Andamans and Nicobars, 33 are inhabited, 94 are designated as sanctuaries, including six areas as national parks, two of which are marine national parks, two areas and two islands as tribal reserves in the Andamans. The land area of 6408 km² in the Andamans constitutes 90% as reserves and protected areas of which 36% is tribal reserves. The entire Nicobar group is a tribal reserve and has four wildlife sanctuaries, two national parks and one biosphere reserve. Settlers from mainland India, numbering over 400,000, inhabit the Andaman Islands and the three original inhabitants; are marginalised to small areas in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands consists of very fragile island ecosystems and some of the most pristine in the world. These ecosystems are very diverse and support very unique flora and fauna. Both these island groups are a distinct eco region and are classified as one of the 12 biogeographical zones of India.

The landscape for large islands emerges from sea grass beds, coral reef or rocky outcrops, to beaches, littoral forest, Andaman slope forests, hilltops, into valleys and streams. Some of the dominant tree species in these luxuriant forests reach heights of 40- 60 m. In some areas in the Andamans along the west and the east coast, the landscape starts from reefs or rocky outcrops to steep rock faces with wind blown vegetation. The topography of all large islands in the Andamans, Little Andaman, Little Nicobar and Great Nicobar Islands, is mostly interlaced with perennial and seasonal freshwater streams and in some areas a matrix of mangrove creeks extending into marshes. Little Andaman Island has ecosystems that do not occur anywhere else in the Andamans or the Nicobars, mainly extensive fresh and saline water marshes and peat Of the total forest cover, dense forests with crown density of 40 % and above constitute 85. 9 %, open forests with crown density less than 40 % constitute 1. 7%. The mangroves occupy 12 % of the land area. The mangrove ecosystem are protected, in the Andaman Islands. Mangroves cover an area of 929 km² and in the Nicobar the extent is 37km². Grasslands are unique to the central group the Nicobars and occur on low hillsides of Teressa, Bompoka, Nancowry and Camorta and in the central part of Trinket. Lowland grasslands are restricted to Great Nicobar Islands mainly on the inland riverbanks.

The Andaman and Nicobars are fringed by one of the most spectacular reefs in the world and, currently they are not only significant for the Indian Ocean region, but are also globally significant. The Andaman reefs consist of about 83% of maximum coral diversity found any where in the world and is equal to the “Coral Triangle” of Indonesia.

Protected Areas
Being an island archipelago, the designated protected areas in the Andaman andNicobar Islands are very diverse and encompass unique habitats and complex ecosystems. Protected areas in the islands are as follows; tribal reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserve, protected and preserved forest; and a biosphere reserve. More recently in the year 2000 several areas and islands have been proposed as ‘Important Bird Areas’ and most of these areas are tribal reserves or are other protected area and islands.

Tribal Areas
An area of 513.70km² along the west coast of South Andaman Island is notified as a tribal reserve for the Jarawa people. This reserve extends north along the same coast into Middle Andaman Island, extending the reserve for another 338. 69 km². A 5 km distance into the sea from the high tide line right along the entire stretch of the Jarawa Reserve is alsonotified as part of the reserve. Strait Island, 6.01 km² in area, on the east coast of Middle Andaman Island supports a population of 29 of the last remaining Great Andamanese people. To the south west of South Andaman Island is North Sentinel Island with an area of 59. 67 km² and is inhabited by the Sentinalese people. The southern most island Little Andaman Island with a geographical area of 731. 57 km² and of this, 706. 49 km² with a distance of 3 km from the high tide line and into the sea along the coast has been notified as a tribal reserve for the Onge people.

The entire group of 24 Nicobar Islands is notified as tribal areas; only 1,499.65 ha along the east coast from Campbell bay and up to 35 km is outside the Tribal Area and is inhabited by ex-servicemen, traders, government departments and the residents. Great Nicobar has a total area of 1044. 54 km² and of which 853. 19 km² is the tribal reserve, for both, the 380 Shompen people and the Nicobarese people.

Parks and Sanctuaries
The Archipelago has four national parks in the Andamans, Mahatma Gandhi Marine,Mount Harriet, Rani Jhansi Marine and Saddle Peak National Parks. The Nicobars have two areas notified as national parks and an area in Great Nicobar designated as the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve. Within the area of 960.40 km² in Great Nicobar Island, 110 km² is the Galathea National Park, situated on the south east of the island. On the east coast an area of 476. 73 km² is notified as the Campbell Bay National Park. An area of 885 km² includes the Nicobar Biosphere Reserve and all these parks are within the tribal area. These parks areunique, very diverse and are important biodiversity hot spots, besides being the last remaining pristine areas in the archipelago. Some of these national parks needs to be recognised as world heritage sites and some should come under the Ramsar Wetlands.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs have long been recognized as one of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth, forming a broad belt around the subtropical-tropical zone that is even visible from space. Any geologist or biologist knows that corals are found in shallow, well-lit, nutrientpoor tropical seas where the polyps are packed with symbiotic algae that provide them with energy, help them to grow and produce the calcareous skeletons that eventually form limestone when they die. Tropical coral reefs form complex habitats that act as centres of evolution in providing opportunities for species specialization. These coral reefs support some of the most diverse species assemblages in the marine realm. The survival of shallow-water tropical reefs is currently causing great concern internationally which may be linked to human-induced climate change, and other threats. To use tropical coral reefs as an example, it is estimated that 60 per cent of reefs are seriously at threat from human activities.

