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3 Status of Research on Corals in Pakistan by Quddusi B. Kazmi1 and M. Afzal Kazmi2

1 Marine Reference Collection and Resource Centre, University of Karachi,
2 Zoology Department, University of Karachi, Karachi-75270, Pakistan.


It seems appropriate in this paper to briefly describe the marine environments of Pakistan and effects of neotectonic on them. The paper gives the status of research on coral through previous and present studies. The results are summarized. The strategies mentioned for conservation of corals encompass a broad range of problems i.e. the influence of abiotic factors on the community structure, human-induced damage, enforcement of legislation and preparation of management projects. The future plans of the government for the conservation of the marine ecosystem are also mentioned.


Geomorphology of Pakistan Coast & Coastal Environment:

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is situated roughly between 20° and 25° north, 59° and 70° east longitude on the northern part of the Arabian Sea. Pakistan has a coastline of 990km stretching from the border of Katchh to the border of Iran and has administrative jurisdiction up to 19 km seaward as maritime provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan and from 19 km to 320 km the Federal government has jurisdiction on this water area. From the standpoint of fishing operation it may be considered in two areas: (a) the western sector - from the Hub River, the Makran coast extends for 522km to the border of Iran near Dasht River and is formed of bays, starting at Sonmiani Bay and ending in Gwatar Bay. Along this coast the continental shelf is narrow, (16-24 km) descending abruptly; the bottom is mainly rocky. This coast is sparsely populated and lacks inland communication and shore facilities, (b) A the South East sector (270 km), stretching between Karachi and Sir Creek on the Indian border, is flat and has innumerable creeks, the islands inbetween are studded by mangroves forest of covering area of 7,680 sq. km. The bottom is sandy/muddy according to Ali & Memon (1995) neotectonic movement have uplifted certain areas of the Indus delta and Hub River causing destruction of the mangroves, the presence of coral beds far inland on Mango Pir Range mentioned by Pithawala (1936) may be indicative of such activities. From Oligocene time the area onshore was also subjected to shallow but fluctuating marine conditions. These environments are well evidenced by the texture and lithology of Nari and Gaj Formations of Oligocene (35 M.Y.) and Miocene (25 M.Y.) ages respectively. The presence of lithified coral colonies and silicified tree trunks are also indications of the marine transitional environmental conditions. Development of thick coralline limestone beds are evidence of favourable conditions during geological past (Naseem et al., 1996) which deteriorated with the passage of time and due to regression of the sea towards south. The entry of the River Indus is about midway along Sindh stretch. Here the continental shelf is shallow and much broader (70-120km). The Indus delta is the main cause of change of marine environment over 200 years. A drastic decrease in the sediment load of Indus also leads to the erosion of the coastline giving rise to much turbidity in the coastal environment. No conventional up welling occurs along the coast, on small scale up sloping brings up nutrient rich oxygen poor water all along the coast. The dearth of the dissolved oxygen in Pakistan waters correlates with not a very rich fisheries in our EEZ. The beaches of Pakistan are relatively free from man-made pollution, only few instances may be cited but non has modified the environment radically.

The only significant offshore island is the Astola Island, approximately 25 km off the main land coast of Baluchistan, the island is about 6 km in length.

From the geological point of view the Pakistan coast has been divided into 4 major sections (Map 1): a) The Indus Delta prograded into the Katchh Rift Basin, with high water turbidity and loose sediment substrate, tectonically active and susceptible to level changes; b) The Karachi arc forming peninsular-protruding rocky hills with shoals and an island the Churna Island; it has low water turbidity and hard rocky substrate. This arc is tectonically active less than the Indus Delta; c) Bela Hingol coastal plane, with piedmont deposits, mainly with sandy shore and turbidity slightly higher than the Karachi coast with loose sandy weak substrate and tectonically less active than Karachi; and d) Makran orocline formed by accretionary mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone prism of a trench arc, with very high water turbidity, almost muddy, the substrate is formed by weak and friable rocks, tectonically, most active zone of the Pakistan coast, highly susceptible to sudden level changes, (modified from Ali&Memon, 1995)

Map. I Map showing geomorphological divisions of the Pakistan coast. C. corals; O. oysters; M. mangroves, (after Ali & Memon, 1995)

Recent coral reefs are absent, otherwise geomorphology of the coastline is relatively complex comprising of beaches, sand dunes, sea cliffs, rocky headlands, intertidal mud flats, mud volcanoes, deltas, estuaries, tidal lagoons, bays, island and shelf area. The lagoon system of the Makran coast is undoubtedly the largest and most complex coastal lagoons system of the Arabian Sea (Alizai et al., 1988).

