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Something smells fishy

 Sujit Nath |  2015-08-02 02:15:02.0  |  New Delhi

Something smells fishy

It is high on demand in the international market and sells like a hot cake. The slow moving creature “sea cucumber” beside shells, corals and aquatic plants, which are being smuggled out of Andaman & Nicobar Islands in tons every year to China and other European countries giving a sleepless night to the government agencies to curb the menace.

Rampant illegal smuggling by the Myanmarese poachers not only causing <g data-gr-id="110">serious</g> threat to the marine ecology but also affecting the fragile corals of Andamans. Sea cucumbers help to keep the ocean’s floor clean by eating decaying matter and food, which settles on the <g data-gr-id="102">sea-bed</g> and now it is on the verge of extinction at Havelock, which is considered as one of the best beach in Asia. Havelock Island is a three hours journey by ship from Port Bair.

Easy to pray, these cucumbers are easily available 30 to 60 feet under the water at Havelock Island. 
Since it looks like a cucumber, this creature, which is highly endangered, is popularly known as <g data-gr-id="94">sea</g> cucumber.

In recent years, there is an increase in the demand of sea cucumbers in Thailand, China, Indonesia, Burma and in Bangladesh. It is a delicacy and is also used in traditional Chinese medicine in South East Asia like <g data-gr-id="96">aphrodisiac</g>. Also, corals, shells and aquatic plants are high on demand for making jewelry for astrological purpose and for making health drink as well as soups etc.

<g data-gr-id="115">Investigation</g> revealed that there are agents in Eastern India who with the help of poachers in Andaman and Nicobar Islands import sea cucumber in West Bengal and later smuggle it to Manipur, Bangladesh and other Asian countries. The startling revealing of smuggling came in <g data-gr-id="114">limelight</g> following the arrest of few poachers including one Salim and <g data-gr-id="111">Saikolen</g> from Havelock and Neil Islands recently. Those who were arrested revealed that there is no <g data-gr-id="113">fix</g> market in Kolkata and in Manipur. It is just the routes from where these cucumbers and marine wealth were smuggled out to the various Asian countries. They also revealed that there are some agents in India who helped these poachers in smuggling sea cucumbers to South East Asia.

The poachers are minting money and sell it in the international market ranging from Rs 4,000 to 5,000 per kilogram. The smugglers have to sell out Rs 45,000 to Rs 60,000 per hunting trip to the poachers.

In a single poaching trip, the poachers used to kill more than 10 to 15 sea cucumbers, which is around 45 to 50 kilograms. Some of them were firmly packed with preservative to smuggle it for eating <g data-gr-id="104">purpose,</g> while the rest they dry under <g data-gr-id="103">sun</g> for smuggling it for medicinal purpose.

Some of the marine plants which are in demand are Mermaid fan plants, Kelp on rock-Grape, Maiden’s hair plant etc. These plants are used for <g data-gr-id="98">medicinal</g> purpose in Asian countries and costs between Rs 2,500 to Rs 6,000 per kilograms in the international market. The poachers 
usually charge a hefty price (Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000) to fish it out from the ocean bed. Though few arrests were made in recent past but the main problem is <g data-gr-id="86">lack</g> of  co-ordination between the Port Blair administration, central and international agencies.

Forest officers in the Islands expressed their helplessness in dealing with the poachers due to the huge coastline and not enough seaworthy boats. Due to the crises of speed boats the officers are finding it difficult to catch these poachers.

The government in its report in 2011 mentioned that “Andaman and Nicobar Islands are very rich in biodiversity, harbouring unique endemic life forms. The islands have both rich terrestrial as well as marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, coral reefs and <g data-gr-id="106">sea grass</g> beds. The marine biodiversity includes marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, dugong; marine turtles; estuarine or <g data-gr-id="107">salt water</g> crocodile; fishes; prawns and lobsters; corals; sea shells including rare and endangered Trochus species and Giant Clam Shells and numerous other marine life forms including coelenterates and echinoderms etc.”

It further reads, “Economically also, many of the above species are highly valuable and some of them such as sea cucumbers, sea-shells, sharks, marine turtles, <g data-gr-id="73">salt water</g> crocodiles etc. are under severe pressure of <g data-gr-id="74">over exploitation</g> from illegal foreign fishing boats and poachers.

Historically, these species had been exploited by people from neighbouring countries, mainly due to the low protective cover and low priority accorded to conservation of the marine biodiversity in general by the enforcement agencies of the country.”

The report highlighted that “despite the concerted efforts by various departments and agencies, the very availability of rich marine resources attracts foreign poachers to Indian territorial waters. Although, the enforcement agencies routinely apprehend several foreign poachers, it is believed that a large number got away undetected. Most of the poachers are habitual offenders and had been in Indian prisons, several times. It has been observed that the western part of the Andaman Islands was the most vulnerable to poaching and also that the volume of the poaching has considerably increased over the years <g data-gr-id="165">in-spite</g> of the best efforts by the Administration to contain the problem. 
Further, it is also believed that the problem of foreign poachers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a long history, and there are a large number of ethnic people of Myanmar origin settled in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These people are believed to be often conniving with the poachers.”

“The archipelago is having rich marine ecosystems, such as mangroves, coral reefs and <g data-gr-id="79">sea grass</g> beds. The rich marine biodiversity includes 25 species of marine mammals such as whales, dugong (sea cow) beside 50 species of prawns and lobsters and more than 350 species of corals; 313 species of <g data-gr-id="80">sea shells</g> including rare and endangered Trochus and Giant Clam Shells,” local environmentalist Rishab Kumar told Millennium Post.

He expressed concern that if things continue like this then there will be drastic fall in the numbers of sea cucumbers and other marine wealth and it will have an adverse effect on marine life.

“It’s not that the local administration has done nothing to curb this illegal <g data-gr-id="174">practice</g> but more joint stringent efforts should be taken immediately keeping the neighbouring countries in the loop,” he added.

Sujit Nath

Sujit Nath

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