Monday, October 15, 2012

ASTOLA ISLAND (Balochistan-Pakistan)

Astola Island is an uninhabited island in the Arabian Sea in Pakistan's territorial waters. Locally it is known as Jezira Haft Talar or 'Island of the Seven Hills" as it has a  series of seven small hillocks . Astola is a medium-sized Island, approximately 6.7 km in length with a maximum width of 2.3 km. It is Pakistan's largest offshore island and the only significant offshore island in the northern Arabian Sea. The island is. Its highest point is 246 feet above sea level. It is approximately 25 km south of Pakistan's nearest Makran coastline and 39 km southeast of the Pakistani fishing port of Pasni, sub district of Gwadar District in Balochistan province. Administratively, the island is part of the Pasni.

Astola island consists of a large tilted plateau and deep chasms and crevices, which are several feet wide.There are several natural caves and coves on the island. The south face of the island slopes off gradually whereas the north face is cliff-like with a sharp vertical drop. There is no source of fresh water on the island and the vegetation depends on occasional rainfall and soil moisture for survival.

Astola is used as a base for fishermen who frequent the Island between September and May to catch fish in general and lobster and oysters in particular. Between June and August, the Island remains free from human interference due to rough sea and high tides. There are no lodging facilities on the island and overnight tourists had to  camp on the island and bring their own provisions.

Astola Island is a popular and unique destination for eco-tourism, The isolated location of the island has helped maintain endemic life forms. The endangered Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbracata) nest on the beach at the foot of the cliffs. The island is also a very important area for endemic reptiles such as the Astola Viper (Echis carinatus astolae). The island is reported to support a large number of breeding  turtle, seabirds including coursers, curlews, godwits, gulls, plovers Larus hemprichii, sanderlings and several species.

Astola Island is also home to coral reef and identified as a `hotspot` of coral .  More than 30 species of hard coral and eight species of soft coral have so far been identified here.

Vegetation on the island is sparse and largely consists of scrubs and large bushes. There are different type of species of vegetation on Astola Island. Prosopis juliflora is the most significant and largest shrub widespread species of vegetation. Indigofera oblongifolia and Hycium depressum are also prevalent forming large bushes. Other types of vegetation found include Sueda fruticosa, Aerua persica, and Tamarix dioca. .There are no trees on the island.

The remains of an ancient Hindu temple of their Goddess Kali are also located at the Island this is the reason why Astola Island is known to Hindus as Satadip. There is also a prayer yard which is dedicated to the Muslim Pir Khawaja Khizr who according to legend is said to rule the oceans. He is also believed to visit the prayer yard occasionally and offer prayers. The prayer yard is mostly used by the fisherman in the fishing season.

Camping, fishing and scuba-diving expeditions are popular on Astola Island.

The route to Astola Island is very easy. It can be accessed by rented boats via Pasni. To reach Pasni one can has to travel by road from either Gwadar or Karachi via the Makran Coastal Highway. Motorized boats from Pasni are available which take approximately 5 hours to reach the Astola island.

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