Creatures that crossed an ocean to find India


You will most likely see lemurs in a Hollywood animation movie; singing, dancing and playing pranks. In the wild, they are found only on the island of Madagascar, which, to naturalists has always been a place of intriguing creatures.

Many life forms in Madagascar have affinities to lineages found in India (3,800 km away) rather than Africa (413 km). This posed a ‘difficult enigma’ to naturalists.

Zoologist Philip Sclater was perplexed by the presence of lemurs, their relatives, and their fossils in Madagascar and India, but not in nearby Africa or the Middle East. In the 1860s, he proposed that a large island or continent must have once existed between India and Madagascar, serving as a land bridge. Over time, this island had sunk. He called this proposed island Lemuria.

Sclater’s hypothesis fascinated occultists such as Helena Blavatsky, who thought that this had to be the place, now lost, where humans originated.

Tamil revivalists such as Devaneya Pavanar also took up the idea, in the form of a Tamil civilisation, lost to the sea as described in literature and in Pandyan legends. They called this submerged continent Kumari Kandam.

Continental drift

Sclater’s ideas lost favour when another ‘outlandish’ theory, of continental drift, began to gain acceptance. In plate tectonics, the large rocky plates that we stand on float on molten subterranean rocks and move 2-15 cm per year relative to each other. A landmass called Gondwana, split into two 165 million years ago — one containing what is now Africa and South America, the other comprising India, Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica.

Around 115 million years ago, Madagascar and India together broke free. Around 88 million years ago, India moved northward, dropping a few parcels of land along the way to form Seychelles. It joined the Eurasian mass 50 million years ago giving rise to the Himalayas and South Asia that we are familiar with.

Around 115 million years ago, it was the dinosaurs that ruled. Many life forms had not even evolved. Supporting the Gondwana breakup, dinosaur fossils found in India and Madagascar are closely related, and do not resemble species found in Africa and Asia. Fragments of  Laplatosaurus madagascarensis have been found in both India and Madagascar.

Molecular clocks

A powerful technique, the molecular clock, is used to estimate the time when two forms of life diverged from each other. It is based on the observation that evolutionary changes in the sequence of an RNA or a protein molecule occur at a fairly constant rate. The difference in the amino acids of, say the haemoglobin of two animals can tell you how long ago their lineages diverged. Molecular clocks corroborate well with other evidence, such as the fossil record.

South India and Sri Lanka have only two genuses of the cichlid family of freshwater and brackish-water fishes — the  Etroplus (a food fish in Kerala, where it is called pallathi) and  Pseudetroplus. Molecular comparisons show that the nearest relatives of Etroplus are found in Madagascar, and their common ancestor diverged from African cichlids 160 million years ago. A fourth group is in South America, thus, accounting for the fragments of Gondwana.

India’s pivotal position

India occupies a pivotal position in the distribution of life forms in Asia, Madagascar and Africa. Gondwana creatures moved out of India. Others crossed over to stay. For example, Asian freshwater crabs ( Gecarcinucidae) are now found all over Southeast Asia but their most recent common ancestor evolved in India. The frog family, Sooglossidae, is found only in India and the Seychelles (Datta-Roy and Karanth,  Journal of Biosciences, 2009).

Fossil finds in the Vastan lignite mine in Gujarat by researchers from HNB Garhwal University, Panjab University and Johns Hopkins University have identified the earliest Indian mammal, a species of bat, and the earliest euprimate, a primitive lemur. These were dated 53 million years ago, around the time (or just before) the India-Eurasian plates collided ( Journal of the Paleontological Society of India, 2005).

What about the lemurs? Madagascar is a large island, with a variety of climatic conditions. Evidence favours an ancestor primate crossing over from Africa. No monkey, ape or large predator managed the crossing, so dozens of lemur species proliferated.

In India, we have the lorises, which are the closest extant relatives of the lemurs. These are shy, nocturnal forest dwellers, with large, appealing eyes. They are also believed to have survived oceanic rides from Africa. They are mostly found in the Northeastern States (slow loris), and where Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu meet (slender loris).

