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Wandur (Andamans): Caves, caverns & India’s best marine park

December 01
22:38 2010

The Wandur National Park comprises about 12 islands and is located about 30 km southwest of Port Blair – the capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Comprising 300 islands, this archipelago is amongst the most far-flung regions of India. Labyrinthine Island groups as they are aptly named because of the channels weaving around and forming a maze – they are home to India’s best marine parks.

Most of the islands in the park are densely forested; the open spaces are covered with scrub and creepers. A casual glance around and one can spot brilliant tropical flowers including orchids, broken branches and fallen leaves spread over the jungle pathways. One can also hear the bird calls, but unless in the open, it is difficult to spot the terns, gulls, ospreys, serpent crested eagles, wood pigeons and of course the swifts.

Caves and caverns are another interesting aspect of these islands since most of them are quite rocky. The sandy beaches where the boats can land are interspersed amongst the sheer granite cliffs and walls of the islands.
But the most striking feature of all these islands is the vegetation. Very dense, it comes right down to the shore, seeming to merge into the sea. Branches and creepers overhang and dip into the seawater.

Wandur or Marine National Park is located in the Union Territory of Andaman & Nicobar at a distance of around 30 km from Port Blair, capital of this centrally administrative division of India. The park extends from the latitudes 10°13′-14°N and the longitudes 92°- 93°E, in the Bay of Bengal.

Best time to visit: December to early April. Wandur National Park has a tropical climate. There is medium to heavy rain from May to mid September and November to mid December. There is no extreme climate except rains and tropical storms in late summer, which cause heavy damage.

Tourist attractions:

Jollybuoy – Of all these islands Jollybuoy, which, lies towards the middle of the park, is most famous. The biggest attraction of this island is a sandy beach on its northern end. This beach is encircled by a reef, which is exposed during low tide. Walking carefully over the area one can see the tide pools and in them the sea cucumbers, anemones, starfish, cowries, turbots and spider conch.

Redskin Island – Redskin Island is another important island, which is inhabited by the deer, which were brought here by the British. Approachable by boats that land in sandy coves on either side of the island, Redskin has a large area with numerous caves along the northern cliffs. The interior is still quite densely wooded with mangrove stands along the eastern and southern creeks. Across the channel is Tarmugli, which has an extensive coral reef on the southwestern side and an idyllic diving cove at the extreme end of the reef. Nearby is Grub Island, a picturesque sand fringed island that is so small, one can walk around it. At the southern end of the park lie the Twins. Aptly named, the two peaks rise from the deep blue sea, separated by a thin strip clean and clear water.

Marine Life – Having explored the land, it is time to discover the marine life. It begins right at the shore. Take a plunge into the deep and a whole new world unfolds through the diving mask. At first sight everything appears to be a blue haze. Slowly it begins to unravel – the sand below, the coral heads and the amazing variety of fish: brightly colored green parrot fish, blue damsels, yellow butterfly fish, black surgeons, silver jacks – a never-ending parade of sea life.

The richness and diversity of the life on the coral reef is amazing. Take the coral for example – a simple skeleton made up layer by layer by the minute coral polyp. It comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Of the over 1000 existing species in the world, 135 are found in the Andaman’s, alone.

The coral reef itself is made up of solid limestone built over ages through a process of sedimentation. Boulders, walls, peaks, valleys, nooks and corners form the general topography. Brain coral, finger coral, antler coral are some of the common varieties encountered. Plate coral, vase coral and leather coral are scattered all over the reef in patches.

If examined closely it is possible to distinguish the individual coral polyps. Some are as small as a few millimeters where as others can be about a centimeter long. Tentacles, which serve the purpose of collecting food, surround their centrally placed mouth. Though they might look insignificant, all corals, whether branching or spreading are the creation of these countless individuals working in harmony.

Corals derive their color from algae called xooanthellae living inside their flesh. This symbiotic relationship is characteristic of many other species of the reef. The algae help in the formation of the hard limestone coral skeleton and in return it utilizes the coral’s metabolic wastes as nutrients.

As the reef is built up over the years it serves as a shelter and haven to other marine life. Fish, crab, lobsters, sea urchins, and shrimps – all start forming the intricate food web, which binds all these creatures to each other. Eat or be eaten is the universal law here. This food web often ends with the most voracious predators. On the reef these are the grouper, the barracuda and the shark. They patrol the outer edges of the reef in search of prey. One wonders who the sharks are prey to.

One of the most interesting sights on the reef is the cleaner wrasse. This particular fish has evolved an innovative and specialized feeding behavior. Its principal food consists of small parasites and to obtain them, it offers a ‘cleaning service’ to other fish as most fish have these pests clinging to them.
Proceeding further along one is likely to come across the giant clam. It is a spectacular sight with its luminescent mantle. Small ones are easily spotted but the real three feet giant clams are said to exist only along the remote fringes of the park.

Another curious sight is the big anemone and its clownfish that live in association, forming one of the well-known cases of symbiosis. The mobile clownfish cleans and feeds the fixed anemones while the anemone offers shelter to the fish. The anemones can sting mildly and it is best, not to touch them. Then there are five species of clownfish, which occur in the park. Some can be found in three feet of water and easily observed by the snorkeler.

Mangrove – Another marvel of these islands is the mangrove. This hardy tree has its roots in seawater. The leaves and other debris of the mangrove form a very important source of food to the marine life. Like the reef this tree provides a natural buffer against storm waves.

How to reach

Air – Regular flights from Port Blair to Calcutta and Chennai are operated by Indian Airlines.

Road – One can travel to Wandur, from Port Blair, by road.

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