The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the east of the Indian mainland geographically, float in splendid isolation in the Bay of Bengal. Once a hill range extending from Myanmar to Indonesia, these picturesque undulating islands, islets numbering around 556, are covered with dense damp and evergreen forests and endless varieties of exotic flora and fauna. Most of these islands are in the Andaman Group, 24 of which are inhabited. In the Nicobar group, 13 islands are inhabited. The Andaman and Nicobar are separated by the Ten Degree Channel, which is 150 Kms. wide. These islands also boast of freedom fighting days, historically significant landmarks viz. Cellular Jail, Ross Island, Viper Island, Hopetown and Mount Harriet. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been declared as two of the 218 endemic bird area of the world. As many as 270 species and sub-species of birds have been reported existing in these islands, 106 of them being endemic. The Andaman Wood Pigeon, Andaman Padauk and Dugong are declared as State Bird, State Tree and State Animal respectively. There are about 96 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 9 National Parks and 1 Biosphere Reserve in the islands. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is the best-known National Park over here. So today, let us have a look at it.
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is also known as Wandur National Park. Situated 29 km. from Port Blair, the park covers 281.5 km² and is made up of 15 islands and the open sea creeks running through the area. There is a chance for ecotourism on the islands Jolly Boys and Red Skin, which are open during some seasons offering glass bottom boats, scuba diving and snorkelling as a way to see the park s coral reefs and marine life.
The park was created on 24 May 1983 under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 to protect marine life such as the corals and nesting sea turtles prevalent in the area. It was placed under the protection of the Chief Wildlife Warden of the forest department of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Most of the islands in the park are densely forested; the open spaces are covered with scrub and creepers. A casual glance around and one can spot brilliant tropical flowers including orchids, broken branches and fallen leaves spread over the jungle pathways. One can also hear the bird calls, but unless in the open, it is difficult to spot the terns, gulls, ospreys, serpent crested eagles, wood pigeons and of course the swifts. The most striking feature of all these islands is the vegetation. Very dense, it comes right down to the shore, seeming to merge into the sea. Branches and creepers overhang and dip into the seawater.
The Park has a tropical climate. There is medium to heavy rain from May to mid September and November to mid December. There is no extreme climate except rains and tropical storms in late summer, which causes heavy damage.
These island beaches are great nestling place for growth of Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas). Several hundred Estuarine Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) can also be found here in densities inversely proportional to human populations. The Coconut Crab (Birgus latro) on the other hand is an important species found mostly on the South Sentinel Island. The Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) and Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana) nest on the islands in unknown numbers, the Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) also breeds here. Molluscus, particularly Tridacna, are also important reef builders.
The area includes vast stretch of enchanting marine waters, bushy vegetated islands, magnificent coral reefs and sparkling sandy beaches and mangroves. Rich marine life also consists of variety of coral reefs, colourful fishes, molluscs, shells, starfish, turtles, salt-water crocodile etc. One can also view a variety of birds like White-Bellied Sea Eagle, Parakeets, Andaman Teal, Heron, Terns, Waders, and Swifts etc.
Another marvel of these islands is the mangrove. This hardy tree has its roots in seawater. The leaves and other debris of the mangrove form a very important source of food to the marine life. Like the reef, this tree provides a natural buffer against storm waves.
Jolly buoy of these entire islands Jolly buoy, which, lies towards the middle of the park, is most famous. The biggest attraction of this island is a sandy beach on its northern end. This beach is encircled by a reef, which is exposed during low tide. Walking carefully over the area one can see the tide pools and in them the sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea. sp), anemones (Heteractis crispa), starfish (Ophioderma), cowries (Cypraeidae), turbots and spider conch (Lambis).
Redskin Island is another important island, which is inhabited by the deer, which were brought here by the British. Approachable by boats that land in sandy coves on either side of the island, Redskin has a large area with numerous caves along the northern cliffs. The interior is still quite densely wooded with mangrove stands along the eastern and southern creeks.
Across the channel is Tarmugli, which has an extensive coral reef on the south-western side and an idyllic diving cove at the extreme end of the reef. Nearby is Grub Island, a picturesque sand fringed island that is so small, one can walk around it.
Regular flights from Port Blair to Calcutta and Chennai are operated by Indian Airlines. One can travel to Wandur, from Port Blair, by road. For moving inside the park, the forest department runs a launch service, which visits two or three islands daily. Parties that are more enterprising hire motorized canoes from local fishermen and head for the less frequented areas. It is essential to take along the fisherman as a guide for safe trips.
So that in short was about the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. It is a unique park that is equipped with lush green flora and beautiful birds and avifauna. Do visit it the next time you are on the islands.