The map of Gujarat resembles the head of a lion gaping at the Arabian Sea. The neck of the lion is outlined by the Gulf of Khambat while the jaws of the lion – Kutch, and Kathiawar – are prised open by the Gulf of Kutch. It is ironical that the Asiatic lion which symbolizes the state and the Gulf of Kutch are facing similar concerns – fighting for their survival from the onslaught of man-made development. Narara Marine National Park is a jewel of Gujarat in its long coastline.
The commercial concerns of Gujarat have often subordinated its efforts to preserve its natural riches. The petroleum, cement, ceramic and shipping industries which firmly establish the state as an industrial hub also threaten its ecology. The coastline of Gujarat – the longest in India – supports a diversity of habitats like salt marshes, coral reefs, mangroves and is home to an innumerable variety of flora and fauna.
Marine National Park, Jamnagar – Biodiversity Hotspot
The Gulf of Kutch is interspersed with several islands that are hotspots of biological diversity. The largest island Pirotan, off the Bedi port, also has a lighthouse and a sanctuary built in the memory of Pir Khwaja Khizr Rahmatullah from whom the place gets its name “Pir-jo-thaan.” It has been closed to tourists due to the damage caused to marine life. Narara is another such popular island or ‘bet’ as it is known in Gujarati, dotting the Gulf of Kutch. Driving down from Jamnagar on the highway to Dwarka, we pass by the giant petroleum refineries of Reliance Industries and Essar Oil. Sixty km’s from Jamnagar, a detour near Vadinar takes us to the inter-tidal zone of Narara. The term ‘bet’ seems like a misnomer as we travel in our taxi right up to the beach during the low tide.
Birds at Narara near Jamnagar
The long and rugged coastline of the Gulf of Kutch from Dwarka to Jodia was declared as a marine sanctuary in 1980. It provides nesting sites for varieties of migratory birds like herons, painted storks and flamingoes. Narara is part of an area which was declared as the first National Marine Park of India in 1982.
Vast salt pans line the narrow stretch of road on either side. We see colonies of Greater flamingoes which carouse in the salty water gregariously calling out to each other. Their brownish–pink plumage stands out distinctly against the backdrop of blue that surrounds them.
Walk through the Marine National Park at Narara, Jamnagar
The tide has ebbed leaving zigzag patterns along the gray sand. We walk in the ankle-deep water towards the vast expanse of the sea shimmering in the glare of the sun. Long stretches of mangrove shrubs flank our passage to the sea. Their aerial roots emerge from the slushy mud snorkeling for air. Our guide walks ahead hunting for the treasures of the sea beneath the slippery rocks. The sea-walk in Narara was truly an adventure of a different kind.
Spindly-legged black and white Crab-plovers hop hither and thither in the wet sand scouring for crabs. They are shy creatures who avoid our company and take flight or wade into the sea as we gingerly approach them. We spot an elegant gray heron which stands motionless in the water as if meditating. Little marsh sandpipers dart about in the shallow waters, foraging for aquatic prey.
Colonies of brown and green algae form dome-like structures which resemble rocks in the sea. Translucent green seaweeds or ‘sea grapes’ glisten like gems in the sunlight. They are considered as a delicacy in some parts of the world. The clear water also reveals coral reefs which are a rich marine eco-system. These ‘tropical rainforests of the seas’ are slowly being threatened by the warming of the seawater. It is disheartening to see ‘coral bleaching’ – white patches developing on the coral reefs as they had lost the colorful algae that lived on them. Nearly a quarter of the coral reefs has eroded in the past two decades. Locally extinct coral species were transplanted into these waters last year from Agatti Islands in Lakshadweep.
Green, brown and red algae proliferate on the reefs. Dense mats of seagrasses grow in wild abandon supporting different varieties of fish and crustaceans. They are the only flowering plants that thrive in the sea. We discover a prickly Sea-cucumber, a cousin of the starfish, amid the folds of the reef. Bright red sponges anchor themselves to a rocky bed, filtering the water and feeding on plankton.
As the muddy water beneath our feet clears, we sight a green carpet anemone spreading its tentacles like the petals of a flower. The sea anemone is a sensitive, bashful creature. It folds its tentacles and shrinks beneath the sand as soon as I touch it.
Our guide exposes bright blue crabs hiding under the rocks. Their greenish shells are speckled white, merging them with the colors of the sea. The sand crabs take on the brown color of the sand. There are orange ones too mimicking the corals. He points out a small hairy crab, covered with bristles which trap sand and sediment helping it to be a part of the ocean floor. These hairy creatures are viewed as a delicacy in China! We stare in wonder at a tiny khaki-colored brittle star with dark stripes on its slender arms. It can break its arms to escape from predators and regenerate it later!
A large group of schoolboys, out on a marine expedition, chase a shoal of black catfish. Their excited cries attract us to the presence of an octopus caught by their guide! It is a mottled-brown creature and the underside of its tentacles is sticky to the touch. Octopus slithers away as soon as it is released into the water. It is a master of camouflage and changes its appearance to merge into its surroundings.
A grayish-brown Clam is dug out of the sand by our guide. He prises open the bivalves to reveal a soft mollusk inside. We beg him to lay down the clam in the sea, hoping that it will survive our act of impudence. He darts into the water and brings up the final discovery – a greenish-yellow puffer fish with bulging red eyes. In his hand, it has puffed up into a ball-like creature after ingesting a huge amount of water and air. This is a self-defense mechanism that comes into action whenever the puffer fish feels threatened. The underside of its belly is spiny and feels like sandpaper.
We have walked in the sea for more than two hours. It is now time for us to return to the shore before the tide rises. As we head towards the shore, I notice rusty patches of red in the sea water like pools of diluted blood. I wonder if they are large blooms of red algae which might choke off the marine life. The scorching sun has meanwhile tanned our skins despite the loads of sunscreen we lathered on it. Hunger pangs are setting in as we trudge through the knee-deep water. But nevertheless, it has been a fulfilling experience as we bid adieu to the scintillating sea and the treasures that it buries in its bosom. Terrestrial life and marine life are no longer separate realms but are bound together in inexplicable ways.
Do you like biodiversity and Marine life? Visit the Marine National Park Narara island in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
Travel Tips for Marine National Park at Narara
- Enquire about low tide timings and plan your visit accordingly
- Carry drinking water
- You need to walk through knee-deep salt water, so wear sandals accordingly
- Wear a cap to protect from scorching sun rays
- It takes 2-3 hours of walk through the sand & seabed. Have some food or carry biscuits while you venture into the marine park
- Hire a guide to better understand marine life
Recommend you read following travel blog on places to visit in Gujarat.