Project Giant Clam

Project Location: Lakshadweep

The project is located on the Lakshadweep islands, the smallest of India’s seven union territories. This archipelago is one of the least researched coral reef systems in the Arabian Sea and is severely under protected. The Lakshadweep archipelago is the only atoll formation in India and forms the northern most segment of the Chagos – Maldive – Laccadive oceanic ridge. Lakshadweep comprises 32 km2 of land, spread over 36 islands (11 inhabited), 12 atolls and 5 submerged sand banks. The region is surrounded by 4,200 km2 of lagoon rich in marine wildlife.


About the project site


The main economic activies of the archipelago include tuna fishing, coconut production and tourism

Tuna: Fishermen in Lakshadweep still use the traditional pole and line techniques to fish. Tuna is the main fish caught in Lakshadweep (74% of the total catch in 2004). Agatti brings in the second most tuna of all the islands.

In Lakshadweep, 95% of the tuna is sold as ‘massmin’ (cured and sundried tuna fillet), less than 1% is canned on Minicoy island, and the rest is sold as fresh or frozen fish. In Agatti, almost all tuna is sold as ‘massmin’, with only a very small quantity consumed fresh or pickled. The ‘massmin’ trade makes up almost 95% of the fishermen’s total income.


Tourism: Tourists have been coming to Laksadweep since the mid-1970s, but tourism is still a young industry in the archipelago. The industry is regulated by the government, which promotes low volume, high value water-based tourism such as snorkeling and diving. Business is seasonal, and most of the visitors (about 5,000 tourists/year) arrive during the fair season from November to April. Tourism in Lakshadweep is still predominantly domestic: 70% of tourists are Indian, and just 30% are from overseas, mainly from the UK, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.


Project Background/Rationale

The project aims to establish co-managed marine protected area where local community and government together protect the reef. The proposed marine protected area help protect giant clams and also help revive bait fish which is the key for tuna fishing.

Why giant Clams?

Giant clams are globally important species. They are included in the IUCN Invertebrate Red Data Book as conservation dependent and data deficient species, listed by CITES and protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Lakshadweep has a low density giant clam population. Two of the nine globally known – giant clam species are described in Lakshadweep:

  1. Small giant clam (Tridacna maxima)
  2. Scaly giant clam (Tridacna squamosa)

What was the problem that the project aimed to address?

The idea of establishing a community-based marine protected area was triggered by the dwindling trend of bait fish population in the lagoons, a sign of reef degradation caused by several anthropogenic stresses.

A healthy bait fish stock is fundamental to pole-and-line tuna fishing. Tuna fishing – mostly skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) - is the backbone of Lakshadweep’s cash economy, so the local community members expressed interest in an initiative which aimed at restoring the bait fish population.

As the life cycle of bait fish is connected to the integrity of giant clam habitats, it is not surprising that the solution for the bait fish decline and the conservation of giant clams proved to be interrelated, parts of the same strategy. Figure 3.

The egg laying and spawning of live bait take place on sand flats with small coral debris. Juveniles move to the secluded areas of massive (e.g. Porites) and branching (e.g. Acropora) corals. These areas also provide excellent feeding ground and shelter for both juveniles and adult baitfish. Massive corals (e.g. Porites) present the habitat that is shared by both live bait and giant clams.

The specific problems of the dwindling bait fish population and the low density of giant clam populations highlighted the need for a more systematic, more comprehensive, sustainable solution, namely: setting up a marine protected area with close cooperation of the local community whose livelihood depends on managing the lagoon’s natural resources.

Establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) in one of Lakshadweep’s lagoons would

  • help restore both the bait fish as well as giant clam populations
  • assist the recovery of a degraded reef and depleted fish stocks
  • enhance islanders’ livelihood prospects
  • generate lessons learned to replicate the process in other reefs of Lakshadweep

As many other coastal communities face similar marine habitat degradation problems, project partners hoped to share and disseminate their lessons learned at national, regional and international levels as well.


The purpose of the project was to conserve the globally threatened giant clams and other components of the marine biodiversity.


The main objective of the project was to establish a community-based marine protected area (MPA) in Lakshadweep using a participatory approach.

The proposed MPA was designed to:

  • Restore the threatened population of giant clams
  • Assist the recovery of depleted fish stocks (especially live bait species)
  • Enhance the livelihood prospects of traditional fishing communities
  • Generate lessons learned to replicate the process on other reefs in Lakshadweep

A sustainable solution

The specific problems – a dwindling bait fish population and low density giant clam populations – highlighted the need for a systematic, comprehensive, and sustainable solution. The idea was to set up a marine protected area (MPA) in close collaboration with the local community, whose livelihoods depend on managing the lagoon’s natural resources.

