Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON)

THT Conservation Grant 2023

Project Name:

Conserving the Overlooked Subterranean Cave Habitat: A Sustainability Approach

Project Brief:

Andaman and Nicobar Islands are known for their marine diversity, but they are also home to numerous karst land caves – which are not included in the global karst land map. Caves are the most significant landforms in karst lands and have been silent witnesses of Earth’s evolution and the rise of human civilizations. Caves have retained and protected important pieces of Earth’s long and tumultuous geological past. These range from ancient mineral deposits, long-gone oceans and early life forms to unique cave-adapted organisms, extinct megafauna remains and the early manifestation of human art.

For over two decades, it is known that there are close to 400 limestone karstic caves in around 23 islands here. Of these, around 200 caves are protected to save the Edible-nest Swiftlet breeding inside them. These unique limestone caves in the karst lands hold terrestrial and aquatic microhabitats bearing several known and unknown species, and are under tremendous anthropogenic pressure. Also, as caves and other karst geo-forms are very attractive geo-tourism sites, it is essential to have guidelines for their sustainable use as these tropical islands, with harsh climatic conditions, have limited natural resources for economic development.

SACON proposes a sustainable approach for the comprehensive management of cave habitats. The current proposal attempts to understand sustainable strategies for the conservation of the cave habitats at three sites in North and Middle Andaman Islands: Baratang Island, Chalis-ek, and the Interview Island Wildlife Sanctuary of Middle Andaman. These caves are known to bear endemic and threatened fauna (including Andaman Horseshoe Bat and the recently discovered Ravi Sankaran’s Rock Shrimp).

Project objectives:
  • Collect, process and evaluate the data required for preparing the cave conservation plan.
  • Identify the constraints, threats, and opportunities for conserving the caves and the surrounding karst areas.
  • Prepare the conservation plan for the select caves and surrounding karst areas in the North and Middle Andaman Islands.
Highlights from the field:
  • This project is ongoing