St. Mary's Islands also known as Coconut Island, are a set of four small islands in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Malpe in Udupi, Karnataka, India. They are known for their distinctive geological formation of columnar basaltic lava (pictured).

Scientific studies indicate that the basalt of the St. Mary’s Islands was formed by sub-aerial subvolcanic activity, because at that time Madagascar was attached to India. The rifting of Madagascar took place around 88 Ma.

The islands form one of the four geological monuments in Karnataka state, out of the 26 ‘‘Geological Monuments of India’’ declared by the Geological Survey of India in 2001. The monument is considered an important site for "Geo Tourism".


History

According to folk legend, in the year 1498, Vasco da Gama landed at St. Mary's Islands on his voyage from Portugal to India, fixed a cross on the island and named one of these islands, El Padron de Santa Maria, as a dedication to Mother Mary, before he proceeded to Kozhikode in Kerala. It is from this name that the islands have got their current name.


Geography and topography

Out of the four islands which form St. Mary’s Islands, the northernmost island has a basaltic rock formation in a hexagonal form, the only one of its type in India. The island covers an area which is about 500 m (1,640.4 ft) in length with a width of 100 m (328.1 ft). It has prominent coconut trees, its cover reflecting in an azure south sea colour, and hence the island is also called Coconut Island. There is no habitation on the islands.

The north-south alined islands are in a non continuous chain. The four large islands are Coconut Island, North Island, Daryabahadurgarh Island and South Island.

The type of rock formation seen on Coconut island is also found atn the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. The stretch of sea between the islands and the long curve of the beach at Malpe is serene and calm.

The islands are generally aligned parallel to the coast line, which provide clues to the phenomenon of uplift of the west coast of India. The islands’ terraces and elevated beach deposits along with the tide gauge data at the dead oyster beach in Suratkal beach (further south of the islands) have been deduced as proof of the reported fall in sea level of about 1 mm/per year.

The highest elevation at Coconut Island, which has generated interest among geologists and tourists, is about 10 m (32.8 ft) above msl with surrounding areas in the form of platforms in the elevation range of +6 m (19.7 ft), +3 m (9.8 ft), +1.5 m (4.9 ft) and + 0 m which are stated to have been formed by wave action pointing to an “episodic sea level rise or fall of land”.

Access to the islands

The only way of getting to the islands is by boat. Regular ferry service ply the 6 km distance from the Malpe fishing harbor (which has a ship building yard also) to the islands. However, the frequency of these boats may vary depending on the number of tourists visiting. It is 58 km (36.0 mi) to the North of Mangalore, the coastal city of Karnataka, which is also the nearest airport. The famous religious town Udupi, is about 60 km (37.3 mi) West North West of Mangalore. Mumbai, Udupi and Thiruvananthapuram are linked to Malpe, by the West Coast Railway. The Konkan Railway (map pictured) passes close to the Islands, starting from Mangalore passing through Udupi, Kundapura, Goa, Ratnagiri and Roha close to Mumbai. Malpe is 4 km (2.5 mi) from Udupi town.

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Photos: Prakash Hegde-Sirsi
Information Courtesy:Wikipedia

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