Protecting biodiversity

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IN a first major policy step towards protection and conservation of marine life, Astola Island- a major biodiversity hotspot and the largest island along Pakistan’s coast- was declared the other day country’s first marine protected area. Indeed Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid and Balochistan government deserve applause for this landmark declaration, which came about as a result of their concerted efforts and collaboration.
Astola Island covers an area of about 400 square kilometres and is located 39km east of Pasni. It is home to several species of marine and terrestrial animals and plants. The deadly Russell’s viper a highly venomous snake is endemic to the island. It is also a nesting place for many seabirds, especially the greater crested tern that have thousands of nests on the island. The Island’s sandy beaches are a nesting ground for green turtles and around 25 species of coral has been found in the ocean around it. The Arabian Sea humpback whale, one of the rare marine mammals, has occasionally been sighted in its surrounding area. Being home to such rare species, it becomes imperative to preserve their environment so that they do not go extinct. Therefore, both provincial and federal governments need to prepare a proper management plan to ensure that the island’s biodiversity remains protected and the use of deleterious fishing methods is stopped. Recreational activities must be controlled so that the marine area remains safe from increased human activities. It should however remain open without any restrictions for youth visiting the island for research and education purposes. Pakistan has abundance of marine resources — conservation of which could contribute towards restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment. If living components of marine and coastal ecosystem remain functional, they could generate renewable resources of fish, shellfish etc and if exploited properly could support human populations into the future. Therefore, responsibility lies with the government to fully implement the policy frameworks to ensure sustainable management of marine areas.