Researchers in Pakistan are confirming visible changes in the size of a new island that suddenly appeared in the Arabian sea off the country's southwest coast after a September 24 earthquake.
The island, locally called Zalzala Jazeera (Earthquake Island), rose from the sea floor about a kilometer from the port town of Gwadar just hours after a massive earthquake, with its epicenter some 400 kilometers inland, struck the province of Baluchistan.
Scientists reported initially that the island was 18 meters above sea level, 152 meters long and 182 meters wide.
“It has since gone 3 meters down underwater and the process is ongoing,” says Abdul Rahim, a biologist in the area working for the World Wide Fund (WWF) Pakistan. He has made several trips to the island to study its characteristics. “The surface of island is mostly muddy and its crust is covered with large rocks and stones.”
Rahim said muddy areas of the island are facing rapid erosion and the whole thing is likely to vanish within a year.
Local media quote scientists at the National Institute of Oceanography in Karachi as saying that the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reports their satellite images showed the Island is shrinking.
The rapid reduction in size of the island and predictions that it will disappear in coming months are causes of concern for local fishermen and others benefiting from the sudden ecotourism boom.
While the magnitude 7.7 earthquake caused massive human and material losses in parts of southwestern Baluchistan province where Gwadar is located, Rahim says the new island has become a source of livelihood for local people.
Rahim says a sizable number of tourists, including women and children from nearby towns and other parts of Pakistan, as well as foreign nationals, are visiting the island daily.
“They hire local boats by paying handsome amounts of money to the owners to visit the island.”
Acabaria Delicatula found on Zalzala island in Pakistan, Nov. 22, 2013 (WWF's Abdul Rahim for VOA).
Rahim says he has conducted a survey of the area around the new island with the support of a local marine biologist and they have concluded it is rich in biodiversity.
He added that their survey has identified four species of small encrusting and branching corals. Rahim says “The indication of rich biodiversity is also shared by local fishermen with more than 200 of them fishing daily in this newly emerged area.”
Rahim said that presence of unusually large numbers of small fish around the island is a new development and adds ”it has attracted big fish to eat them while fishermen are enjoying plenty of opportunities to catch more and bigger fish than they used to.”