The Hindu , 25 February 2006

Fishermen net starfish off Cuddalore coast

CUDDALORE: The netting of starfish off Cuddalore coast on Thursday has surprised fishermen, ecologists and marine scientists. Of late, the seafaring fishermen are said to be sighting frolicking dolphins not far away from the Cuddalore coast.

Recently a dead dolphin was washed ashore, and this drew curious visitors in droves to Suba Uppalavadi coastal hamlet. Afterwards, the fishermen have become wary of not capturing any dolphins, because they are told that these were endangered species, and hence, if hunted down the poachers would face penal action.

Prized possession

Therefore, if any new catch were found the fishermen have made it a habit to dispose it off surreptiously. Similarly, when a batch of fishermen returned to the shore after their expedition on Thursday, they found a couple of cherry-red five-armed starfish (asteroidean) in one of the nets.

The fishermen willingly handed these over to certain morning walkers on the shore. Since, the starfish have no edible value, these are readily discarded, whereas for the nature-lovers it is a prized possession.

Director of Centre of Advanced Study in Marine Biology (of Annamalai University) T.Balasubramanian told The Hindu that the occurrence of starfish along the Cuddalore coast augured well.

Starfish were of ornamental value and were easily recognised by all age groups. In the food chain of marine life the starfish played a vital role.

These marine organisms found their habitats in clean water and where the coral reefs existed.

Mr Balasubramanian said about 25-30 years ago, Cuddalore and Parangipettai coast were replete with dolphins. But in course of time, they vanished from the region, and the recent findings indicated that they were making a comeback.

It was obvious that after the tsunami (December 26,2004), the contours of the sea or seabed had undergone dramatic changes. Studies indicated that there were submerged coral reefs along the Cuddalore coast.

These reefs once provided ideal shelter to the marine organisms. Since, the reefs remained submerged, without any exposure to sunlight, they could well have perished by now.

Starfish were environmentally very sensitive creatures and could survive only in clean water, ie., free from pollution. Any sort of pollution would harm the progeny of starfish as they would easily perish in hostile environment.

Therefore, these were the indicators that the Cuddalore coastal areas were now purged off impurities, a positive fallout of the tsunami that churned the sea violently, Mr. Balasubramanian added.

The ecologists and even the fishermen are of the opinion that the sightings of dolphins and starfish should not be treated as isolated incidents. In the post-tsunami, these might provide valuable insights into the behaviour of marine creatures.

Hence, there is a felt need for launching a systematic study on marine life, and create an awareness among the coastal community about the significance of safeguarding the sea from all kinds of pollution.