Present situation

The coastal environment of Pakistan at present is not conducive to the healthy growth and formation of corals reefs and as such coral reefs are not at present found in Pakistan (UNEP, 1986). A world map (Map 1) given in an encyclopaedia also indicates presence of corals here as a small block. The seabed on Makran coast with patches of corals in some areas, which is more suitable for coral growth than that of Sindh coast (Qureshi, 1961). In a 'Country Profile of Marine Environment' Ahmed (1986) has also pointed out this fact that corals do not flourish in our environment. Temperature, salinity, light, currents, siltation, sedimentation, earth quakes, sea level rise, hostile animals, over-growth of corals and pollution may be the effecting factors controlling the horizontal coral distribution as discussed by scientists working on maritime zone. The Red Data Book of IUCN (1996) does not include any coral species under provision of UNCLOS relating to biodiversity. Pakistan's principal obligations relate to the conservation of marine species, the establishment of marine protected areas and the prevention of marine pollution (BAP Pakistan, first draft, 1997).

Whatever work has been done previously or is being done presently is summanzed here. Organisations expected to work on coral

a) Governmental:

Environmental and Urban Affairs Division.
National Institute of Oceanography, Karachi.
Zoological Survey Department, Karachi.
Pakistan Navy
Port Trusts and Shipping Divisions
Pakistan Coast Guards.

b) Non Governmental:

WWF, Pakistan; IUCN, Pakistan; EPA, Sindh.

c) Universities:

University of Karachi.

Department of Botany
Department of Zoology
Department of Geology
Department of Geography
Marine Reference Collection and Resource Centre
Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology.
Institute of Environmental Studies


The studies on the coral of the area include Ali & Memon (1995) who also discussed the neotectonic effect on the mangrove forest and other coastal taxa specially the sessile ones. As taken from Ali & Memon (1995) both living and fossilized corals have been discovered on Pakistan coast, living corals were seen by divers between the Cape Monze and Churna Island (or Churma Island) (Map.2). Here the substrate is limestone. The water temperature does not drop below 20 0 C and water turbidity is much lower than anywhere along the Pakistan coast except in monsoons for a few weeks and is caused by the Hub River. The corals are found in patch reefs on the rocky shoals of Churna waters. There are three kinds of corals: Hump corals at 5-15m, Leaf corals at 10-20m, and Star corals (Acropora) at 15m. The fossilized corals of late Pleistocene are more flourishing. They are also found at the Cape Monze on the lowest terrace of Cape Monze and Churna Island. The reason for deterioration of present day corals of Churna waters may be the turbidity from floods of Hub River in monsoon. Now the Hub Dam has reduced the suspended sediment load, a better growth of corals can be foreseen.

Living corals are reported in Sindh at the eastern part of Karachi in the Gulf of Katchch (Port Okha, Pirotan Island) by Srivastara et al (1991).

The Department of Geology of the Karachi University was also visited for their fossilised corals repository. According to the staff of this department the fossilized corals of the Churna Island are more diversified than the recent ones.

Makran as a subductive zone is of particular interest for elucidation of the means by which superficial sediments are deformed. Fossilized corals are extensively found on the Makran coast at Gwadar and Jiwani headland area of the same late Pleistocene. They contain the following corals - Bush coral, Brain coral, and Finger coral as common, Branch corals as dominant, Pipe organ coral and Flower coral as less common, Pillar coral as fairly common and Star coral as predominant and Sea Fans as the rare ones.

This distraction between Sindh and Makran coasts results from difference in natural environment that the corals in these two areas encounter.

No living reefs were located in this area, however, about 100km west of Pakistan border at Chah Bahar living reefs are described by Sheppard & Wells (1988). A recent survey was conducted by the NIO near Astola Island on Baluchistan coast (25'07'N, 63'50'E) through naval hydrographic survey ship. It is where divers have brought up live corals. The transparencies prepared for 3 different species were kindly loaned to us. Earlier Tomascik (1977) has reported "extensive veneering coral communities" on "offshore rocky outcrops" on this island.


Naseem et al. (1996) have made an attempt to verify the reefal conditions for limestones in Cape Monze and adjoining areas on the basis of geochemical studies.


The investigation of corals in the Indian Ocean started with Forskal in 1775. The knowledge was enlarged during many expeditions particularly the John Murray (1933-34) and HOE (1963-64). In 1971 Rosen compiled a table showing the distribution of hermatypic coral genera for the Indian Ocean. There is belt of high diversity in the Indian Ocean with total 53 genera and 11 endemic genera (Scheer, 1985).

With the establishment of Marine Reference Collection and Resource Centre, University of Karachi in 1969, a great deal of work has been carried out on other marine taxa, however, no systematic information exists on corals. Numerous specimens of dead corals and other groups involved in reef formation are deposited in the Marine Reference Collection & Resource Centre and Department of Zoology, University of Karachi. They are entered there as Scleractinines or Madreporarians, Gorgonaceans (Octocarallians), Pennatulaceans and Alcyonaceans. They have been either collected from the Fish Harbour landings or obtained from trawlers or were purchased from the fishermen. They were photographed (Plates) for the sake of inclusion in this paper and most of them are given a preliminary identification or are incorporated here as coral sp.1, coral sp.2 and so on just to give an idea of their diversity. They are altogether 23 types. They include all the three categories i.e. vertical, vertical/horizontal and horizontal as discussed by Pichon (1978). Interesting findings are expected at the time of exact determination of species due to faunal movement through Suez.