( The article was written in collaboration with Sushil Chandani who works in molecular modelling. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Kenya’s Kuruwitu corals are back, thanks to local conservation drive


Kenya’s Kuruwitu Beach is tranquil. Sparkling sand beaches complement the clear blue water, and the familiar scent of sand and sea salt fill the air.

A decade ago, villagers noticed the dwindling stocks of fish and took it upon themselves to set up a conservation area with the help of like-minded partners.

Dickson Gereza is a marine conservationist and the program lead of the coral project, and he explains that pollution is the biggest enemy of the ocean: "People are being irresponsible”, he says. “The ocean is a useful resource, but humans are trashing it. It is important to dispose of rubbish correctly to save the ocean".

First local coral conservation project

The community realized that overfishing, climate change, and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade needed to be addressed before the marine ecosystem was damaged beyond repair.

In 2005, residents of the area took the unprecedented step of setting aside a 30-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA). This was the first coral-based Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in Kenya. Twelve years on, the area has made a remarkable recovery.

Katana Hinzano is a conservationist at the Oceans Alive Organization, where he takes part in the making of alternative coral blocks and nurseries using cement and sand. He reiterates the correlation between the sea and human life: "The sea is valuable to those who live near it. Fishermen and fish business owners rely on sea resources. We all have a part to play to ensure that we benefit from the sea and leave it intact for future generations".

With fishing prohibited within the LMMA, fish have grown in abundance, size, and diversity. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in fish outside the zone. As such, fishermen see greater catches due to a spillover effect. At the same time, biodiversity has increased dramatically, making Kuruwitu a destination for eco-tourism, creating jobs for guides, boat captains, and rangers.

"The sea is valuable to me because it is life," says Goodluck Mbaga, an environmentalist and honorary Kenya Wildlife Service guide. It provides food, contributes to the economy, and provides income and recreation. There’s a need for all of us to learn how to conserve the ocean as we are yet to harness its full potential".



Africa Hopes for a ‘Great Blue Wall’ in the Indian Ocean


African nations along the coast of the Indian Ocean hope they can borrow money for rebuilding and conservation efforts.


They are planning to offer what they are calling “blue bonds” to companies and investors. A bond is a lending agreement in which the borrower agrees to pay back the money with interest.


The United Nations says the money is needed because many wealthy nations have not followed through on promises to pay for projects to fight the effects of climate change.


Some of Africa’s eastern nations hope that private investment will pay for projects that could help boost the economies of coastal communities, protect the environment, and prepare for bad weather and other effects of climate change.


The project is being called the Great Blue Wall. It is similar to another idea, Africa’s Great Green Wall plan. The Green Wall project is supposed to help create a barrier of trees and agricultural areas that will protect soil and keep the Sahara Desert from expanding. The Green Wall plan stretches from East to West Africa along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.


Discussions about the Great Blue Wall came as the U.N. held a forum on sustainable development from July 5 to 15 in New York City.


The bond plan means that people who invest in financial markets can help pay for the projects. If the bonds are successful, the investors will make a profit.


Jorge Familiar is Vice President of the World Bank. He called blue bonds “a powerful example of the critical role that the capital markets can play in supporting sustainable objectives.”


The Great Blue Wall plan started last year during the U.N.’s climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The goal is to create protected areas along the coast of 10 western Indian Ocean nations.


Supporters of the plan hope it will restore and conserve millions of hectares of ocean, capture 100 million tons of carbon dioxide and help 70 million people get regular work.


The project goes from Somalia in the north to South Africa. It also includes island states like Madagascar and the Seychelles.


Jean-Paul Adam is the head of the climate division at the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Africa. He said the plan will recognize the value of the environment in “future wealth creation and empowerment of local communities.”


Adam said right now less than one percent of blue and green bonds are issued for projects in African nations.


He said African nations need to be able to offer more bonds in financial markets, calling it a “next step.”


The African Development Bank (ADM) said much more money is needed for countries to reach international climate goals. The bank said an investment of between $1.3 and $1.6 trillion is needed by 2030. The ADM said currently blue bonds only make up a small percentage of ocean conservation money.


