The Hindu , 01 February 2006

Protest against move to close down CMFRI aquarium

Thiruvananthapuram: The organised protest against the move to close down the marine aquarium and research centre under the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) at Vizhinjam, near here, is snowballing into a popular movement with various mass organisations expressing solidarity with the campaign.

A galaxy of leaders belonging to various political parties have visited the aquarium over the last two weeks to pledge support to the local people who have vowed to resist any move to shift the facility.

On Tuesday, the Kovalam unit of the DIC(K) took out a march to the aquarium. Party leader T.M. Jacob addressed the march. The protestors burnt CMFRI director Mohan Joseph in effigy.

A mass convention will be organised at Vizhinjam on February 8 to drum up support for the campaign. The action council has lined up the former CMFRI director M. Devaraj in the forefront of the movement.

Mr. Devaraj, who was instrumental in developing the aquarium and promoting research activities at the Vizhinjam centre during his tenure, feels that it would be foolish to close down the facility.

He told reporters here recently that the Vizhinjam centre was established with the aim of developing a multipurpose marine hatchery for seafarming of ornamental fishes and other commercially valuable species such as groupers, pearl oysters, rock lobster, mussels and seaweed.

In 2005, a high-level quinquennial review committee for Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) institutions recommended immediate steps for the development of the Vizhinjam research centre.

The team, headed by fisheries expert E.G. Silas, observed that the centre was ideally placed to monitor the rich marine biodiversity and ecosystem in the Vizhinjam- Minicoy- Maldives belt. It underlined the potential for the centre to be developed as a hub for the ornamental fish industry and a technology base for pearl oyster culture.

On the frequent algal blooms and the presence of marine toxins in the region, the committee highlighted the need to use the Vizhinjam unit to promote research on marine disease and pharmacology.

It recommended the setting up of a toxicology laboratory. The team urged the CMFRI to acquire the seafront site offered by the State Government and construct an aesthetically designed campus. The action council spearheading the campaign feels that the repeated moves to shift the aquarium from Vizhinjam were triggered by the failure of the ICAR to take possession of 1.7 acres offered by the State Government.

People's representatives, including Pannian Ravindran, MP, and Neelalohitadasan Nadar, Kovalam MLA, have called on the Central Government to drop the move to close down the centre. Mr. Ravindran alleges that key officials at the CMFRI and ICAR are working to sabotage the Vizhinjam centre.