astola island pakistan

Written by Muhammad Abdullah 7:31 pm Pakistan Unveiled

Astola Island: The Arabian Sea’s Hidden Jewel

Astola Island in Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest offshore island, with a sizeable tilted plateau and seven hillocks. The island has long been a hidden gem of Pakistan, and because of its remote location, the remarkable beauty and serenity of the island have remained unblemished.
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Muhammad Abdullah is a law student at the University of London. He holds a profound interest in international relations and current affairs.

Hidden Island in the Arabian Sea

About 25 kilometres off the Balochistan coast lies the largely uninhabited island called Astola Island. Astola Island of Pakistan is 7 kilometres long and 2.5 kilometres wide. The island is a part of the sub-district of Pasni in Gwadar. Locally, Astola Island is known as “Haft Talar,” which means “Island of the Seven Hills.” It is called so because of the presence of a series of seven small hillocks on the island and a large tilted plateau. Astola Island is also known as Jabl-e-Zareen, meaning “beautiful mountain.”

The earliest mention of Astola Island is in Admiral Nearchos’s Arrian account. Admiral Nearchos was a navarch in the army of Alexander, and Alexander had sent Nearchos to explore the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian sea in 325 BC. The sailors of the fleet were “frightened at the weird stories told about an uninhabited Island called Nosala by Arrian.”

Geography and Ecology

Deep crevices and chasms range up to a width of many feet present on the hillocks. The north side of the island drops vertically, while the south side of the island gradually slopes downwards. Around the periphery of Astola Island, a serene slender white beach runs around at the bank of the blue water. The cliffs on the island shrink inwards to make beautiful secluded cloves.

In addition, there are three more beaches that are found on the island. Moreover, many cave openings present on the island are proof of the thriving life of crabs and sea urchins. Astola Island has deep turquoise blue water around it that says everything about the rich marine life of the surrounding areas.

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First Marine Protected Area

The island was declared the first “marine protected area” by the government of Pakistan in June 2017. It was done under the international obligation of the federal government under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Convention on Biological Diversity. By declaring it a marine protected area, it was shown that adequate measures would be taken for the protection, conservation, and restoration of the biodiversity, species, habitats, and ecological processes that may be severely affected by human activities.

Additionally, the degradation and damage of the Island were declared to be controlled by the government. Sanctioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a team of environmental experts investigated the ecosystem and the biodiversity of the island. Several areas of the island were checked by the experts, and clear indicators were seen that showed we had been taking care of the hidden island.

Some of the signs of a healthy marine ecosystem included rich marine life thriving in a shipwreck near the island, hundreds of green turtles nesting and laying eggs on the beaches of Astola Island, and young turtles hatching and going back to the sea. Right at the foot of the cliffs, the sandy beaches are filled with the nests and eggs of endangered green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

Another one of the important endemic reptiles on the island is the Astola Viper. A large number of waterbirds can also be seen breeding throughout the island. Some of the waterbirds that inhabit Astola are plovers, sanderlings, curlews, gulls, coursers, and godwits. There are several species of dolphins, whales, and other fishes present in the surrounding water.

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Since there is no source of fresh water for the island, the vegetation there is quite scarce. The only vegetation seen is the presence of large bushes and shrubs that only come to life when it rains heavily on the island. The shrub present in the most considerable quantity on the island is the Prosopis julifiora. As the primary source of water is rainfall and soil moisture, there aren’t many plants present there. Astola Island is also inhabited by around 35 species of coral reefs that spice up the already diverse ecology of the island.

Eco-Tourism

Astola Island is considered to be a “hard” destination for many eco-travellers because of the absence of lodging facilities on the island. If travellers do consider staying the night, they must bring their own provisions in order to camp in the area. Some of the most popular activities at Astola are scuba diving, fishing, and camping. Moreover, many travellers go to have a look at turtle breeding as well.

File:Astola Island 11.jpg” by Sakina Nazia is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Some of the other activities that travellers may indulge in are canoeing, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling, yachting, pedal boating, and sunbathing. From nearby islands, there are boat transfers as well as helicopter transfers available to Astola Island. However, helicopter transfers may be your only option when there are heavy rains, generally from May to September.

To get around the other islands, boards and ferries can also be used. However, when you are on Astola Island, there aren’t a lot of options. You can either walk on foot or hire a bicycle. Some cultural footprints are also present on the Island. For example, a mosque dedicated to the Muslim saint, Pir Khawaja Khizr. This mosque was primarily the prayer site for the fishermen that came around during the fishing season.

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In addition, there are the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple present. The temple was of the Hindu Goddess Kali. To Hindus, the island was known as Satadip. A lighthouse was installed on the island for the purpose of safe passage of vessels by the Government of Pakistan in 1982. It was replaced by a solar-powered lighthouse later in 1987.

During the months of May to September, Astola Island becomes a base every year for the mainland fisherman. The fishermen come during these months to catch oysters and lobsters.

How to Get There?

In order to reach Astola Island, you would have to travel from Karachi to Pasni, which typically takes somewhere around seven hours. Pasni is a seaport that is around forty kilometres away from Astola Island, and so it takes around additional five hours from Pasni to get to the island. You’ll know you have reached the island when you see the solar-powered lighthouse and the small masjid.

Astola Island is one of the most isolated places in Pakistan, and the conditions are as good as they can be. With thriving marine life, a progressive ecosystem, and varying biodiversity, we can only expect tourism to increase in the days to come. Although the journey may be a little difficult, a destination like Astola Island is most definitely worth it!


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