Spanning the coast of Rameswaram, Tutucorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park covers 560sq.km, and lays within the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. It was declared a national park in 1986, and is the first marine biosphere reserve in Southeast Asia. It features beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, swamps, near shore forests, estuaries and mudflats.
There are 21 islands as part of the park, away from the coast. The Mandapam Group and Keezhakkarai Group comprise 7 islands each. The Vembar Group comprises 3 islands and the Thoothukudi Group, 4 islands.
Animals, plants and marine life endemic to the region thrive here – the most famous being the Dugong. You can also find dolphins and sea horse in plenty here. Eleven types of sea grass beds and about 147 species of seaweeds are found all along the coast. The sands are home to five endangered marine turtles – Green turtle, Olive Ridley turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle and Loggerhead turtle. Out of the 180 species of birds found in the park, some are migratory. The reefs here provide shelter to varieties of algae, sponges, sea cucumbers, mollusks, worms, echinoderms, sea urchins and fishes.
The biosphere supports about one lakh people – most of them belonging to the fishisng community of Marakeyars. Tourists can go visiting the islands in glass bottomed boats and explore the area.