Up until now, all MPAs have been managed by the government. No MPAs have been co-managed by the government, local communities and other organisations such as research institutions. The responsibility for planning, monitoring and managing the area for both sustainable use and biodiversity conservation all fell to the government.

The practice of ‘co-management’ is legally supported by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972). However, this management practice has only been used in terrestrial protected areas in India. The proposed Agatti Conservation Reserve will be India’s first Marine Conservation Reserve.

An opportunity for innovation

Lakshadweep has a distinct set of values and traditions that provide a supportive social context for community-based natural resource management and conservation. In this environment, the project partners identified an opportunity to innovate and set up India’s first co-managed marine protected area.

As many other island and coastal communities face similar problems of habitat degradation, the project partners wanted to disseminate any lessons learned at a national, regional and international level.

Success story

The project was exceptionally successful. It has met its objectives and developed institutions and local capacities to sustain and expand project results. The large number of volunteers indicates that this project is perceived as an attractive initiative which provides sense of ownership, achievement, opportunities for development.

In a very short time the project team facilitated an exemplary genuine and extensive participatory approach for setting up India’s first co-managed marine protected area.

-        The proposal for setting up the new community-based marine protected area, the ‘Agatti Conservation Reserve’, is now under the consideration of the Honoourable Administrator of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep.

-        The proposal was officially submitted to the Administrator by the Agatti Panchayat in January 2008 in recognition of the astonishing unanimous support of the island community. 51% of the island’s adult population was engaged in the highly participatory planning process (1,800 people: 44% men, 56% women).

-        Agatti was selected as the site of the co-managed marine protected area as a result of a thorough habitat survey (24 islands’ coral reefs within 11 lagoons have been studied) during the first and second year of the project. For the third year, 4 islands from 3 lagoons were intensively monitored for giant clam population trends.

All planned outputs are delivered:

Research – Comprehensive reseach was conducted on giant clams and other components of Lakshadweep’s marine biodiversity. This was the first project to study the ecology and population dynamics of giant clams in India. The results will be useful for managers of the protected area in understanding the conservation needs of the giant clams.

Agatti was selected as the site for the co-managed marine protected area as a result of a thorough habitat survey involving 24 islands’ coral reefs within 11 lagoons during the first and second year of the project. In the third year, 4 islands from 3 lagoons were monitored for information on trends in the giant clam population.

The foundation for further wide-ranging socio-economic research – almost 100 community consultations and 163 household surveys – has been laid.

Capacity development – An innovative and effective capacity development programme involved thousands of adult and young people, all stakeholders, in the co-management of marine resources. The programme developed local capacities at an individual, organisational and institutional level.

The team is particularly proud of the young local leaders – women and men – who emerged,  discovering and strengthening their leadership skills during this project. They modelled a new approach to conservation, a key strategy to increase Lakshadweep’s resilience to global changes.

Management plans – Three management plans were developed to support the management commiittee of the proposed Agatti Conservation Reserve: MPA Management Plan, Eco-Tourism Guidelines, and Species Conservation Action Plan.

Training manuals – Three training manuals were developed with to support the implementation of the proposed Agatti Conservation Reserve: Eco-Tourism Training Manual, Setting up an MPA in Agatti, and Managing the Proposed MPA in Agatti.

Dissemination – A diverse portfolio of products and services are in place to share lessons learned and disseminate project results on other islands of Lakshadweep and beyond: documentary films, an informative project website, training manuals, handouts, posters, postcards, stickers, presentations, data-bases, scientific publications, stories for the general public.


Local ownership–The large number of volunteers indicates that this project is perceived as an attractive initiative which provides participants with a sense of achievement, career development opportunities and great fun. Through their participation in various project activities, islanders have developed a sense of ownership, evidence that the project is meeting local needs.

Name of the proposed MPA: ‘Agatti Conservation Reserve’

Agatti, the site of the new marine protected area, is the most western atoll of Lakshadweep

The proposed new marine protected area – ‘Agatti Conservation Reserve’ is in the lagoon of the Agatti atoll.

