Kutch’s Coral Reefs

Kutch’s Coral Reefs

Of more than 100 national parks in India, only about six are marine parks. The first was the Marine National Park and Sanctuary located in the Gulf of Kutch on the western shore. Not only does the reserve draw in tourists, but it also contains some of the most northerly coral reefs in the world as well as diverse marine life.

The image above shows the Gulf of Kutch and part of the Indian state of Gujarat on March 11, 2021, as acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The Marine National Park and Sanctuary is located on the southern shoreline of the gulf, along the Jamnagar coast.

Established in 1980, the marine sanctuary spans about 450 square kilometers (170 square miles) spanning from the mouth of the gulf near Okha towards the head near Jodiya. In 1982, a core area within the sanctuary was declared a national park. The reserve primarily protects two major ecosystems: corals and mangroves.

Due to its wide temperature range and high salinity, the gulf has fewer species than the other reef ecosystems around the world. Even so, about 40 species of hard coral and 10 species of soft coral live in the protected area. The reserve also contains seven species of mangroves, which are important breeding grounds for birds such as the painted stork, darter and black-necked Ibis.

The sanctuary is also home to more than 40 species of sponges, starfish, octopuses, puffer fish, and dolphins. Nearby beaches serve as breeding grounds for the green sea turtle, while deeper areas are home to the endangered whale shark.

The national park consists of 42 islands, most of which are surrounded by coral reefs. Visitors are only permitted to explore two islands: Pirotan and Narara. Pirotan is the most popular island for coral viewing. Narara contains mangrove forests as well as salt pans, a major product of Gujarat state. The detailed views on this page show the two islands as observed on February 8, 2021, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8.

The Gulf of Kutch is well known for its extreme daily tides, which are useful for viewing the underwater reefs. The difference between high and low tides can be more than four meters. When the tide is high, visitors can sail around the islands. When the tide is low, visitors can walk in ankle-high water at Pirotan and Narara and view the reefs, seagrasses, and animals without diving.

The Gulf of Kutch is one of four major coral reef formation sites around India. Like many corals around the world, India’s reefs are threatened by bleaching and by human activity. Scientists are working to preserve the corals in the marine reserve. They restored a family of staghorn corals to the gulf that had gone extinct about 10,000 years ago in 2015.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview and Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Kasha Patel.

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