They have found four caves, some of them watery, on the rocky islands along the vengurla coast in Sindhudurg district.
A study commissioned by the Mangrove and Marine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation on the ecologically vulnerable Vengurla rocks in Konkan’s Sindhudurg district has thus prompted biodiversity experts to look into options for better protecting and conserving this area. A good population of Indian swiftlets have their habitat in this Pakholi caves as the team found 4700 birds nesting in them, reveal the foundation officials. Researchers have also developed three dimensional maps of caves during the study.
Between January and June 2020, researchers Shirish Manchi, Goldin Quadros and Dhanusha Kawalkarthe from the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) explored the island of the Vengurla rocks region and discovered four caves, only one of which—named Pakholi dhol on Burnt Island—was reachable to the research team. Based on the cave’s inherent visibility, it was divided into three zones: the entrance zone, the twilight zone, and the black zone.
One of the study’s major conclusions points is the threat that climate change and sea level rise pose to these delicate cave ecosystems and their biodiversity.
Wetland scientist Goldin Quadros explained that the Vengurla archipelago is unique to the Sindhudurg coast. The archipelago comprises 20 islets of which three islands are comparatively large including New Lighthouse island, Old lighthouse island and Burnt island. Among the remaining nine are small islands and eight are submerged rocks.
“These islets are important coastal forms that secure the coastal population by acting as barriers. Moreover the presence of indian swiftlet in the coastal cases of vengurla creates a niche ecosystem that supports species that are still unknown and unidentified. Changing climate can create the much anticipated sea level rise that can adversely impact the cave invertebrate diversity. Moreover such habitats need protection from any kind of tourism,” said Quadros.
During the study, SACON recorded 21 invertebrates in Pakholi dhol including spiders, beetles, crabs, moths and butterflies, dragonflies, crickets, christmas tree worms, silverfish and barnacles.
The study identified five vertebrate orders including three birds- swiftlets, pigeons and martins along with one mammal (rodent) and reptile (Gecko). The researchers also undertook outreach programmes across local schools and colleges in Sindhudurg district informing locals about the conservation value of these caves. Virendra Tiwari, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Mangrove Cell and Executive Director, Mangrove Foundation said based on the findings of the study, the Mangrove Cell and Foundation were exploring the possibilities for enursing better protection of this site and building awareness for the local community.
“The present study was carried out to comprehend the cave fauna of the Vengurla rocks archipelago, a series of offshore islands along the Sindhudurg coast of Maharashtra, in light of the significance of the cave habitats and the risks they are susceptible to. Additionally, it will enable us to understand the ecosystem services provided by these caves and their conservation importance for the local community;s sustainable development through alternate sources of income. Additionally, the location’s geology makes it crucial to document the ecological richness,” said Tiwari.