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Coral reef sniff off Konark coast

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 15: Exciting discoveries seem to be in the offing with well-known scuba diver Shabir Bux sighting fish species that indicate the existence of coral reefs in the sea between Chandrabhaga coast and Ramachandi in the Konark area.

Bux, who runs a scuba diving centre near the Lotus Resort, 6km from Chandrabhaga, claims to have identified 60 coral species of fish, including stone fish, 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, though himself, is yet to come across a reef.

Bux, who said scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, might visit the area in February, had along with some NGOs dropped some artificial reefs in the sea off the Astarang and Chandrabhaga coasts six to seven years ago. The diver does not rule out the possibility of some of these having grown big enough to attract the new fish species.

The state’s chief wildlife warden J.D. Sharma said the government was yet to come across any concrete evidence in this regard. “It’s hard to say anything till solid evidence is available,” said Sharma.

But, former director of the Geological Survey of India B.M. Faruque said evidence of living corals had been found in the sea off Gopalpur coast sometime between the 60s and the 70s. “Elsewhere in Odisha, though, I am not aware of any evidence of corals having been found,” he said.

Corals, which are semi-precious material widely used in making jewellery, are formed by the fluctuation in the sea level that began thousands of years ago.

“The rise in the sea level began around 18,000 years ago and then it stopped in the middle. When that happens, corals are formed,” Faruque said.

Though corals often form not far from the coast and are found at depths of 25 to 35 metres, they need a certain level of salinity to be nourished. “This salinity in Odisha often gets diluted as so many rivers drain into the sea,” said Faruque, pointing out why the occurrence of coral reefs in the state might not be frequent.

Odisha, as it is, has 480km of coastline, but the salinity level of the sea often fluctuates because of a number of factors, including prawn farming which is rampant in districts such as Puri, Balasore, Bhadrak and Jagatsinghpur. The state boasts of Asia’s largest brackish water lake, Chilika, which was formed by the backwaters of the sea.

With the salinity of the sea thus diluted in long stretches, the discovery of coral reefs along the Chandrabhaga coast would be great news. But, the scientific community awaits more concrete evidence on this front.

“We have only heard about it. Such things have also been heard of in the Gopalpur area. But, there is no concrete evidence as yet for that requires thorough exploration. As of now, we don’t propose to make such explorations,” said Rita Jayshankar, principal scientist at Puri field centre of the Central Marine Fisheries Institute.