4Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007)
An ornithological expedition to the Lakshadweep archipelago:
Assessment of threats to pelagic and other birds and recommendations
Satish Pande, Niranjan R. Sant, Satish D. Ranade, Shivkumar N. Pednekar,
Premsagar G. Mestry, Sanjay S. Kharat & Vaibhav Deshmukh
Pande, S., Sant, N. R., Ranade, S. D., Pednekar, S. N., Mestry, P. G., Kharat, S. S. & Deshmukh, V. 2007. An ornithological expedition to the
Lakshadweep archipelago: Assessment of threats to pelagic and other birds and recommendations. Indian Birds 3 (1): 2–12.
Satish Pande, ELA Foundation, Pune. C-9, Bhosale Park, Sahakarnagar-2, Pune 411009, Maharashtra, India. Email: email@example.com
Niranjan R. Sant, 27, Adarsha Nagar, Vadgao, Belgaum 590005, Karnataka, India.
Satish D. Ranade, Mahatma Nagar, Plot 177, Trimbak Rd., Nashik 422007, Maharashtra, India.
Shivkumar N. Pednekar, 1676, Ganesh Niwas, Rankala Vesh, Kolhapur 416012, Maharashtra, India.
Premsagar G. Mestry, Gulmohor Colony, Chawdar Tale, Mahad 402301, Raigad District, Maharashtra, India.
Sanjay S. Kharat, Shree Residency, Flat No 37, Dapodi, Pune 411012, Maharashtra, India.
Vaibhav Deshmukh, Deshmukh Clinic, Near Jain Mandir, Bazar Peth, Alibag 402201, Maharashtra, India.
Several previous reports have documented the avifauna of
Lakshadweep Archipelago: Hume (1876), Alcock (1902),
Gadow & Gardiner (1903), Ellis (1924), Betts (1939), Burton
(1940), Bourne (1960), Ramuni (1962), Watson et al. (1963),
Mathew & Ambedkar (1964), Bailey et al. (1968), Anon. (1970,
1991), Subiah (1978), Ripley (1982), Chapman (1984),
Bhaskaran (1985), Livingstone (1987), Ali & Ripley (1989),
Bourne (1989), Mohan (1989), Daniels (1992), Kurup &
Zacharias (1994), Robertson (1994), and Santharam et al.
The last ornithological survey of the archipelago was in
1990–1991 (Santharam et al. 1996). The present 2nd Pelagic
Birds Survey from 12–16.iii.2006, a joint effort of ELA
Foundation, Pune and Ecological Society, Pune together with
Indian Coast Guard, was carried out after a lapse of 16 years.
The first part of this survey focused on pelagic bird life off the
western coast of India, in the Arabian Sea, and was completed
in October–November 2005 (Pande 2005). Here we present
the findings of the second lap of our survey, which was
restricted to the Lakshadweep archipelago. Pitti Island, a part
of the Lakshadweep archipelago, is an Important Bird Area
(Islam & Rahmani 2004).
Observations were made from ICGS Annie Besant during
the inter-island voyages on the Arabian Sea. Motorised
‘Geminis’ were used for reaching the various islands, reefs
or sand flats from the ship. We swam to a few sand flats and
reefs when the water around their shores had sharp rocky
projections that would damage our inflatable boats. Landing
on some islands was extremely difficult due to powerful
breakers and the skills of the highly trained crew of ICGS
Annie Besant was crucial to a successful touchdown. It is
worth documenting here that several previous observers had
to abandon their studies due to inability to land on Pitti and
We visited 13 localities (including 11 islands and sand
flats and 2 offshore waters near islands) of the Lakshadweep
archipelago. We actually landed on sand flats and islands.
Only in case of Agatti and Kavaratti islands, the survey was
restricted to the offshore marine waters. Observations were
made during the inter-island voyages and also after landing
on the various islands, etc., while walking on them. Flocks
were counted when they re-settled on the ground, after we
had landed. Eggs were physically counted. Species
composition was also recorded. Photographic documentation
with still and video cameras was done. All observations were
made during the daylight hours.
