Finding Nemo in the Andamans – The New Indian Express

Express News Service

At the southern tip of South Andaman Island, west of Port Blair, is Wandoor, a quaint little town with gorgeous beaches and tropical greenery. It is also the entry point to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, one of India’s six protected marine environments. Most mornings there is activity at the wharf at Wandoor, as boats send people out to the thalassic desert every 30 minutes.

Covering an area of ​​more than 280 sq km, the park consists of many islands and several islets with bays, creeks and lagoons and fragile ecosystems. Only two of them – Jolly Buoy and Red Skin – are open to visitors. Boats take a one-hour journey to one of them, winding through a maze of mysterious mangroves that are home to several species of wildlife such as muskrat and deer, but none of which are visible through the thick lagoon. increase. The abundance of waterfowl more than makes up for it. Bright blue flies among kingfishers, herons and waders.

Most of the islands are surrounded by fringing reefs and vegetation that sometimes varies from island to island depending on human interaction. Several of the islands are also important breeding grounds for turtles.

The shores of Jolly Buoy Island are a palette of mesmerizing shades of blue where the pale sands meet. As scenic as it is, the bigger attraction is the coral reefs close to shore and in waters so shallow that it’s safe to snorkel even for beginners. What immediately catches the eye in the world below are the brilliant colors of corals in their myriad forms—spiky, needle-shaped, stemmed, cauliflower-shaped, fans with mushroom-like domes. Some are gathered together, while others are scattered.

Various sea creatures live among them. The seabed is littered with shells and pebbles on which a sluggish octopus slowly crawls. There are a handful of starfish of varying sizes in red, purple, and yellow. Unusual giant oysters, their shells a dull sandy color, merge with the floor and suddenly open to reveal surprisingly violent insides.

Dark sea cucumbers stand motionless on corals and startle when suddenly moved. And then there are the mind-boggling and dazzling fish. Some of them swim in flocks, moving delicately in and around the corals, as if moving in a silent symphony. Others are odd or even. Yellow, orange, green, blue and purple stripes have parrot fish, tiger fish, angel fish, and butterfly fish.

The most attractive creatures are the bright orange clownfish, small in size but very agile. They dart in and out of crevices and are playful enough to approach, but if you reach out to touch them, run away. It’s a bit like entering the fantasy world of Finding Nemo.

After more than an hour of exploring this huge living aquarium, it’s time to head back, but not before taking a few minutes to lie on the powdery sands of the beach as the gentle waters wash by.

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