Kick-starting the Long Term Ecological Observatories Programme
By Tanmay Wagh
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) recently launched the nationwide Long Term Ecological Observatories (LTEO) programme, a multi-institutional and inter-disciplinary initiative to understand the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic disturbances on a range of ecosystems and taxa. The programme is being implemented in landscapes across India and involves monitoring of soils, grasslands, forests, animal movement, herpetofauna, invertebrates, fish, birds and marine ecosystems. The marine ecosystems component of the LTEO programme is led by Dakshin Foundation in collaboration with Pondicherry University, Nature Conservation Foundation and the Indian Institute of Science. The Marine Theme’s research will be carried out in the Andaman Islands and will involve long term monitoring of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, leatherback turtles and abiotic water quality parameters.
While the COVID related lockdown in the Andamans made fieldwork challenging, all the partner institutions were able to carry out rapid surveys when the restrictions eased in March and April 2021. Dakshin researchers carried out a few exploratory surveys in reef areas of Allan’s and Hooper’s patches off the Wandoor coast. The scope of these dives was to explore and identify reefs to set up permanent plots. These plots are marked areas that will be monitored regularly over the coming field seasons. Although we haven’t been able to do any further work at these sites, the team is armed with hammers, iron rods, cable ties, cameras, underwater paper and measuring tapes to kick-start work in the next season.
In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dakshin’s research station, Andaman Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) is the primary field station supporting both terrestrial and marine components of the LTEO programme. Along with improving the research and infrastructure facilities at ANET, the programme will help train the ANET field staff to contribute to various research projects as well as develop new cross-thematic and multi-disciplinary programmes with the LTEO partner organisations. Currently, efforts are underway to improve the lab facilities at the field station to house sophisticated equipment and facilitate research that needs to be carried out in controlled conditions.
The LTEO project, a much-needed initiative, is a great platform for generating long term data as well as integrating the findings into local and national policies. While the ecological information is the primary outcome of the project, it also aligns with Dakshin’s larger engagement in the Andaman Islands and creates an opportunity to build upon the existing education, wellbeing and outreach work that is being done in the islands.