The coral reefs of
Agatti is one of the Lakshadweep Islands off the southwest coast of India. These islands are
surrounded by lagoons and coral reefs which are in turn surrounded by the open ocean. Coral
reefs, which are formed from the skeletons of minute sea creatures, give shelter to a variety of
plants and animals, and therefore have the potential to provide a stream of diverse benefits to the
inhabitants of Agatti Island.
In the first place, the reefs provide food and other products for consumption by the islanders
themselves. Foods include different types of fish, octopus and molluscs, and in the case of poorer
families these constitute as much as 90% of the protein they consume. Reef resources are also
used for medicinal purposes. For example, the money cowrie, a shell known locally as
Vallakavadi, is commonly made into a paste and used as a home remedy to treat cysts in the eye.
In addition, the reef contributes to income generation. According to a recent survey, 20% of
the households on Agatti report lagoon fishing, or shingle, mollusc, octopus and cowrie
collection as their main occupation (Hoon et al, 2002). For poor households, the direct
contribution of the reef to their financial resources is significant: 12% of poor households are
completely dependent on the reef for their household income, while 59% of poor households rely
on the reef for 70% of their household income, and the remaining 29% for 50% of their
Bartering of reef resources also commonly takes place, both between islanders and between
islands. For example, Agatti Island is known for its abundance of octopus, and this is often used
to obtain products from nearby Androth Island. Locally, reef products may be given by islanders
in return for favours, such as help in constructing a house or net mending, or for other products
such as rice, coconuts or fish.
The investment required to exploit the reefs is minimal. It involves simple, locally available
tools and equipment, some of which can be used without a boat, such as the fishing practice
known as Kat moodsal. This is carried out in the shallow eastern lagoon of Agatti by children
and adults, close to shore at low tide, throughout the year. A small cast net, a leaf bag, and plastic
slippers are all that are required, and the activity can yield 10–12 small fish (approximately 1 kg)
for household consumption. Cast nets are not expensive, and all the households in Agatti own at
least one. Even the boats, which operate in the lagoon and near-shore reef, are constructed
locally and have low running costs. They are either small, non-mechanised, traditional wooden
rowing boats, known as Thonis, or rafts, known as Tharappam.