Oceans and Coasts

We work in India's oceanic islands and coasts with a broad mandate to understand the basic ecology and behaviour of these systems, how human communities interact with them, and the impact of disturbances — both regional and global — on this relationship.

Coral reef responses to global change

As coral reefs across the tropics succumb to increasingly frequent ocean warming events in the wake of global climate change, documenting the consequences of these events on reef communities and their ability to resist and recover from them becomes critical.  Our investigations in the Lakshadweep Archipelago and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands attempt to understand the factors that confer resilience on these systems

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Coping with catastrophe

Documenting patterns and processes of resilience in the Lakshadweep reefs


Reef fish responses to climate change

Understanding how fish communities in the Lakshadweep cope with change 

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Mainstreaming resilience principles

Understanding and managing the buffer capacity of the Andaman and Nicobar reefs

Conflict and cooperation in the sea

Tropical coastlines are home to the highest density of people anywhere and they depend heavily on resources these waters provide.  It is not unusual then that human communities interact with wild marine species that may often compete with humans for the same precious resources. We have been working to understand the interface between fishers and wild species in Indian waters, and to unpack the ecological, socio-economic and cultural drivers of these  interactions

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Net Gains

Understanding coexistence between Irrawaddy dolphins and fishers in Chilika

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Turf Wars

Understanding turtle-fisher conflicts in Lakshadweep seagrass meadows

Species ecology and conservation

Understanding the basic biology and ecology necessary for their conservation and rational management

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Conserving an extinct species

Tracking changes in dugong populations in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago

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Aggregating groupers

Documenting and protecting spawning aggregations in the Lakshadweep

Traditional knowledge systems

Indigenous coastal communities often have well-established traditional institutions  controlling resource use in nearby waters.  These systems represent a rich heritage of local ecological knowledge that is in danger of being lost as communities get increasingly integrated in the global marketplace.  Our work on India's oceanic islands is  documenting these traditional systems and their current effectiveness in managing marine resources.   

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Traditional management and change

Marine resource management in the Nicobar archipelago



Kitchen Stories

Understanding how Nicobar communities share resources in the wake of the tsunami

Marine resource use and abuse

The seas are the last last place where hunting of wild species is still the norm rather than the exception.  This exploitation often reaches industrial scales with disastrous consequences for marine species and ecosystems.  Our programme seeks to document the scale of this use and understand its drivers.




The economics of trawl fishing along the Coromandel coast




  • Journal Article
    Alternative reproductive tactics and inverse size-assortment in a high-density fish spawning aggregation
    BMC Ecology, 17:10, DOI 10.1186/s12898-017-0120-5

    PDF, 1.44 MB

    Mating successfully at high densities often requires species to employ unusual reproductive tactics. We report unique courtship behaviours in an un shed, high-density spawning aggregation of squaretail groupers (Plectropomus areolatus) that are potentially associated with alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs). Aggregating males are typically known to court females in small territories (pair courtship), which is often associated with a pair-spawning tactic. However, we also observed the largest males simultaneously courting several females in mid-water shoals – a unique, high-cost-high-benefit courtship tactic which appears to result in a novel school-spawning tactic. Counter-intuitively we observed an inverse size- assortment in individuals–large males courted smaller females and vice-a-versa, likely linked to different pay- offs with competitive ability and local mate density. These unique, high-density behaviours are threatened to be lost, with increasing commercial fishing pressures on the P. areolatus aggregation.

  • Popular Article
    The Bay Island Lizard: My Work Companions
    Sanctuary Asia, January. http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/features/10184-the-bay-island-lizard-my-work-companions.html
  • Popular Article
    New year on the reef
    The Hindu in School, 22 March
  • Dataset
    Long-lived groupers require structurally stable reefs in the face of repeated climate change disturbances.
    Karkarey R, Kelkar N, Lobo AS, Alcoverro T, Arthur R (2014) Data from: Long-lived groupers require structurally stable reefs in the face of repeated climate change disturbances. Dryad Digital Repository. http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d7j02
  • Journal Article
    "Choice" and destiny: The substrate composition and mechanical stability of settlement structures can mediate coral recruit fate in post-bleached reefs
    Coral Reefs. 35: 211-222