The bonds will not be a full solution for the lack of financing, Adam said, “but they can allow us to raise large amounts.”


I’m Dan Friedell.




Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report from the Associated Press.


Africa’s Readiness to Protect and Sustainably Develop its Ocean Resources

The UN Ocean Conference (UNOC) co-organized by Portugal and Kenya from 27 June to 01 July 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal was a landmark ocean event for regrouping decision makers, innovators, private sector actors and stakeholders towards the implementation of the SDG Goal 14 and Aspiration 1.6 of Africa’s Agenda 2063, both related to the management of the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development.

According to reports, the week-long conference brought together some 6,500 participants and was  opened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres. The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UNSG or SG) is the Chief Administrative Officer of the United Nations and Head of the United Nations Secretariat. There were, among others, high-powered African representatives. 

In his speech, António Guterres has warned that unless nations overcome short-term territorial and resource interests the state of the oceans will continue to deteriorate. Secretary-General described “the artificial dichotomy” between jobs and healthy oceans as one of the main challenges and asked for strong political leadership, new partnerships and concrete steps. 

On behalf of Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Amb. Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment (ARBE) at the African Union (AU) Commission headed the AU delegation to the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022 (UNOC).

He was accompanied by Amb Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations in New York (USA); Harsen Nyambe Nyambe, Director of Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy; and  Dr Bernice Mclean, Head of Blue Economy at AUDA-NEPAD in South-Africa, Representative from REC, and other staff of the AFrican Union Commission.

President of Kenya, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, and the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, were elected by acclamation as the Presidents of the Conference with  Statements delivered by each President accordingly. On the margins of the UNOC, the meeting of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) was also held, during which the African Union Commission delivered a strong signal on Africa’s readiness to protect and sustainably develop its ccean resources.

The AUC delegation to the conference showcased steps for promoting Africa’s blue economy and to send a strong signal on Africa’s readiness to protect and sustainably develop its ocean resources as well as its contribution to the global conversation on oceans by focusing on unlocking Africa’s potential for innovative, knowledge-based and high-revenue sectors while fostering sustainability and private sector activity, which further places emphasis on the integration of women, youth and Africa’s scientific community within the blue economy.

In addition, the AUC co-organized various side-events including two major Africa focused events: the first event co-organized with IOC-UNESCO on ‘Accelerating innovation, science and technology, and promoting the involvement of women and youth in Africa’s oceans and seas in the context of the ocean decade’ was held on 29th June. It touched on the need to address cultural norms and stereotypes on the one hand, and address resource gap on the other, and to strengthen women and youth’s participation in the blue economy. 

The second event focus on “Shaping a sustainable Blue Economy in Africa” co-organized with AUDA-NEPAD, was held on 30th June, and emphasized Africa’s vast amount of marine resources which are highly significant to global ecosystem services and need to be managed adequately for the benefits of the citizens.

The AUC also co-sponsored the following side events during three consecutive days:  

(i) ‘Blue innovation for multifunctional marine spatial planning’, together with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Government of Sweden and Kenya on 28th June. It emphasized the importance of ensuring that Africa has access to and ownership of ocean data and ensure the need for Africa to develop its own Marine Spatial Planning that will aid to address data gaps; 

(ii) ‘Fostering international and regional cooperation in support of the sustainable development of the blue economy in LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS’, together with the International Seabed Authority, on 29th June; 

(iii) ‘Advancing women empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research to support inclusive sustainable ocean governance’, together with the International Seabed Authority on 30th June.

In addition, the AUC delivered a statement during the plenary, emphasizing the crucial role that the African continent must play in the global oceans agenda, considering the vast marine resources that it exerts sovereignty over.

With women and youth on board, the AUC indicates its readiness to protect and develop ocean resources. “Women and Youth represent Africa’s most underutilized assets, so the African Union Commission is committed to identifying ways to promote their integration fully in the conversation on blue wealth,”  AU Commissioner Josepha Sacko told the gathering.

