Marine National Park – Narara
The word “National Park” brings to mind pictures of large mammals and tropical forests for most of us. At best it may extend to a bird sanctuary. What we usually forget it that India has a mainland coastline of 6000 km. If we add islands as well it will stretch much more. Coastal regions contribute significantly to India’s bio diversity.
Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch is one of the very few of its kind in India. It is located in the southern part of Gulf of Kutch in Jamnagar district (Gujarat). It consists of several islands and is filled with sandy beaches, coral reefs and mangroves. Pirotan island is the best known (relatively speaking !) of the lot.
Narara is one of the beaches covered by the National Park. It is about 60 km away from Jamnagar, off the Jamnagar-Dwaraka highway. We made an early dash to Narara thanks to my miscalculation of the tide timings. Our arrival, shortly before dawn, met with curious eyes of two security men who were posted to watch the beach – I cannot recollect whether they were from army or CISF. I had procured visit permit through the hotel before our arrival in Jamnagar. This paper gave us entry into the beach which from a distance, looked like hundreds of other beaches. A short stroll changed that impression quickly. The sand had a peculiar line pattern drawn by the receding sea waters. Strewn all over the sand were shells, small marine organisams – both alive and dead ! My knowledge of marine life can be described as “abysmally poor”. With no guide at that unearthly hour, we enjoyed nature without going into the why and what of things. There were a very large number of birds all around – herons, ducks, plovers and so on. After spending a couple of hours on the beach, we returned to the security post and picked up a conversation with one of the security men – Reddy from Bangalore. We gathered that the time when tide would move back and give an opportunity to see more marine life would be a couple of hours past noon.
When we came back past noon, there were a good number of enthusiasts waiting for the ‘reef walk’. When the tide recedes, it leaves behind a long stretch of shallow waters brimming with marine life. Birds use this opportunity to make a meal of small marine creatures. The reason why Narara is a wonderful beach to explore corals and marine life is the long shallow stretch of sea water that I mentioned. It makes exploration on foot comfortable. Once into the water we figured out that extreme care has to be taken to not disturb the water too much – it turns murky and the creatures that can move disappear. The guide was not a great guy, but our ignorance ensured he could catch our attention fully. Locating stuff underwater is as tricky as sighting animals on a jungle safari – though they are right under your feet. Camouflage is difficult to detect. Ability to remain still is another trick – only when the fish dashes away would you realise that there was one there. We could see starfish, seahorse and different types of corals. Puffer fish is a peculiar variety which could quickly inflate itself to a balloon form when in trouble. It can survive out of water for a while. But it is very swift in movement. After a good chase our guide caught one and took it out of water for us to see. He explained that it is poisonous and hence not edible.
Octopus in Narara is like a tiger in Ranthambore or rhino in Kaziranga – visitors would not be satisfied without sighting one. We had to look for sometime before one was located. It is a master of camouflage – without the guide, we would never have seen one. He picked it up and let us touch it. When let off, it stayed close, but we had to struggle to locate it.
Corals have some very interesting formations. Brain coral and moon coral are the ones which need special mention. Brain coral has a shape and surface which are exactly like that of human brain.
There were several organisms that were sticking to the sea bed. Sea anemones were interesting to see. They are colourful and soft with several tentacles. The one we touched shrunk and soon disappeared below the sand bed – a defence mechanism of anemones.
Jamnagar is an industrial city and with industries come environmental challenges. What I could gather is that Jamnagar has been able to strike a delicate balance between the two. From some of the largest refineries to several thousands of small scale industries thrive in the Jamnagar belt. But they appear to be co-habiting exceedingly well with the rich biodiversity that the area offers.
The park certainly deserves more popular attention. A bit of promotion would surely come handy to create more awareness and interest. If you are travelling to that part of Gujarat, Marine National Park is a stop worth having.