    Increasingly frequent and intense ocean warming events seriously test the buffer and recovery capacities of tropical coral reefs. Post-disturbance, available settlement structures on a reef (often dead coral skeletons) vary considerably in their mechanical stability and substrate composition, critically influencing coral recruit settlement choice and fate. In the wake of a coral mass mortality in the Lakshadweep archipelago, we examine (1) the relative availability of recruit settlement structures (from stable to unstable: reef platform, dead massive coral, consolidated rubble, dead corymbose coral, dead tabular coral, and unconsolidated rubble) in 12 recovering reefs across three atolls in the archipelago, (2) the substrate composition [crustose coralline algae (CCA), mixed turf, macroalgae] of these structural forms, and (3) whether the choice and fate of young coral are mediated by the substrate and stability of different structural forms. For this, we measured the abundance and distribution of recruit (<1cm), juvenile (1–5 cm), and young adult (5–10) corals of 24 common coral genera. Four years after the mass mortality, reefs differed considerably in composition of settlement structures. The structures themselves varied significantly in substrate cover with dead tables largely covered in CCA [60 ± 6.05 % (SE)] and dead corymbose coral dominated by mixed turf (61.83 ± 3.8 %). The youngest visible recruits (<1 cm) clearly preferred CCA-rich structures such as dead massives and tables. However, older size classes were rarely found on unstable structures (strongly ‘‘avoiding’’ tables, Ivlev’s electivity index, E = -0.5). Our results indicate that while substrate cover might mediate coral choice, the mechanical stability of settlement structures is critical in determining post-settlement coral survival. The composition and availability of settlement structures on a reef may serve as a characteristic signature of its recovery potential, aiding in assessments of reef resilience.

  • Journal Article
    For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine managementFor traditional island communities, no-go areas are the most effective form of management
    Ocean & Coastal Management 133, 53-63 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.09.003

    PDF, 1.16 MB

    For traditional island communities in the Nicobar archipelago, complete no-go areas are the most effective form of marine management

    The ability of local communities to sustainably manage natural resource harvests in coral reefs ecosystem depends heavily on the strength of traditional institutions. Coastal communities have evolved a suite of restrictive practices to control marine offtake and there is considerable recent evidence of their effec- tiveness in protecting and enhancing resource stocks. However, traditionally imposed restrictions can vary considerably in their complexity and in their functional effectiveness. The indigenous communities of the Nicobar Islands are dependent on marine resources for sustenance, managing them with a range of traditionally imposed restrictions. These include limited entry to certain locations, closed seasons and areas, and restrictions on species, size-classes of fish and fishing methods. We tested the relative effectiveness of protection in areas managed under different traditional control regimes by comparing the abundance and biomass of targeted fish groups in managed and unmanaged areas. Our results indicate that reef sites with the strictest form of restriction e essentially no-go areas e had significantly higher abundance and biomass values of most functional groups of fishes compared with partially protected and control locations. In contrast, targeted food fish stocks did not differ from control locations in partially protected sites managed with even complex forms of traditional management. Ensuring that traditional harvest rules are complied is critical to the success of any management system, and our re- sults suggest that they can be most strictly enforced in traditional no-go areas. Our work highlights the importance of critically evaluating the factors influencing traditional management systems to strengthen their ability to protect these reefs from unsustainable overharvest.

  • Popular Article
    Living with change: local responses to global impacts
    Rohan Arthur, Naveen Namboothri, Vardhan Patankar
    Current Conservation, issue 10.2 http://www.currentconservation.org/?q=issue/10.2

    PDF, 290 KB

  • Report
    NCF Annual Report 2016

    PDF, 13.1 MB

  • Journal Article
    Homeward bound: fish larvae use dispersal corridors when settling on coral reefs
    Rucha Karkarey, Anne Heloise Theo
    Natural History Notes: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

    PDF, 769 KB


  • Popular Article
    Marine Meadows – Following The Feeding Trail Of The Dugong
    Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 1, February 2015.

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