Study area and study period
The various islands, sand flats and reefs of the Lakshadweep
archipelago (8º0’–12º30’N 71º–74ºE) which lies from about
220–440 km from the west coast of Kerala, that we visited
were: Cherbaniani, Byramgore, Bitra, Pitti, Bangaram,
Tinnakara, Parli 1 and Parli 2, Agatti’s offshore waters, Suheli
Valiyakara, Suheli Pitti, Suheli Cheriyakara and Kavaratti’s
offshore waters. The northern most point we covered was
Cherbaniani Island (12º24’N 71º53’E) and southern most,
Suheli Cheiyakara Island 10º02’N 72º17’E. Along with these
islands the inter-island waters were also surveyed. Due to a
time constraint, we avoided the more populated islands of
Lakshadweep, since there was no significant pelagic avian
life from these islands in any of the previous reports.
Observations and Results
Eight species of pelagic birds from three families were
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007) 5
recorded during our survey—one species from the
Phaethontidae, one from Stercorariidae and six from Laridae.
In addition to these 19 non-pelagic species were also recorded
(Table 1). We observed that Lesser Crested Tern Sterna
bengalensis had the widest distribution, occurring on 13
islands followed by Large Crested Tern S. bergii, which was
found on eight islands. Sooty Tern S. fuscata, Brown Noddy
Anous stolidus, Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus and Common
Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos were recorded on 5 islands.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres and Pond Heron Ardeola
grayii were recorded on four islands. Lesser Sand Plover
Charadrius mongolus and Grey Heron Ardea cinerea were seen
on three islands while the other species were seen only on
two or one of the islands surveyed.
At least 31 species of pelagic and shore birds are reported
from Lakshadweep (Kurup & Zacharias 1994; Robertson
1994). We have not added any new species to this list. Daniels
(1992) reported Masked Sula dactylatra and Red-footed S. sula
Booby as resident birds but we did not spot them during our
Our observations on major marine tern species
encountered on various islands are presented in Table 2. Sooty
Tern was the most abundant species followed by Brown
Noddy, Large Crested Tern and Lesser Crested Tern. Percent
pairs of the two species, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy, found
breeding at Cherbaniani and Pitti islands are given in
Table 3. It was observed that pairs of both these species laid
only one egg each.
Relative percent distribution of terns irrespective of species
recorded on various islands in Lakshadweep Archipelago
has been shown in Fig. 1. Percent occurrence of various terns
in Lakshadweep Archipelago and percent terns of each species
that were breeding has been shown in Fig. 2.
A flock of Brown Noddies Anous stolidus
A Brown Noddy Anous stolidus pair
6Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007)
Breeding colonies were recorded only on two islands,
particularly Cherbaniani (Belapani Reef) and Pitti. However,
Cherbaniani, Pitti, Suheli Pitti and Byramgore sandflats, all
appear to be important breeding and / or roosting sites for
birds. The previous nesting islands like Tinnakara and Suheli
group of islands are presently not used by any of the marine
terns for breeding (Kurup & Zacharias 1994). It is therefore
important to protect these three islands in addition to Pitti
Island, which is already an IBA but does not have any legal
protection status. We have photographed the Grey-backed
Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus, probably for the first time in
Indian marine waters, at Cherbaniani sand flat, though
previous observers have reported it earlier.
