• The survival of the threatened bumphead parrotfish in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands hinges on the persistence of coral reefs and presence of marine protected areas.
  • Implementing fishing regulations could help its population bounce back, say researchers.
  • Bumpheads are the world’s largest parrotfish.
  • Ramming its enormous green head against corals to dislodge them, a single bumphead can nibble up to five tonnes of coral every year.
  • Though seemingly destructive, this activity promotes coral growth and keeps reef ecosystems healthy.
  • However, numbers of bumphead parrotfish have decreased worldwide. Overfishing is a concern, for the fish are highly prized catches.
  • But how are India’s bumpheads in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands doing?
  • The fish occurred only patchily in these waters at densities of just 0.0032 per hectare.
  • The low densities are shocking, very similar to those of bumphead populations in southeast Asia where they are legally protected.
  • Live coral cover and the presence of marine protected areas – where fishing is banned – emerged as crucial factors for bumphead presence.
  • Most fishers were aware of the presence of bumpheads in their waters; and all fishermen in Central Nicobar and Middle Andaman had seen the fish feeding and aggregating (bumpheads tend to aggregate in numbers larger than 10).
  • Most fishers had hunted the fish all their lives, using hand-held wooden spears or harpoons.
  • Currently, this hunting is only opportunistic.
  • However, if this changes to targeted fishing it could endanger bumpheads which could be easily conserved as a ‘flagship species’.
  • Bumpheads are not legally protected in India though the IUCN categorises them as Vulnerable,” he says
  • Now would be a good time to protect them legally and implement some fishing restrictions so their numbers can improve.
  • Natural catastrophes such as bleaching may have already affected these large fish.”