Witness and learn the marine life at the Marine National Park and Sanctuary in Gujarat
Words: Khursheed Dinshaw
I couldn’t decide what was more soothing – the pure tranquility that I was so unaccustomed to or the gentle lapping of the waves of the Gulf of Kutch. And then I glanced upwards and was transfixed- I had a clear sky staring right back at me. It’s stars, some scattered while others in clusters, were shining brightly but not twinkling. Could it get any better?
As if on cue, a bird called in the distance. “That’s a night jar,” whispered Mustak Mepani so as not to break the magical connection with my surroundings. Mother nature was unfolding a grand spectacle at Poshitra and I didn’t want to miss any of it. The Marine National Park and Sanctuary in Gujarat is spread across 162.89 sq km and Poshitra is one of its more private and serene locations.
Earlier in the afternoon, over a delicious lunch at a hotel in Jamnagar, I met Mustak who has been conducting marine and birding tours around Jamnagar since the last two decades. He had made the necessary arrangements for the trip, including obtaining the required permits from the forest department office, hiring the vehicle and booking the accommodation and guide.
We drove about 130 km to Dwarka where we made a quick stop to pay our respects at the Nageshwar Jyotirlinga Temple and Dwarka Temple. From Dwarka it took half an hour to get to Poshitra. The last couple of kilometres was lined with cactuses and acacia trees on either side.
Our camping tents had been pitched outside the Marine National Park in a farm belonging to Issabhai who had prepared dinner for us. It was a simple yet delicious meal of dry potato, mashed aubergines cooked with spices, roti and bajra rotla.
‘Be ready by 7 am,” Mustak reminded me before calling it a night. Next morning, I was up at 6 am. Sitting by the edge of the lagoon, I was glad that I had chosen Poshitra to visit.
After watching a multi-hued sunrise, Mustak and I started walking from Bhadu Lagoon towards Lakhu Edge for the coral walk. The coral walk is when you walk on the seabed once the tide has ebbed to see marine life, including corals, crabs, sea slugs, sea cucumbers, puffer fish, algae and moss.
The time for the coral walk changes as per the tide and for that day it was 7 am. Once the tide ebbed, we walked over lime stone rocks covered with barnacles. There were mangroves at the starting point of the walk and I was told that they have a distinct adaptability to survive in extreme conditions be it salinity or availability of less oxygen. They are also considered to be sentinels as they protect the coast from natural disasters like tsunami, cyclones and hurricanes. Mangroves guard the coastline by slowing the speed of winds as well as the waves.
As we walked further, there was sea algae and moss in varied textures resembling lettuce, cartilages and mushrooms on the rocks and in the sea water. Identifying crabs and learning about them was fascinating. We saw two sea slugs, one was cream coloured with black dots while the other had orange and blue stripes. In comparison, the sea cucumber that we spotted in a puddle of seawater a little ahead was not much exciting and had a brownish skin.
The mangroves begun to blur as we continued to walk deeper into the marine park towards where the corals are found. The star attraction of Poshitra is its corals and I failed to conceal the excitement on my face every time we spotted corals. Initially you will require a bit of help spotting them but eventually it will became easy. This is because most of the corals at Poshitra have different shapes that resemble the human brain, the moon and stars. The corals here are also known as brain corals, moon corals and star corals because of this very reason. I saw corals called Favia Favus, Favia Favites and Symphyllia in all their glory. The Gulf of Kutch has 52 species of hard corals and 12 species of soft corals apart from gorgeous and diverse flora and fauna.
Not to be outdone by the corals, the avian life at the marine park and sanctuary made it a memorable morning as we spotted whimbrels and avocets who were foraging for food and yes, crab plovers – these crab eating birds are most sought after by bird watchers from around the world. Poshitra had worked its magic and I felt refreshed and recharged.