Table 1. Pelagic and shore birds of the Lakshadweep archipelago
Species Approx. no. Islands of occurrence Earlier records1
Barau’s Petrel Pterodroma baraui -- *
Jouanin’s Petrel Bulweria fallax -- *
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus -- *
Flesh-footed Shearwater P. carneipes -- *
Audubon’s Shearwater P. lherminieri -- *
Persian Shearwater P. persicus -- *
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus -- *
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel Fregetta tropica -- *
White-bellied Storm-Petrel F. grallaria -- *
Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis -- *
Grey-backed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus 41 *
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra -- *
Red-footed Booby S. sula -- *
Brown Booby S. leucogaster -- *
Great Frigatebird Fregata minor -- *
South Polar Skua Catharacta antarctica -- *
Parasitic Jaeger S. parasiticus -- *
Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus 113 *
Threats to avian and other marine life and marine ecosystem,
as perceived by us during our survey in March 2006 are listed
below. Continued on page 8... Large Crested Tern Sterna bergii
Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007) 7
Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis 2,700+ 1 to 13 *
Large Crested Tern S. bergii 3,200+ 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 *
White-cheeked Tern S. repressa 40+ 1 *
Bridled Tern S. anaethetus 20+ 13 *
Sooty Tern S. fuscata 15,200+ 1, 2, 4, 9, 13 *
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus 9,200+ 1, 2, 4, 11, 13 *
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 10 1, 3, 4 *
Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii 13 *
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 4 6, 8 *
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 22 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 *
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 16 -
Green Sandpiper T. ochropus 46 -
Spotted Sandpiper T. glareola 16 -
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 26 -
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 13 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 -
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 28 4, 5, 10, 11 *
Crab-Plover Dromas ardeola 61 *
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 11 6, 8, 10 -
Indian Pond-Heron Ardeola grayii 5 5, 6, 7, 8 -
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 2 7, 13 -
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 10+ 13 -
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea 15 -
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis Several 3, 4 -
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Several 5, 10 -
Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus Several 5, 10 -
1 Kurup & Zacharias 1994; Robertson 1994.
1=Cherbaniani (Belapani Reef); 2=Byramgore (Chereapani Reef); 3=Bitra Par Atoll; 4=Pitti Island; 5=Bangaram Atoll;
6=Tinnakara Island; 7=Parli-1 Atoll; 8=Parli-2 Atoll; 9=Agatti Island’s offshore waters; 10=Suheli Valiyakara Atoll;
11=Suheli Pitti Atoll; 12=Suheli Cheriyakara Atoll; 13=Kavaratti Island’s offshore waters.
Species Approx. no. Islands of occurrence Earlier records1
8Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007)
Table 2. Island-wise population and occurrence of terns
Island-wise occurrence of individual bird species, number of eggs and the species-wise distribution of birds in the
Lakshadweep archipelago, in March 2006.
Island ST BN LrCT LsCT WCT BT Total Eggs
Cherbaniani 5,000 1,700 1,900 760 40 0 9,400 1,200
% Occurence -53.20% -18.10% -20.20% -8.10% -0.40% -30.70%
Byramgore 650 250 50 500 0 0 1450 0
% Occurence -44.80% -17.20% -3.50% -34.50% -4.70%
Bitra 0 0 0 4 0 0 4 0
Pitti 9,560 6,600 150 50 0 0 16,360 1,790
% Occurence -58.40% -40.40% -0.90% -0.30% -53.40%
Bangaram 0 0 0 150 0 0 150 0
% Occurence -0.48%
Tinnakara 0 0 0 10 0 0 10 0
Parli 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 5 0
Parli 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 2 0
Agatti offshore 4 0 10 150 0 0 164 0
% Occurence -2.40% -6.10% -91.50% -0.50%
Suh. Valiyakara 0 0 47 0 0 0 47 0
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus incubating
Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007) 9
Figure 1. Distribution of terns on various islands in the
Lakshadweep archipelago in March 2006 (PT-Pitti; CHR-
Cherbaniani; SUPT-Suheli Pitti; BY-Byramgore; KVR-
Kavaratti; OT-Other islands).
Figure 2. Occurrence of various terns in the Lakshadweep
archipelago and breeding statistics recorded in March 2006.
(ST-Sooty Tern; BN-Brown Noddy; LrCT-Large Crested
Tern; LsCT-Lesser Crested Tern; WCT-BT-White-cheeked
Tern and Bridled Tern. BRD-Breeding; OCC-Occurrence.)
BN = Brown Noddy; BT = Bridled Tern; LrCT = Large Crested Tern; LsCT = Lesser Crested Tern; ST = Sooty Tern; WCT =
Suh. Pitti 0 150 750 1,000 0 0 1,900 0
% Occurence -7.90% -39.50% -52.60% -6.20%
Suh. Cheriyakara 0 0 100 100 0 0 200 0
% Occurence -0.60%
Kavaratti offshore 84 590 252 10 0 20 956 0
% Occurence -8.80% -61.70% -26.40% -1.00% -2.10% -3.10%
Total 15,298 9,290 3,259 2,781 40 20 30,648 2,990
% Occurrence 49.90% 30.30% 10.60% 9.00% 0.10% 0.10% 100% -
Island ST BN LrCT LsCT WCT BT Total Eggs
Courting Brown Noddies Anous stolidus
Juvenile Large Crested Tern Sterna bergii
10 Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007)
1. Pitti and Cherbaniani Islands attract local residents
for guano collection. During these visits poaching of
eggs and trapping of nesting pelagic birds for eating
has been documented by several observers in the past
(Kurup & Zacharias 1994). We have also noted heaps
of broken eggshells and mounds of feathers confirming
that this practice is still prevalent. The entire colony
has been earlier ransacked for eggs (Mathew et al. 1991).
