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- from 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 and the incidental capture of megafauna, and climate change.

The WCS-India Marine Conservation Program aims to conserve the unique diversity of India’s coastal habitats and seas by working with communities, the Government of India and partner organisations to overcome these challenges through a multidisciplinary approach. The Program’s efforts are focused on four broad themes: (1) strengthening the existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network, (2) mitigating marine megafaunal bycatch (3) addressing the decline of apex marine predators such as sharks and rays, and (4) helping incorporate sustainability into marine-centric tourism.

Strengthening Marine Protected Areas

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, the limited marine area is protected in the form of 131 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 realise the notification of MPAs across the country. 

We work in partnership with the Government of India 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. 

Our work on MPAs has been initiated at Angria Bank, a shallow sunken atoll situated 105 km off the coast of Maharashtra with a rich diversity of corals, algae, fish, and marine megafauna. 

Mitigating megafaunal bycatch

WCS-India aims to reduce by-catch in Indian waters by identifying by-catch hotspots and facilitating population monitoring programs in partnership with government authorities and partner organizations. We aim to catalyze a “bottom-up” community-driven regulations with small-scale, non-mechanized and artisanal fisheries to sustain the community livelihood needs while simultaneously achieving the by-catch mitigation goals. In addition, we will also assist in strengthening enforcement to ensure that the existing legislation on mechanized fishing meets with compliance. 

Strengthening conservation of sharks and rays

Elasmobranchs, consisting of sharks, rays and skates, are one of the most globally threatened species. 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 gathering baseline data on the species. The species-specific life history characteristics of sharks and rays is studied based on market and in-water surveys, catch levels, actors engaged in fishing and trade, and the socioeconomics. We aim to curb the decline of sharks and rays by updating the current regulations by enlisting species in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; establishing international trade regulations by bringing the shark fin trade under CITES control; improving the protection of key regions for sharks and rays through MPAs and improved fishing practices. 

Assessing the impact of dive tourism on coral reefs


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. 

We aim to strengthen the Marine Program at the state level by partnering with State Governments, and engaging local communities. At the national level, we hope to strengthen the existing MPA network, ultimately leading to increased global conservation efforts of threatened species and habitats.

Program Partners



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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Recent Publications

McClanahan TR, Darling ES, Maina JM, Muthiga NA, D’agata S, Jupiter SD, Arthur R,  Wilson SK, Mangubhai S, Nand Y, Ussi AM, Humphries AT, Patankar VJ, Guillaume MMM, Keith SA, Shedrwawi G, Julis P, Grimsditch G, Ndagala J, Leblond J (2019) Temperature patterns and mechanisms influencing coral bleaching during the 2016 El Niño., Nature Climate Change: 1-7.

Darling ES, McClanahan TR, Maina JM, Gurney GA, Graham NAJ, Januchowski-Hartley F, Cinner JE, Mora C, Hicks CC, Maire E, Puotinen M, Skirving WJ, Adjeroud M, Ahmadia G, Arthur R, Bauman A, Beger M, Berumen M, Bigot L, Bouwmeester J, Brenier A, Bridge T, Brown E, Campbell S, Cannon S, Cauvin B, Chen C, Claudet J, Denis V, Donner S, Estradivari E, Fadli N, Feary D, Fenner D, Fox H, Franklin E, Friedlander A, Gilmour J, Goiran C, Guest J, Hobbs J, Hoey A, Houk P, Johnson S, Jupiter S, Kayal M, Kuo C, Lamb J, Lee M, Low J, Muthiga N, Muttaqin E, Nand Y, Nash K, Nedlic O, Pandolfi J, Pardede S, Patankar V, Penin L, Ribas-Deulofeu L, Richards Z, Roberts T, Rodgers K, Safuan C, Sala E, Shedrawi G, Sin T, Smallhorn-West P, Smith J, Sommer B, Steinberg P, Sutthacheep M, Tan C, Williams G, Wilson S, Yeemin T, Bruno JF, Fortin MJ, Krkosek M and D Mouillot. (2019)Social-environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Nature Ecology and Evolution,

Patankar, VJ (2019). Attitude, perception and awareness of stakeholders towards the protected marine species in the Andaman Islands. Ocean & Coastal Management, 179, 104830.

Patankar V, Wagh T. & Tyabji Z. (2019). Observations on the female flowers and fruiting of Tape Grass (Enhalus acoroides) from South Andaman Islands, India. Journal of Threatened Taxa 11(5): 13617–13621.

Patankar, V., D’Souza & Marathe, A. (2019) Protected areas and benthic characteristics influence the distribution of the Vulnerable bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, Oryx,



Photo Copyright: Vardhan Patankar






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