Visitors vandalise St Mary Isles

Beautiful isle of the sea,
Smile on the brow of the waters.
— George Cooper, English poet (1820 - 1876).

Lesser mortals have to be satisfied with short visits as, for instance, as tourists to St Mary Isles, off Malpe, six km north of the temple city of Udupi.

According to Gazetteer of South Canara by John Sturrock and Herald A Stuart, in 1498 Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sea explorer and adventurer, landed on one of the islands off the coast of the present fishing centre of Malpe and set up a cross and called it ‘El Padron de Santa Maria’ which seems to be the origin of the name St Mary Isles by which the islands are now (1894) known. Presently, they are called St Mary’s Islands or Cocanut Island – because the main island hosts  coconut trees.   

Apart from this historic tag, the set of four islands are known for their distinctive geological formation of columnar basaltic lava. These clusters of rocks come in various shapes and sizes and provide wonderful setting for photography – as seen in one of the photo alongside.

For many in the hinterlands of Karnataka, the first darshan of sea itself is an exciting prospect and a boat-ride to an island is the icing on the cake. Instead of exploiting this tourist potential, the present arrangement for visiting the island seems woefully inadequate.

In the first place, the boats have no fixed timings. For them the day seems to start after 9.30 am and become operational only after the minimum load (30?) is secured. So, the persons who buy their tickets at 9.30 am may have to wait for even an hour on non-holidays. This is an egg and chicken situation. If the times were fixed, the tourists would arrive to suit those timings instead of their taking chances awaiting for minimum numbers and hanging around in a smelly, bleak environment.

Even the boarding and landing facilities are deficient. While boarding at Malpe end is in a harbour-anchored boat, landing at the island end involves transshipment into smaller boats and landing in ankle-deep water. The landing ladder is difficult to manage for children and senior citizens. The landing jetty is not constructed apparently to preserve the pristine innocence of the island from the ravages of modernisation. But, we can’t have the cake and eat it too. The present arrangements for landing and boarding at the island end are comfortable only for the athletes and gymnasts.

If it is the concern for preserving the natural beauty of the island, it has already been vandalised by the visitors. On some of the black basalt rocks, names of visitors have been painted in white and can be read from 500 m distance. The shoreline and the land are littered with plastic bottles, cans and sundry debris of modern civilisation. The seats are broken and kutirs are unusable because of the putrid garbage dumped in them.
The authorities have provided large dust bins all over the place. Thus, the question is how to educate the tourists on litter control? I was tempted to dub the island Garbage Island.

A brochure of a tourist resort in Malpe says: “Take a 10 minute boat ride to the famous St. Mary’s Island with its untouched beaches and unique rock formations. You will find yourself having a truly exciting time here!” May this come true!!

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