With a coastline of over 7,500 kms, a continental shelf area of 468,000 km² and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.02 million km², India is among the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Its marine life is housed within a plethora of habitats - with brackish lagoons, estuaries, coastal marshes and mudflats, to mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, and sandy and rocky beaches. Along with the varied biodiversity at these sites, these ecosystems sustain almost 30% of India’s coastal population.

However, these ecosystems and the marine life encompassed within face a range of threats that includes rapid habitat degradation, drastic population declines from unsustainable harvesting of at-risk species, the incidental capture of megafauna, and climate change.

The WCS-India Marine Program aims to conserve the unique diversity of India’s coastal habitats and seas by working with communities and partner organizations to overcome these challenges through a multidisciplinary approach. The program’s efforts are focused on five broad themes: (1) strengthening the existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network (2) mitigating marine megafaunal bycatch (3) strengthening shark and ray management (4) helping incorporate sustainability into marine-centric tourism and (5) promoting and supporting sustainable fisheries.

Strengthening Marine Protected Areas

Young coral (Acropora sp) colonies inside the photo-quadrat

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are any coastal or marine areas that are offered legal protection by State laws and regulations. India’s marine systems are threatened by unregulated fisheries and rampant coastal development. Currently, limited area of India's territorial water and exclusive economic zone is protected in the form of 136 MPAs. As a signatory nation to the Convention on Biological Diversity-1992, India has committed to protect at least 10% of its marine areas by the year 2020. WCS-India aims to bridge this gap by working closely with coastal communities and government agencies to realize the notification of MPAs across the country. 

We work in partnership with the government and non-government partners and communities across the country’s coastline to facilitate the notification of Marine Protected Areas in the form of community reserves, sanctuaries, national parks, and conservation reserves. We also work on the efficacy of enforcement to ensure compliance within the existing and new MPAs in order to meet conservation goals while also securing sustainable benefits for various stakeholders. 

Mitigating megafaunal bycatch

A juvenile Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) caught in a mechanised fishing vessel as bycatch along the western coast of India.

WCS-India aims to reduce bycatch in Indian waters by identifying bycatch hotspots and facilitating the population monitoring programs for key species such as marine mammals, turtles and sharks and rays in partnership with government authorities and partner organizations. We aim to catalyze “bottom-up” community-driven regulations with small-scale, non-mechanized and artisanal fisheries to sustain the community livelihood needs while simultaneously achieving the bycatch mitigation goals. 

Strengthening shark and ray management in India

Elasmobranchs, consisting of sharks, rays and skates, are one of the most globally threatened groups. Scientific studies and anecdotal information from Indian fishers indicate that the biomass and the average size of sharks and rays landed has considerably diminished over time, with reports of local extirpations. This raises concern over the status of these resources and the long‐term sustainability of Indian shark fishery.

WCS-India works to strengthen shark and ray conservation in India by addressing gaps in species found in Indian waters and their populations, working with fishers for awareness about protected species and alternate livelihood opportunities, regulating trade of shark and ray species and their products, advocating for improved policy change and changing consumer behaviour of shark and rays in India. We aim to do this through science-based management and stakeholder engagement.

Assessing the impact of dive tourism on coral reefs

A group of divers descending to survey a coral reef habitat in the Lakshadweep archipelago 

The rise in marine tourism and water sports, and the rich biodiversity of the Lakshadweep islands has made these coralline islands a popular tourist destination in India. However, anecdotal accounts reveal that practices at the dive centers are not always in compliance with accepted norms for responsible and ecologically sustainable SCUBA activities. This leads to the damage of the fragile marine ecosystem by trampling on corals and other benthic organisms or disturbing other marine fauna through contact or proximity. In conjunction with coral bleaching and climate change, this could severely affect the ability of corals to grow and regenerate, affecting the ecosystem as a whole. As the diving industry in these islands continue to grow each year, WCS-India aims to record and assess its impact on coral reefs and provide regulatory recommendations for sustainable tourism. 

Promoting and supporting sustainable fisheries 

A small-scale fisher displaying their catch along the beach in Maharastra

India is the world’s second largest exporter of seafood after China. Recent years have been marked by a drastic decline in global fish populations, necessitating the incorporation of sustainability into fishing practices. In Indian waters, local fish populations have nearly halved over the past five decades – 61% of fish stocks are completely fished and a further 29% are overfished. Further, incidental takes and bycatch hamper the survival of many threatened species of marine megafauna.

Addressing fisheries sustainability is a complex task, given that seafood is an important source of protein. The demand for consumption must therefore be met, while also ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks. In addition to food security and nutrition, small-scale fisheries are the primary source of livelihood for several, often impoverished communities across the Indian coastline. The longevity of the artisanal and non-mechanized fisheries sector is therefore crucial to meet the livelihood dependence of these communities.

WCS-India works with a range of stakeholders to promote sustainable fisheries. We aid small-scale fisheries by assisting in securing vital fishing grounds, thereby mitigating conflict with the mechanized fishing industry. Additionally, we facilitate vocational training to help provide supplementary income to marginalized communities. Further, the program aims to work towards strengthening fisheries legislation to ensure fish stocks are conserved while meeting community livelihood concerns. Finally, to help consumers make better, informed decisions, we promote responsible seafood consumption initiatives.

India's Virtual Marine Museum BlueMAP-India 


Indian marine waters harbour several unique and critical ecosystems and habitats including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows, sandy and rocky shores, and more that are home to thousands of species, many yet to be studied. The vast coastline and open sea habitats offer important breeding areas, nurseries, and aggregation and feeding grounds for invertebrates, fish, and marine megafauna.

To make information about India’s marine realm accessible to people interested in learning about marine life, we recently launched a virtual platform to host this information in a simple and interesting manner. BlueMAP-India is a comprehensive virtual encyclopaedia on marine life, habitats, laws and policies for their protection, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and other related aspects, supported by visual content like illustrations, images, maps, and videos. 

The design and content cater to people across different levels of exposure to the marine realm and diverse backgrounds, from students and experienced recreational divers and researchers. BlueMAP-India has the potential to serve as a resource material to create modules on community awareness, student engagement activities, and overall awareness building and outreach.

Visit BlueMAP-India website here.


Newly Minted MPAs in the Lakshadweep Archipelago

In February 2020, the Lakshadweep Administration notified three new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), with a total area of 645

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