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Fish sightings stoke Konark coral buzz
Scientists await more proof after diver claim

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 15: There’s excitement in the air with well-known scuba diver Shabir Bux sighting fish species that could indicate the existence of coral reefs off Konark, about 40km east of Puri.

Coral reefs can be a huge tourist attraction and a goldmine for marine biologists but their existence off the Odisha coast has never been conclusively proved though claims have surfaced from time to time. (See chart)

Bux hasn’t personally seen any coral reef but claims to have identified 60 species of fish that are known to live in these natural structures, including stonefish, puffer fish, butterfly fish and the damsel.

“These species are attracted by coral bases. In this area, there have also been reports of coral pieces getting stuck in the nets of local fishermen,” said the diver, who runs a scuba diving centre near the Lotus Resort, 6km from Chandrabhaga.

The findings have been made between the Chandrabhaga and Ramachandi coasts in the Konark area. Scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, may visit the area in February, Bux said.

He doesn’t rule out an alternative explanation, though.

Six to seven years ago, Bux had, along with some NGOs, dropped some artificial reefs in the sea off the Chandrabhaga coast and nearby Astarang. It’s possible, he said, that these artificial reefs had been attracting the new fish species.

Corals, which are semi-precious material and are widely used in jewellery, are usually found near the coast at depths of 25 to 35 metres. Fully developed reefs are sometimes visible from land.

Odisha’s chief wildlife warden, J.D. Sharma, said the government was yet to come across any concrete evidence about the existence of coral reefs off the state’s 480km coastline. “It’s hard to say anything till solid evidence is available,” he said.

Former Geological Survey of India director B.M. Faruque, however, said that some evidence of living corals had been found off the Gopalpur coast during the ’60s and ’70s.

“I’m not aware of any evidence of corals having been found elsewhere in Odisha,” he added.

Coral reefs need a certain level of salinity for their nourishment. “The salinity off the Odisha coast often gets diluted because so many rivers drain into the sea,” Faruque said.

The salinity also fluctuates because of the rampant prawn farming in districts such as Puri, Balasore, Bhadrak and Jagatsinghpur.

Scientists said they would wait for more evidence.

“We have heard about it (Bux’s findings). Similar claims were made for the Gopalpur coast too,” said Rita Jayshankar, principal scientist at the Puri field centre of the Central Marine Fisheries Institute.

“But there is no concrete evidence yet, since that requires thorough exploration. As of now, we don’t propose to make such explorations.”