Biological Diversity

Gosliner et al. (1996) have prepared a report on Indo-Pacific coral associated animals exclusive of the vertebrates. In Pakistan biodiversity of coral ecosystem is in its infancy due lack of knowledge. We do not have central biodiversity information centre. We have cited references of those publications which also deal with coral dwelling species or groups.






Kazmi et al., 1996

Karachi coast

Bivalve (Cockles, Scallops, Clams, Pearl Oyster)

Moazzam & Ahmed, 1994

Areas near coral colonies shown in given maps



Brachyuran crabs

Tirmizi & Kazmi, 1982;

Baluchistan coast

Tirmizi & Kazmi, 1988;

Sindh & Baluchistan coast

Tirmizi & Ghani, 1996

Sindh & Baluchistan coast

Spiny lobsters -3 species

Tirmizi & Ahsanullah, 1966;

Karachi Fish Harbour


Tirmizi & Manning, 1969;

Western end of Astola Island in scanty scattered coral.

Tirmizi & Kazmi, 1980

Cape Monze


12 species

Tahira, 1996

Karachi coast


Heniochus sp. and

Ahmed & Wazarat, 1993

Churna Island

Cephalophalis sp.

Gastrophysus lunaris,

Ahmed et al. 1973

Coastal reefs

Sufflamen capistratus,

Artothron hispidus

Snappers, breams, scads, croakers and others

Brandhorst & Crockett, 1994

From Churna Island


Chelonia mydas Firdous, 1988

Karachi coast

Lepidochelys olivacea


Hydrophis ornatus ornatus

Mertens, 1969

Astola Island


Coralline algae

Shameel & Tanaka, 1992

Pakistan coast

(Jania capillacea and J. adhereus)

Reef building algae (Lithothamnion fruticulosum)

As Medicine

Corals are collected for their medicinal values and purchased through the fishermen and used in Unani/Islamic medicine. They are locally known as marjan.

Strategies and Approaches

A concerted effort is required to improve the present state of affairs regarding the corals colonies in the country. The approach has to be technically feasible. The strategies and approaches can take several forms: technical, administrative and research. There is great need globally to preserve the health of marine environment and to conserve the living corals. Legislation on environment is to be adequate and fully enforced. More involvement of people and interest groups is required in improving legislation. Destructive fishing methods near popular spot like Churna Island should be checked; collection of coral for commercial purposes needs cautioning - this include collection of corals and other reef animals as souvenirs for sale in aquarium shops and for their use in Islamic medicine. Pollution resulting from sedimentation and turbidity from freshwater runoff and erosion, heated water from industrial plant cooling, domestic waste, sewage affluent and dredging may be the main cause of damaging corals which in the past may be forming the reefs, but now show little sign of recovery. The management of coral communities be entrusted to a special agency/body.

Encouragement is required to draw upon inventory of our coastal ecosystems, with priority given to the protection of vulnerable ones. A community of scientists is required to carry out the surveillance, policy-making and management for coral communities. There is an urgent need for training programmes in the coastal zone problems and management and best hope of protecting or conserving the corals would be to declare these areas as protected. This has already been pointed out by Pernetta (1993), regarding the Astola Island.

Community participation will remain a vital component of any strategy for environmental education and awareness and finding of ways to reach this majority is a challenge.

Plans for future

IUCN has planned a proposal "Marine and coastal protected area project", through which a detailed and systematic survey of the corals is expected (Courtesy T. Qureshi of IUCN, Pakistan).

The Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP, 1997) is currently being developed and hopefully will take into consideration the corals of the region. A regional workshop of IUCN/WWF and the government on BAP, 1997 was convened on the 11th Nov. 1997 in Karachi, several actions regarding marine fauna to identify gaps and to initiate new research programmes were recommended.


The organizers are acknowledged for inviting us to participate in this workshop. The authors are grateful to Dr. Tahir Qureshi of IUCN, Karachi, and Dr. Shahid Amjad of NIO, Karachi for their kind help, to Drs. S.A. Sheikh and S. Naseem, Department of

Geology for bringing their paper to our notice, Dr. Khalil Mallick of the Geology Department for allowing to visit the museum and to Dr. M. Shameel, Department of Botany for his help, all from University of Karachi. Miss Razia Naushaba, Taxanomist, MRC, University of Karachi is acknowledged for helping in various ways, she also done the preliminary identifications of the corals for us. We should be failing our duties if we don't thank our teacher Dr. N.M. Tirmizi for improving the MS.


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