Sacko informed that the AUC is in the process of implementing the blue economy, in various sectors, highlighting that “…we need to enhance traditional ocean-based sectors like fisheries and tourism so that they contribute to the livelihoods of coastal communities that rely on them. But, at the same time, Africa needs to move to a knowledge-based model of developing ocean science and ocean-based technologies. We have the ideas, vision, and ambition to do so.”

Further at the plenary session, the Group of African States, emphasized that Africa is determined to sustainably harness the vast potential of its maritime domain and accelerate economic transformation and opportunities provided by the oceans. To realize sustainable ocean-based development, the African Group stresses the need to promote collective efforts to address inherent financial and infrastructure gaps preventing the realization of the full potential of African marine resources.  

The African Group further emphasized that oceans are a common heritage to mankind, including the African landlocked States. Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) and conservation of ocean and marine ecosystems will require bold and ambitious partnership, mobilization of significant financial resources, access to technologies and innovations, capacity-building and effective governance arrangements.

Furthermore, the delegation along with the key partners including the RECs, NGOs, WIMAfrica, Fisheries and Aquaculture Associations participated in various other side events and engaged with innovators, policy makers and stakeholders on a range of issues including conservation, sustainable ocean economies and capacity building, as well as institutional and policy making and implementation, NGO’s and research and civil society organizations, legal instruments.

On 1st July, the side event organized by the Republic of Mauritius ‘Science Consideration for Protection of Marine Ecosystems in Chagos Archipelago’ which aimed at advocating on the complete decolonization of the Chagos archipelago. It was an opportunity seized by Office of the Legal Counsel the African Union to reiterate its unconditional support to the Government of Mauritius until the completion of decolonization of Chagos is achieved and enjoyed by the Citizens of Mauritius in accordance with well-established principles of international law and the pertinent decisions and Resolutions of Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU) and United Nations.

The United Nations attempts at addressing ways by which the private sector provides practical solutions to address the problems such as by improving energy efficiency, waste management and introducing market-based tools to shift investment, subsidy and production; made it necessary to mobilize actions for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources by establishing the United Nations Ocean Conference.




CALL FOR NOMINATIONS: African and Adjacent Island States Ocean Decade Taskforce – Help build and advance the Ocean Decade across Africa

Following the launch of the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap, a new Call for Nominations opens for members of the African and Adjacent Island States Ocean Decade Taskforce. Be part of a multi-stakeholder body to oversee and promote the implementation of the Africa Roadmap across the region.

The Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap, unveiled at the African Conference on Priority Setting and Partnership Development for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (10-12 May 2022), provides an aspirational vision and solid plan for diverse stakeholders to convene around a common set of priorities to implement the Ocean Decade at the African continental level and in adjacent island states.

Building on this momentum, a new Taskforce is being established to engage diverse African partners in the Ocean Decade.

The mandate of the African and Adjacent Island States Ocean Decade Taskforce is to oversee and promote the implementation of the Africa Roadmap as well as the enabling environment necessary for its success. This will help ensure that ownership of the Ocean Decade Africa Roadmap is systematically reconfirmed and strengthened among African nations, research institutes, NGOs, industry and philanthropic partners, and regional and indigenous organizations.

The Taskforce will:

  • Provide strategic vision, direction, and coordination of specific actions
  • Provide advice on measures and initiatives required to create the appropriate enabling environment for translating the Africa Roadmap into co-designed Ocean Decade Actions at multiple levels from resource mobilisation, development of new partnerships, coordination, to research and policy initiatives
  • Facilitate and provide support to the development of co-designed programmes, projects and initiatives for submission in response to Calls for Decade Actions
  • Continue socialization/communication on the Ocean Decade in Africa and Africa Roadmap with existing networks, institutions, exerts and stakeholders
  • Identify multisector/multistakeholder engagement and outreach activities to engage further regional stakeholders outside the Taskforce and raise awareness of the Ocean Decade. This will include specific mechanisms to engage priority groups, including indigenous and local knowledge holders, Early Career Ocean Professionals, ports authorities and maritime services, business and industry or philanthropy
  • Provide guidance and support on the mobilisation of financial and in-kind resources to support Roadmap implementation
  • Establish specific/thematic working groups as deemed necessary

The Taskforce will comprise up to 15 expert members drawn from government, private sector, philanthropy, civil society and the scientific community, plus five members representing regional organizations (UN agencies, regional intergovernmental organization and NGOs).

