The Pulse

Tourism Threatens the Environment in India’s Andaman Islands

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The Pulse

Tourism Threatens the Environment in India’s Andaman Islands

Increasing tourism threatens the diverse marine life of India’s popular Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Not only are India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands an entryway into a world of pristine beaches and natural wonder, they are also home to wonderful people.

Tanaz Noble is one of them. The 29 year-old is a certified instructor of kayaking who not only trains tourists in water sports but also promotes ecological and environmental preservation.

For the eight months from October to May – the peak tourist season – Noble shifts her base from Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar, to Havelock, one of the main tourist destinations located around 50 kilometers north of the capital.

Through kayaking and snorkeling, she exposes both domestic and international tourists to the sea. However, she never forgets to give her customers a lesson in environmental preservation.

In an interview with The Diplomat, she said that “the ecology in Andaman is very beautiful but very fragile and delicate. What I have seen underwater 20 years ago as a child is dead due to the tsunami in 2004 and global warming. Earlier it was easy to see coral life within three meters [of the surface]; now you have to dive 20 meters to see coral life.”

Noble strongly believes that Andaman needs regulated tourism and that commercial interests have to be balanced with the ecological interests.

She promotes this belief through Andaman Kayak, an organization she founded in 2010. A former journalist who worked with some of the leading national publications in Delhi and Mumbai, Noble left the profession and decided to become a kayak instructor at the age of 24. Her passion for the environment and adventure sports brought her to this small island with a population of 8000. Internet and mobile network connectivity are poor in Havelock, but these shortcomings do not deter Noble from honing her passions.

“When the tsunami struck in 2004, a shift in the continental shelf took place. One end of the shelf sank and the other came out. Havelock is part of the shelf that came out. [Across these shelves], there were lots of mangroves which just died and and completely disappeared,” she recalls. “Therefore it is very important to handle the fragile ecosystem in a very sensitive way. Andaman needs tourism but without compromising its fragile ecology," she adds.

In the last five years, tourist inflow into the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has doubled and Havelock receives the majority of the attention. According to a rough estimate, Havelock receives more than 2000 tourists per day. The main attractions include a variety of watersports including diving, snorkeling and kayaking, bolstered by its clean beaches. According to a survey by Time magazine, Havelock’s Radhanagar beach is one of the top beaches in all Asia.

Tourism has improved the local economy and a majority of locals make their livings in the industry. However, for Tanaz Noble, who makes a living entertaining tourists, the unbridled entry of tourists into the Islands is both an opportunity and a threat.

She says that “package guests have no ethics and they litter plastic bottles all around. Therefore, it is important that any kind of plastic bottle be taxed. The government should set up a recycling plant to keep the area clean. [The tourists] leave a bad footprint.”

The former journalist gives this lesson on environmental ethics to all her kayaking and snorkeling clients. “If we don’t care now then in the next 30 to 40 years, Andaman and Nicobar will become another Goa; it will become a garbage dump and the place will lose its wonderful ecology and coral life. Therefore, besides promoting tourism, we have to engage with environment.”

Jackson, a diving expert and a pioneer in discovering many diving sites across Havelock, expressed similar views. Some of the diving sites in Havelock are named after him and his brother. As operator of the Ocean Tribes diving school, Jackson takes extra care to ensure that coral life remains untouched and undisturbed over the course of his lessons for tourists during the peak seasons. Hailing from a Karen group, a local tribe, Jackson, like the majority of his community members, is a natural diver.

“Havelock is a wonderful place for diving. You can see millions of fish at some diving sites but such marine life can be preserved only if we are extra careful and don't try to tamper with its ecology. Global warming has affected marine and coral life here but we are trying our level best not to disturb the ecology through human folly. It’s a constant effort and needs the support of everyone.”