2. Guano collection is also rampant as evident by more
than one dozen plastic bags filled with guano that we
recorded on Cherbaniani (Belapani reef).
3. We noticed some Sooty Terns entangled in the frayed
and torn edges of plastic guano collection bags. Those
alive were rescued and released.
4. Extensive coconut palm plantations on several islands
like Bitra, Parli 1 & 2, Tinnakara, Suheli Veliyakara
and Cheriyakara have resulted in their being
abandoned as nesting sites by the birds. Nesting was
previously documented in Bitra and Suheli group of
islands (Mathew & Ambedkar 1964). Growing human
population has clearly put a pressure on the available
land and increasingly, uninhabited islands are being
opened for human activities. These activities are clearly
detrimental to the birds. Construction of a tourist hotel
at Bangaram has resulted in absence of nesting by
pelagic birds at this place.
5. Opening of Suheli Chriyakara to humans has resulted
in frequent visits to the adjacent Suheli Pitti Island by
people and fishermen and this has driven away nesting
pelagic birds from Suheli Pitti as well. Nesting was
documented here in the recent past (Mathew &
6. We noted liberal use of rodenticides like ‘Roban’ (Zinc
compounds) on several islands like Tinnakara, Parli 1
Table 3. Breeding pairs on Cherbaniani and Pitti islands in March 2006
Island Sooty Tern Breeding pairs Brown Noddy Breeding pairs
Cherbaniani 5, 000 48% 1, 700 0%
Pitti 9, 560 29.30% 6, 600 11.80%
Total 14, 560 35.70% 8, 300 9.40%
Mixed colony of Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata and Brown Noddies Anous stolidus
Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007) 11
& 2 and Suheli Veliyakara. The soil samples in some of
the islands have shown alarmingly high levels of Zinc,
which is toxic (Bat et al. 1999).
7. Bio-magnification of toxic Zinc is probably already
occurring since samples of debris from bird carcasses
from Pitti Island, which is devoid of any vegetation
and an important breeding ground for pelagic terns,
have also revealed higher than permissible levels of
8. Alteration of pH of water towards acidic side is seen
in a few lagoons. This could be the result of the
prolonged practice of dumping ‘Mas’ or rotting fish
and other organic matter on the shore and in the lagoon.
The unfavorable pH alteration is detrimental in the long
run since the lagoon water tends to concentrate toxic
wastes as it is cut off from the open sea by a ring of
9. Dumping of garbage like plastic, used and leaking
batteries, electric glass bulbs, bottles, cigarette cartons,
cans, etc., is prevalent on important nesting islands of
Pitti and Cherbaniani (Belapani Reef).
10. Recurring oil spills, even in small quantities, from
fishermen’s boats and tourist transport can cause
pollution in the long run.
11. A lack of regular monitoring of the nesting islands by
competent authorities of Lakshadweep Archipelago
and by Coast Guard has resulted in absence of fear in
the minds of fishermen who poach the eggs and birds
indiscriminately in spite of Pitti Island being
recognized as an Important Bird Area. However no legal
protection is accorded to this important island.
12. Stray incidents of poaching of marine fauna by Indian
and non-Indian tourists are reported.
13. A lack of knowledge of island and marine ecology and
a failure to understand the importance of this fragile
ecosystem, the importance of nesting bird colonies on
Pitti and Cherbaniani islands, the most important
breeding grounds of pelagic birds in Arabian Sea in
Indian territory—can be ascribed to administrative
14. Poaching of eggs of marine turtles is known. Local
fishermen also kill marine turtles for oil, which is used
for painting boats for rendering them water resistant.
