Alarmed by the possibility of losing one of the world's most pristine marine regions to the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), a coalition of international organizations met for their first planning meeting in London on May 16, 2008 to strategize a joint campaign action plan to save the unique ecosystems found in the Gulf of Mannar in the Indian Ocean. The coalition includes the Living Planet Foundation, International Maritime Center and the Marine Conservation Society. This unprecedented meeting constitutes the first international movement to call for a moratorium on the SSCP until there is an effective and comprehensive assessment of the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of the project.

"The array of deficiencies in the proposed Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, combined with the threat it poses to the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay and Palk Strait, means that a moratorium on the project is now essential," said Dr. Kusum Vyas of Living Planet Foundation of the USA, "Our already endangered marine ecosystems are the lifeblood of our planet and developers must not be permitted to foul them for their own profit".

The London meeting started the process of identifying key areas of environmental concerns regarding the SSCP. Campaign working methods and objectives were discussed and the participants warned that the SSCP project posed significant risks to the healthy marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mannar, including those found in the UNESCO Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. The group acknowledged that many infringements of international agreements would be made if the construction were allowed and called for a campaign to sensitize the governments of India and Sri Lanka who share this unique site, and urge them to promote the Gulf of Mannar as a potential candidate as a World Heritage Site.

"Our satellite tracking research has shown that the proposed SSCP area provides regionally important foraging habitat for the endangered green turtles that nest in Sri Lanka," said Peter Richardson, Biodiversity Program Manager of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), "Sri Lanka has worked hard to protect its nesting turtles, but all this work could be undone by the SSCP and its potentially catastrophic environmental impacts on Gulf of Mannar coral reefs and sea grass beds."

The Gulf of Mannar marine ecosystems provide vitally important habitats for many wildlife species, such as the globally threatened dugong and five endangered marine turtle species that are specifically protected by Indian and Sri Lankan environmental legislation. The Adam's Bridge and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve would be seriously affected by the SSCP, along with the globally threatened and endangered species that depend on them. In addition, the meeting suggested that the construction and operation of the SSCP potentially threatens the agricultural and drinking water of millions of people around the Gulf.

"The Gulf of Mannar is a unique set of ecosystems that include coral reefs, sea grass beds, wetlands and oyster beds, all maintained by a thin ridge that contacts Sri Lanka to India. This geologic feature known as Adams Bridge or Ram Sethu, acts as a breakwater wall to protect the shallow seas of the Gulf of Mannar," cautioned Dr. Ranil Senanayake of International Maritime Center, Sri Lanka. "Seen from space, it appears as a thread linking the two countries. To cut this thread, sacred to many millions will bring great misfortune, not only for the invaluable biodiversity of the gulf by muddying the pristine, clear waters but also to the humans who live around it by destroying the fisheries and salinating the fresh water wells of the area".

The meeting decided that these and other key concerns should be discussed at length at an international forum by a full meeting of eminent scientists, environmental and legal experts, as well as representatives of local communities and civil society likely to be affected by the SSCP. These will be invited to attend a major, dedicated conference in Europe later this year, details of which will be announced in due course. Ends

For more information contact:

USA: Dr. Kusum Vyas - Living Planet Foundation on 713 876 5400 or
UK: Peter Richardson - Marine Conservation Society on 01989 566017 or
SRI LANKA: Dr. Ranil Senanayake - International Maritime Center on +94 (0) 776582662 or