Expert members will be selected for a two-year term with due consideration to expertise, geographic, generational and gender balance, and will serve on a voluntary, non-remunerated basis in their personal capacities.

The full Terms of Reference are available here.

Interested in becoming a Member of the African and Adjacent Island States Ocean Decade Taskforce? Submit here.

UN head declares ‘ocean emergency’ as global leaders gather in Lisbon


The UN secretary general has declared that the world is in the middle of an “ocean emergency”, and urged governments to do more to restore ocean health.

Speaking at the opening of the UN ocean conference in Lisbon, Portugal, attended by global leaders and heads of state from 20 countries, António Guterres said: “Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency. We must turn the tide.”


Guterres said the “egoism” of some nations was hampering efforts to agree a long-awaited treaty to protect the world’s oceans.

In March, UN member states were criticised by scientists and environmentalists for failing to agree on a blueprint for protecting the high seas against exploitation. Of the 64% of the high seas that lie beyond territorial limits, only 1.2% is currently protected.

Sea level rise, ocean heating, ocean acidification and greenhouse gas concentrations all reached record levels last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s state of the global climate report in 2021.

Low-level nations and coastal cities face flooding, while pollution is creating vast coastal dead zones and overfishing is “crippling fish stocks”, Guterres said.

Marine pollution is increasing and marine species declining, including sharks and rays, whose populations have crashed by more than 70% over the past 50 years.

Nearly 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the sea without treatment, while at least 8m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year. “Without drastic action, the plastic could outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050,” Guterres warned.

“We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean,” he said in his opening remarks.

Guterres, who is from Lisbon, was applauded as he began his speech in his native Portuguese, quoting one of the countries best-known poets, Fernando Pessoa: “God wanted the Earth to be all one. That the sea unites, no longer separates.”

The secretary general referred to the positive news since the last UN Ocean conference in 2017, including progress on a legally binding instrument to conserve and protect biodiversity in waters beyond national jurisdiction – part of the draft UN high seas treaty – and last week’s World Trade Organization agreement to curb harmful fishing subsidies.

But he issued a call to governments to raise their ambitions on global health. “Much more needs to be done by all of us together,” he said, including more funding for scienctific innovation. “A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future,” Guterres said.

The theme of the conference is the critical need for scientific knowledge and marine technology to build ocean resilience. Guterres called for a “goal of mapping 80% of the seabed by 2030”.

He made several recommendations, including sustainable management that could help the ocean produce six times as much food and generate 40 times as much renewable energy as it does currently, and protecting the oceans and people in coastal areas from the impacts of the climate crisis.

More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for food security, while 120 million work directly in fisheries and aquaculture-related activities, the majority in small-island developing states and least developed countries. Yet SDG (sustainable development goal) 14 (to conserve and sustainably use the ocean seas and marine environment for sustainable development) is the least funded of all the SDGs, Guterres said.

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, a co-president of the UN oceans conference, told delegates that “oceans are the most under-appreciated resource on our planet” and human activity had placed them under “great stress”.

“Poor management has reduced the ocean’s natural ability to restore itself,” he said. “I find it surprising that we should put such a critical resource at risk.”

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, president of Portugal and co-chair of the conference, said that war and the pandemic must not be used as an excuse for inaction. “Oceans are central in geopolitical balance of power,” he said. “We must recover the time we have lost and give hope a chance, once again, before it is too late.”

The draft declaration of the conference acknowledges the world’s collective failure to achieve SDG14 and commits to reversing the health of the ocean, but it does not elaborate on how this will be achieved. It also makes reference to the need for financing for developing countries to help implement Marine Protected Areas.

The final draft of the political declaration is expected to be adopted at the end of the conference. Negotiations between nations on the key instrument to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 – the global ocean treaty – are expected to take place in New York in August.