15. Armoring of coasts and cutting of indigenous
vegetation has led to a decrease in the availability of
sandy beaches for nesting marine turtles. This is
causing an irreversible damage to the fragile island
1. Cherbaniani (Belapani Reef), Byramgore, Suheli Pitti and
Pitti islands should be immediately declared Marine Birds
Sanctuaries. They should also be assessed IBAs. A strict
penalty should be levied if unauthorized persons are found
on these islands, especially during March and November.
Cherbaniani is the second most important breeding
ground for the pelagic birds of the Lakshadweep
archipelago, second only to Pitti Island (Table 2).
2. Regular surveillance and monitoring of bird
populations on Cherbaniani and Pitti islands should
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata at nest
12 Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007)
3. No habitat modification on these islands should be
permitted and their status quo maintained without
starting any coconut or other plantations. If such
plantations are allowed on Pitti, Cherbaniani,
Byramgore and Suheli Pitti islands, the breeding birds
on Lakshadweep archipelago are very likey to vanish
in the next twenty five years.
4. Suheli Pitti, though devoid of pelagic bird nesting, is a
potential breeding ground of these birds. Entry of people
to Suheli Pitti should also be strictly prohibited.
Resumption of breeding by pelagic birds on this sand
bank is very likely to be occurring during the SW
5. The Coast Guard should physically patrol
Cherbaniani, Byramgore, Pitti and Suheli Pitti islands,
rather than simple distant patrolling. Unless the
personnel land on these islands in Gemini boats, true
status of pelagic birds cannot be evaluated since the
larger patrol vessels cannot approach close enough and
hence the bird life and other faunal monitoring or
exploitation will remain unknown.
6. Use of rodenticides like ‘Roban’, which contains zinc
compounds, should be strictly prohibited in
Lakshdweep. There is evidence of high percentage of
toxic zinc in soil samples and bio-magnification of this
pollutant is already occurring (Mathew et al. 1991).
This is definitely a cause for concern. The rodents live
on coconut palms and remain in the canopy throughout
their life; hence indiscriminate use of rodenticides on
ground is of doubtful efficacy. Other measures for rodent
control should be tried.
7. Disposal of fish ‘Mas’ and other vegetative waste like
coconut fronds should be correctly carried out in a safe
manner such that decomposition of these waste
products does not increase the pH of water or produce
any unfavorable alterations.
8. Creating public awareness on the importance of
Cherbaniani, Byramgore, Pitti and Suheli Pitti islands
in Lakshadweep’s ecology should be undertaken on a
priority basis. Administration should refrain fishermen
from visiting these islands and from poaching eggs,
killing birds and disposing toxic garbage on them.
9. Officers and crew of the Coast Guard should be involved
in a marine ecology orientation workshop wherein the
importance of marine ecosystem with respect to marine
birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, flora and other fauna is
highlighted in a simple manner. The immense role of
Coast Guard in the protection, conservation and
preservation of our natural but fragile marine wealth
should be highlighted, since this area is virtually out of
bounds to the common man.
We thank Vice Adm. M. P. Awati (Retd.), Director Ecological Society,
Pune for inspiring us to undertake the task that was so close to our
hearts and for being instrumental in arranging the survey. The
survey would not have been possible without his continued interest.
We thank Director General Indian Coast Guard, New Delhi;
Inspector General A. Rajasekhara, Comdt. Coast Guard Western
Hermit Crab Pagurus sp. predating on egg
Lesser Crested Terns Sterna bengalensis
Indian Birds Vol. 3 No. 1 (January–February 2007) 13
Region and also the Commander in Chief Western Naval Command
and Prakash Gole, Chairman of Ecological Society; for making this
expedition possible. We specially thank Comm. S. Paramesh CO
ICGS Annie Besant and his competent and helpful staff especially
Dy. Comm. Sujeet Dwivedi, Asst. Comm. Varun Upadhyaa and
chief diver Officer Mohanti for helping our team in every possible
manner. We sincerely thank ELA Foundation, Pune for making the
survey a success. We also thank Anil Mahabal of Zoological Survey
of India, WRS, Pune, for his suggestions.
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Juvenile Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
A spray of Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres