This project provides a social anthropological account of the relations between humans and coral reefs. The study is situated in the Lakshadweep Islands of India, which are constituted by coral atolls. It is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in this Indian Ocean archipelago between January-December 2021. Coral reefs and their many forms are a vital part of the everyday existence of islands. Not only do they offer protection from cyclones and winds, but also constitute the everyday life of islanders. They become playgrounds, sources of fishing and livelihood, and even get erected as their tombstones. As an islander friend of mine states, “Everything here is coral”.
However, in the Anthropocene, the coral islands become signs, laboratories, and spaces of vulnerability. This project provides an ethnographic description of the relations among science, species, and society in this context. Lakshadweep islands are demarcated as 'small island' groups that face the threat of submergence due to climate change. As such, devising strategies to protect islands from submergence is an essential matter of concern for the institutions of civil society, state, and science. The concern of island protection materializes as the 'care for corals.’ It is manifested through conservation, interventions, management, and saving marine resources. This research asks how the vocabularies of care and protection of a coral habitat adorn new meanings and forms in the Anthropocene. Secondly, how do the relations between humans, reefs, and fish informs practices of island protection? Finally, how do the modern ecological registers of island protection co-exist with the matrilineal and Islamic practices followed by the islanders? This study adopts a methodological approach that engages with the transformations of species and matter, thinking with seascapes and their interlaced materialities. Situated within the intersections of Environmental Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, this work contributes to the discussions on non-humans and the Anthropocene in South Asia.