We live in a complex world where change is happening at ever increasing speeds and nothing can be dealt with in isolation from the forces that affects it. Increasing globalisation has meant that what happens in one place of the world affects other parts far away. Climate change is one example of the outcome of these global forces, which threatens to disrupt and alter much of the world around us. Coral reefs are one of the early indicators of this change; they are fragile and respond quickly to adverse pressures. These pressures are increasing and coral reefs are coming under greater threat. Their decline is a warning to us all.

Coral reefs are not just valuable as indicators of change; they have intrinsic value and contribute to local and global economies. Recently this has been widely studied and reported, improving our perception of the significance of reefs. While we may value coral reefs as an important part of our global environment, many people depend upon reefs for their very survival. These people include some of the poorest in the world and they derive many benefits from coral reefs that enable them to sustain their impoverished livelihoods in spite of great difficulties. They benefit, not just from the food the reef provides, but also in many other ways that contribute to the physical, social, economic, spiritual and cultural aspects of their lives. These benefits are complex and we are only just beginning to fully appreciate their relationships with and importance for the poor. Reefs are mainly found in developing countries where a substantial proportion of the population is living in poverty. Dependence on coral reefs, particularly subsistence fishing, is often quoted as being vital to the livelihoods of many poor indigenous coastal communities.

On the Andaman Islands during the rough weather season months, from June to October, distant fishing grounds and offshore areas are inaccessible. However, nearby reefs can still be reached and assure a source of income, and protein, throughout the year, providing an important alternative to vegetable protein sources which increase in price during the rough weather season.

Indian coral reefs are mainly in the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands. On the main land, coral reef formations are found in the Palk Bay, Gulf of Manner, Gulf of Kutch and Malwan coast. When sea grasses grow on Kavaratti atoll, mangroves are prevalent on Andaman and Nicobar coral reefs. Primary productivity of Indian coral reefs is comparable with that of the reefs of the rest of the world.

The total coral reef area in India is 5,790 sqkm, distributed between 4 major regions:
Lakshadweep; Gulf of Mannar; Gulf of Kutch; and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Andaman & Nicobar group of Islands is located in the SE of the Bay of Bengal, between 6°-14° N latitude and 91°-94° E longitude. They are the emerged part of a mountain chain and lie on a ridge that extends southward from the Irrawaddy delta area of Burma, continuing the trend of the Arakan Yoma range. The Andaman and Nicobar consist of 530 islands, with extensive fringing reefs which are mostly in good condition. of which only 38 are inhabited alongwith a number of exposed islets and rocks. The principal of these is the North Andaman, Middle Andaman with Ritchies archipelago to the east, South Andaman, little Andaman, Baratang and Rutland Island. In these island groups there are two Marine National Parks viz., Mahatma Gandhi and Rani Jhansi Marine National Parks. The coral fauna is diverse when compared to other parts of India.

In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there are 203 hard coral species with Porites spp. being dominant in the northern and southern Andaman Islands, while Acropora spp. dominates the middle Andaman and the Nicobar Islands. The 1998 bleaching had far less effect on corals in the archipelago compared to other parts of the region. Currently live coral cover averages 65% and about 1,200 fish species have been recorded. The diversity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has greater affinity to Southeast Asia than to other reef areas in the South Asian Region due to the currents in the north-eastern Indian Ocean promoting larval exchanges with Southeast Asia. The Andaman reefs contain about 80% of the maximum coral diversity found anywhere in the world, making them the richest coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and an area of global significance. From satellite imagery Turner et al. calculated the total reef area for the islands as 11,939 km2. The reef structure around the Andaman Islands, is mainly offshore coral growth on exposed banks, shallow gradual sloping fringing reefs on the windward shores, reef patches in bays, and steep sloping channel reefs in sheltered narrows. Fringing reefs consist of gradual reefs sloping seaward off moderate reef flats, sometimes with extensive flats. Reef slopes rarely exceed 20 m depths levelling off to a sand base colonized by massive coral colonies. Offshore reefs consist of an elevated plateau occasionally bordered by steep slopes into deeper water. Interestingly, the most diverse reef areas identified by Turner et al., coincide with the main fishing areas for fishers from North, Middle and South Andaman Islands.

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