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Field Guide To The Marine Life Of India

February 2012: In a country dominated by bird, mammal and insect and even tree guides, the arrival of an illustrated field guide to the marine life of India must be celebrated.


Comprehensive and well-researched, the guide is the work of a scientist who lived in the Lakshadweep Islands for six long years. With marine ecosystems under threat across the globe, it is time that young India discovered the joys and the threats to their oceans, which are surprisingly more threatened from land-based pollution than from oil spill and contaminants poured directly into the sea.


When Apte started out in 1982 he confesses he had no idea at all where his involvement with nature would take him. It took him far. A scholarship took him to Duke University, and his subsequent work with wildlife won him the Whitley Award for Conservation at the hands of Princess Anne and the legendary David Attenborough.


His love for wild nature led him to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in 1993, where he served as their Conservation Officer for many years and then as Principal Scientist on a BNHS project to study giant clams. Here is where the seeds for this magnum opus were sown. In his words:


The idea of writing a book about India’s marine life dawned on me in one of the quiet evenings at Suheli Veliakkara Island. Little less than a square kilometre in area, this tiny, uninhabited island in Lakshadweep Archipelago, is a treasure trove of underwater species. In this book I have tried to present some of the fascinating glimpses of a myriad marine life forms as best as I could capture them through the lens and have tried to describe them without any claims to authority. From cryptic to most obvious; from tiny to giants; from palatable to most toxic; from shallow to deep water, these creatures provide an insight into a remarkable evolutionary journey.


When he started out Apte confesses he had great difficulty in identifying the many marine creatures he saw. And because there was no photographic field guide to make life easier… he went about creating one that would be useful for amateurs and professionals alike! 


The Field Guide to the Marine Life of India should help us to better appreciate a zone that not only directly feeds over 50 million Indians, but also holds the key to the economic security of the people of the subcontinent.


Incredibly the book illustrates as many as 1,200 species of marine fauna ranging from ancient sponges, marine worms and molluscs, to fish, reptiles and mammals. Also covered in the book are the diverse habitats in which this bewildering diversity is found, from coral reefs, sea grasses, coralline beaches, rock pools, mangroves, mudflats and estuaries, to salt marshes and littoral vegetation that includes specialised forests.


Based on well-grounded science, the book makes a strong case for conservation too by highlighting the immense worth of Protected Areas including the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, the Bhitarkanika National Park, the Gulf of Mannar,  the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Malvan Marine Sanctuary and, of course the Lakshadweep Islands.


Simple how to, where to and what to tips add value to the field guide, which recommends how to stay safe and where you can go to snorkel or scuba dive or, just plain beach comb!


One very useful aspect of the book is that it will help ‘ordinary’ people to identify what they see on the sea shore and beyond, if they do explore beyond.


I strongly recommend the book. No amateur or professional naturalist with even a minimum interest in marine life should be without it. And every library in the country should acquire a copy. It’s time India woke to the value of its marine heritage, which is one key purpose of this book.


Field Guide to the Marine Life of India
Author and Publisher: Deepak Apte
Soft Cover; Colour;
Price: 1,500/-


A Reviewed by Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 1, February 2012


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