Kerala University researchers record 212 marine species at shipwreck sites

The study on the marine biodiversity of the Kerala coast was conducted using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and with assistance from expert underwater scuba divers.
Tubastraea Coccinea Lesson
Tubastraea Coccinea Lesson

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The research team at Kerala University has documented a total of 212 species of macrofauna at shipwreck sites off Shanghumugham and Anchuthengu. Spiny Seahorse, Orange Cup Coral, Squat Lobster, Camel Shrimp and Red White Cleaner Shrimp were among the species that were recorded for the first time in Kerala. The findings suggest the potential for utilising shipwreck sites to promote sustainable fishing and tourism.

The study ‘Digital Documentation of Biological and Archaeological Heritage in the Coastal Seas of Kerala’ on shipwrecks and biodiversity of rocky reef areas conducted by the Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries has recommended conservation of Rocky reefs as biodiversity hotspots.

The study on the marine biodiversity of the Kerala coast was conducted using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and with assistance from expert underwater scuba divers. The biodiversity at the Dutch ship that sank in 1752 off the Anchuthengu coast and the Greek ship that sank off the Shanghumugham coast in 1968 were studied. The study documented the biodiversity of macrofauna in both shipwrecks and around 212 species, including fish, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters and crabs), annelids, flatworms, and cnidarians (both hard and soft corals), hydrozoans, anthozoans (sea flowers).

A Biju Kumar, Head of Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, said that several species, including Spiny seahorse listed as vulnerable by IUCN, was found for the first time in Kerala coast. “We have digitally documented the species and more studies are required to identify the species. We haven’t collected any specimens and, in the next phase, we will be look into it. Such locations where endangered species are found should be declared as protected sites,” he said.

“Both the shipwrecks are covered with ghostnets and we have plans to remove them. The study has found invasive snowflake coral Carijoariisei as a dominant fauna attached to the entire ship, raising concerns warranting more investigation,” he added.

Eel with cleaner shrimp and camel shrimp
Eel with cleaner shrimp and camel shrimp

Biju Kumar said that the ongoing biodiversity documentation of rocky reef areas reveals significant variations based on geological origin, depth and associated habitats. “In Thiruvananthapuram, the absence of trawling has preserved many rocky reefs in good condition. Conserving highly diverse regions as biodiversity hotspots allowing traditional fishers to harvest resources in a sustainable manner or manage community reserves,” said Biju Kumar.

The research project was sanctioned by the Kerala University in March 2023 with a total outlay of `30 lakh aimed at digitally documenting biodiversity and biodiversity hotspots of shallow water rocky reefs, identifying threats to the biodiversity of these reefs, documenting shipwreck sites along the Kerala coast, and analysing the archaeological history and cultural heritage.

Kerala University has been selected as one of four higher education partners in Asia to establish Marine Monitoring Labs (MMLs) under the Ecomarine Project supported by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. The MML established at the Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries focuses on three key areas - assessment of marine biodiversity, Monitoring of marine plastic pollution and climate change mitigation.

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