Agatti island is one of the 11 inhabited islands of Lakshadweep:


Length:                                           7,576    m

Widest point:                                  568    m

Average height above sea level:         1.5 m


Land area:                                      2.60   km2

Lagoon area:                                  17.50   km2

Proposed protected lagoon area:      10.00   km2

Population:                                     7,072 (2001)

Households:                                           870


Training and capacity building activities


Capacity development was a central component of this project. It was designed with the following objectives and principles, and implemented through a wide range of activities:


  1. Strengthen local capacities to design and adopt management practices that are effective for both conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Lakshadweep
  2. Develop local leadership to sustain, further and replicate develop project results


-        Offering mutual learning opportunities versus ‘one-way skill and knowledge transfer’

-        Utilizing all forms of learning: formal, non-formal, informal

-        Catering for various learning style preferences

-        Integrating local (indigenous) and scientific knowledge

-        Providing multiple perspectives to the issues at hand


-        Capacity development activities took place through a wide range of activities according to the learning objectives and principles above (see figure 6).

-        The training workshops introduced participants to active learning. This was a new experience for most them, as only conventional ‘frontal’ teaching is used at the schools and professional development courses in Lakshadweep. Active learning included experiential learning, cooperative learning, field studies, computer assisted simulations, story telling, media and drama education.

Geographic focus

  • Year 1: Exploratory phase, capacity development was offered on several islands.
  • Year 2 & 3: Having selected Agatti as the site for the first co-managed conservation reserve,  capacity development activities focussed on Agatti.


Selection criteria

The project’s local staff members (islanders) participated in all capacity development activities.

Training workshop participants were selected on their ability and commitment to share their learning experience with fellow islanders. The local project staff invited the training workshop participants.

Community facilitators, members of the Agatti island community, were selected to form two teams – a team of women and a team of men, which were both required to:

  • represent the village wards of Agatti
  • represent key community stakeholders
  • communicate effectively with community members
  • work with dedication to set up and manage the MPA
  • attend a series of training workshops in 2007 and 2008
  • engage community members in planning for the MPA
  • document community members’ ideas and questions about the proposed MPA

Key findings of the community consultations and household surveys

Social sciences in conservation

  • The results of household surveys and community consultations made the local project team realise the importance of social sciences in conservation; treating social (‘soft’) sciences as equal with ecology and other (‘hard’) life sciences.
  • Participants realised that biodiversity conservation and natural resource management need to go beyond ecology and conservation biology; success means understanding and managing human relationships, and their interest in using natural resources.

Threats to the lagoon

-        Solid waste pollution, including plastic, was mentioned as the main threat to the Agatti reef.

-        Increased turtle population, loss of sea grass, weather (climate) change, coral mining and sand collection, reduced numbers of lagoon fish and cowry, overharvesting of reef resources, changes in sea currents, reduced depth of the lagoon and pollution coming from boats were also mentioned.


Protection of the lagoon

  • Solid waste management was seen as the most important, highest priority action to protect the Agatti lagoon.
  • Awareness raising programmes, cooperation, stopping coral shingle collection (for construction) and conservation measures were also listed. The importance of learning and cooperation illustrate the island community’s values and traditions which provide a supportive context for community-based conservation.


Threats to livelihood

  • Decreasing marine resources were perceived as the main threat to the islanders’ livelihood.
  • This is a clear indication that the islanders’ livelihood still directly depends on their immediate natural resource base. Unemployment, big storms (climate change), direct human damage to the reef, increased turtle population, increased human population and mainland fishing boats were also mentioned.
  • Agatti fishermen do not welcome the increasing turtle population, as turtles become entangled in and destroy their fishing nets. Agatti’s increased turtle population is not yet understood. Research by scientists from Wildlife Institute of India is in progress.

Livelihood improvement

  • In spite of being a traditional fishing community, islanders in Agatti were open to improving their livelihoods by participating in businesses other than fishing. It may imply a high level of entrepreneurship, willingness to explore ‘uncharted territories’, taking risk and the islanders’ response to the depletion of marine resources. Islanders are quick to adapt, in this case by looking for alternative livelihood options.
  • Awareness raising, conservation, better value for tuna, sustainable fishing, tourism, killing or removing turtles, getting government jobs, controlling the growth of the human population and following the traditional ways were also mentioned.
  • The notion of raising awareness and conservation as a strategy to improve livelihoods is evidence of the impact of our project.


Learning preference

-        Film is the most popular way of learning in Agatti. Seminars (listening to expert lectures) also scored high. In decreasing order, books, posters, discussions, slide-shows, pamphlets and people’s own observations were also listed.

-        The results reflect the community’s strong oral traditions, reverence of elders and experience, and collective, passive learning from an accepted authority. Films seem to fit this learning preference perfectly.


As schools in Lakshadweep do not have their own curriculum and learning resources specific to the islands (they all follow the Kerala curriculum), the project staff made a special effort to develop locally relevant materials.

  • Three training manuals were developed in close cooperation with the local project staff and community facilitators to make sure they were locally relevant. These manuals were developed during the training workshops.
  • The fourth manual – environmental education for teachers and students – is available for testing.
  • They are available only in English.

