My research is motivated by innate curiosity in the natural world and also a keen interest in answering questions that can inform conservation and management efforts. For the past few years, I have worked (alongside colleagues) on a range of basic and applied studies in marine systems. Details of a few recent projects are as follows:

Assessing reef resilience in the Andaman Islands

I am a branching coral waiting for sunlight or diamonds or perhaps something greater than what I am

Young coral of Acropora sp.

Climate change is considered the greatest long-term threat to reefs. Managers must, therefore, focus on supporting the natural resilience of reefs. Factors contributing to resilience are multidimensional and contingent on local conditions. Identifying these factors at managerially-relevant scales is important if resilience principles have to be included in rational reef conservation efforts.  Reefs of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are most diverse in India and considered a biodiversity hotspot.A multiple series of catastrophic disturbances (including repeated mass bleaching and a tsunami) have impacted these reefs, seriously testing their buffer capacity. In the face of these disturbances, I am interested in understanding what factors makes certain reef resilience and plan to incorporate resilience principles in the prevailing reef management of the Andaman Islands.


  • Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
  • Wildlife Conservation Society, Research Fellowship Program.

Scenic (5)

Soundtrap 300 

Sounds from the sea

Fish & marine mammals are known to communicate with each other for attracting mates, scaring off predators or orienting themselves. I am interested in understanding fish communication.  Currently, I’m using SoundTrap 300 to create a sound library of different reef fish.


  • Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Fish on a Mission: Assessing the Role of Herbivorous Fish in Maintaining Coral-Algal Balance on Post-Disturbed Reefs of the Andaman Islands, India

Although few studies from the Andaman Islands have shown instances of high algal growth in certain reefs, the role of herbivory in mediating post-disturbance reef recovery is relatively less known. Through this project, my colleague Tanmay Wagh is studying the processes, by which herbivory acts as a top-down force in controlling algal overgrowth and maintaining the coral-algal balance on the coral reefs in the Andaman Islands. The findings will help in understanding how local processes influence post-disturbance reef recovery and thus aid in the existing reef conservation and management efforts in the Andaman Islands.

For further information contact Tanmay:

Funding: The Rufford Foundation

Discerning the “illegal” in illegal marine trade in the Andaman islands

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 5.19.08 PM

Shark landing at Wandoor jetty, South Andaman

Though several marine species are protected by legislation in India, the existing knowledge of the illegal marine trade is mainly limited to field observations and grey literature, unsubstantiated by quantitative or contextual synthesis of information. Many of the protected species are long-lived and have slow growth rates, but are often overexploited because of their high economic value. The nature of trade is often complex and frequently carried out through informal pathways, as a result, the true extent is seldom recorded. While curbing marine trade may not be possible at regionally meaningful scales, understanding the factors and details that drive this trade is an essential step towards rational conservation of these species. This project investigates what factors contribute to illegal marine trade in the Andaman Islands.

Funding: Ravi Sankaran Small Grant Program

Conservation & management of dugongs in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Dugong 3_Havelock island_Photo_ Vardhan Patankar

Dugong surfacing for a breath of fresh air

Since 2007, my colleague Elrika D’souza and I are studying dugongs and their habitats in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. As a long-lived, slow-moving and slow-breeding marine mammal, dugongs are particularly vulnerable to extinction. They are globally endangered and, in Indian waters, they are restricted to a few tiny pockets like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are primarily herbivores and are highly dependent on seagrass meadows in which they graze. In the A&N Islands, where they were once relatively abundant, our studies have shown a clear historical decline.  We are working together with the Department of Environment and Forests in the A & N Islands to evolve a suite of strategies to protect what remains of this population.


  • Department of Environment and Forests, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  • Ravi Sankaran Inlaks Fellowship Program
  • SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund
  • The Conservation Leadership Programme
  • The Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund

Coconut crabs: assessing their status and distribution in the Nicobar archipelago

Coconut_photo by Vardhan Patankar

Coconut crab at Kamorta Island in Central Nicobar

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are one of the few key biodiversity regions in the world where the endangered coconut crabs still exist. The crab is reported to occupy a definite niche both in the ecology and in the livelihoods of the Islanders. We carried out interviews with Nicobari communities to examine the issues regarding their conservation and conducted timed searches in areas where coconut crabs were likely to be found. Of the six islands surveyed in the Nicobar group of Islands, we recorded the presence of 17 and 14 crabs on two islands, respectively. On four islands villagers reported the presence of the crab prior to the tsunami of 2004, and on two of these islands, the species may now be locally extinct. A small population size and a fragmented distribution in areas of coconut plantations suggest that the species is threatened. This project highlights conservation needs for the species and gives the recommendation for managing their populations.

Funding: National Geographic Society