Experts found the marine ecosystem near Astola Island

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KARACHI: A team of scuba divers found amazing wildlife and revealed that a very healthy and productive marine ecosystem exists near Astola Island.

To assess the environmental conditions, a team of PADI Certified Indus Scuba divers undertook a four-day expedition from 3 to 6 December 2020 to the area.

It was feared that because of the abundant corals found in the area, and the recent reporting of coral bleaching near Churna Island, Astola Island may also be at risk. However, the divers confirmed that no coral bleaching was found on Astola Island, a marine protected area (MPA).

The divers undertook surveys at important diving sites along Astola Island. Coral and associated habitats were observed to be teeming with marine life including important fishes, such as barracuda, trevallies, hot-lips as well lobsters, fan-worm, sea urchins, and soft corals. The team also dived into a shipwreck located about 4 km off Astola Island, which was also observed to have rich marine life.

The team leader also observed a number of green turtles nesting and laying eggs on the island’s beaches and observed juvenile turtles hatching and returning to the sea. WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the Indus scuba team in reporting this positive news about the healthy ecosystem of Astola Island.

Commenting on the report, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan said that Astola Island is the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) of the country.

He informed me that it is known to be rich in marine biodiversity and have a healthy ecosystem.

It was once the largest nesting ground of the great crested tern (Thalasseus bergii) globally, however, due to the introduction of feral cats and rats, nesting colonies have dwindled in the past few decades.

Astola Island is also an important nesting area of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and is considered an important fishing ground for fishermen of Pasni and other coastal areas in Balochistan.

Khan further added that the report of no coral bleaching near Astola Island is a sigh of relief as the widespread phenomenon may seriously affect coral and associated marine life. ‘In contrast to Churna Island, the existence of healthy coral habitats near Astola Island is due to negligible industrial activities in the vicinity of the Astola Island,’ he added.

Coral habitats harbor the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally and directly support over 500 million people worldwide, mostly in poor countries. 

Corals are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, largely due to unprecedented global warming and climate changes, combined with growing local pressures. In order to ensure long-lasting protection of Astola Island and the conservation of its unique habitat, WWF calls for the development of a management plan for the island as a Marine Protected Area to ensure the protection of coral.

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