Key Lessons

1.     Engaging local community members in research about their environment and socio-economic systems helps them realise the value of adaptive learning and adopt adaptive management at an early stage. It is essential, however, that local people are involved in all phases the research: the design,  the data collection and the interpretation of results .

2.     Active learning methods were new and inspiring to most people. Participants appreciated the opportunity of experiencing new learning methods such as fieldwork, using and creating visuals, computer-assisted decision making simulation, scenario development, discussing controversial issues, thinking about the past and future, etc. A combination of conventional (passive) and new (active) learning experiences develops confidence and faciliates innovation – important ingredients of resilience.

3.     Film has proved to be a powerful way of engaging people in Agatti: either responding to a screened film or engaging in making a film. Our research has confirmed that film is the preferred way of learning in Agatti. Participatory film-making and documentary film production can multiply the impact of conservation projects in Lakshadweep, and perhaps beyond.

4.     Co-management of resources – especially local, common-pool resources – works best when there is a wide participation of community members, government, academia, civil society organisations and the private sector. They must prioritise needs together and share the rights and responsibilities of planning and implemention. This is time consuming but more sustainable than management by a single stakeholder.

5.    The private sector canprovide significant contribution through their expertise and their financial resources, proven by our cooperation with HSBC’s emerging managers. Involving the private sector’s expertise (different perspectives, long view, planning for alternative scenarios, etc.) can support local people to pursue alternative and sustainable livelihood options. Matching biodiversity and livelihood improvement goals harnesses community support and brings about the most sustainable development, as our project has shown.

6.     Nested (cross-scale) management system – the cooperation and coordination of local (e.g. Lakshadweep), national (e.g. Mumbai) and international (e.g. London) project management can be very effective in delivering ambitious projects in a short amount of time, leveraging significant resources, securing project sustainability and increasing resilience. It works best when the strengths and boundaries are clear and autonomy is granted within their sphere of influence, and there is mutual trust, respect and reciprocal support.

7.     Climate change, and the islanders’ vulnerability to climate change – especially sea level rise – needs to be addressed as soon as possible. The level of awareness of climate change and its immanent threats to Lakshadweep is very low.

8.    Replication of the successful Agatti MPA process is highly desirable. Based on the encouraging results and unanimous support to date our strategy could work in other islands in Lakshadweep or beyond in a similar context.

9.   Transparency and Trust: Transparency of process including planning, design and implementation helped gain community confidence. It helped developed ownership of concept.


  1. Administration of Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India
  2. Biroba Film, Pune, India
  3. Blue Ventures, London, UK
  4. Cambridge Conservation Forum, Cambridge, UK
  5. Centre for Marine and Fishery Studies, Syiah Kuala University, Indonesia
  6. Centre for Social Markets, Kolkata, India & London, UK
  7. CORDIO (Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean)
  8. Darwin Centre Live, Natural History Museum, London, UK
  9. Department of Environment and Forests, Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India
  10. Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Research, Sri Lanka
  11. Department of Science and Technology, Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India
  12. Duke University, USA
  13. EarthCare Films, New Delhi, India
  14. Field Studies Council, with their Darwin Initiative Project, Shrewsbury, UK
  15. Global Footprint Network, Canada
  16. Global Islands Network, UNEP
  17. Green TV, London, UK
  18. Hariott Watt University, with their Darwin Initiative Project, Edinburgh, UK
  19. HSBC Future Generation Development Programme
  20. ICRAN (International Coral Reef Action Network), Cambridge, UK
  21. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland
  22. 22.  Local councils (‘Panchayats’) of Agatti and other islands, Union Territory of Lakshadweep, India
  23. Lund University, Helsingborg, Sweden
  24. Marine Research Assessment Group / DFID Fisheries Management Science Programme, London, UK
  25. Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, New Delhi, India
  26. Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources, Maldives
  27. National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India, New Delhi, India
  28. Natural History Museum, London, UK
  29. Nature Seychelles, Mahe, Seychelles
  30. Phuket Marine Biological Centre, Thailand
  31. Regional Environmental Centre, Szentendre, Hungary
  32. Regional Programme for the Sustainable Management of the Coastal Zone of the Countries of the Indian Ocean, Quatre Bornes, Mauritius (ReCoMaP)
  33. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, UK
  34. Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, USA(
  35. Suganthi Deavadason Marine Research Institute
  36. UNEP Coral Reef Unit, WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Centre), Cambridge, UK
  37. University of Alberta, Camrose, Canada
  38. University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  39. Warwick University, UK
  40. WWF-UK