Saint Mary’s Island, also known as Coconut Island or Thonsepar are a set of four small islands in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Malpe in Udipi, Karnataka. They are known for their distinctive geological formations of “columnar basaltic lava”.
Scientific studies indicate that the basalt of the Saint Mary’s Islands was formed by sub-aerial sub-volcanic activity, because at that time, Madagascar was attached to India. The rifting of Madagascar took place around 88 million years ago.
According to folk legend, in the year 1498, Vasco da Gama landed at Saint Mary’s Islands on his journey from Portugal and fixed a cross and named one of these islands ——– O PADRAO de SANTA MARIA, as a dedication to Mother Mary. That is how the Islands got their current name.
One of the four islands, the northernmost, 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 1,640.4ft in length with a width of 328.1ft It has prominent coconut trees, its cover reflecting an azure sea colour, and hence the island is also called “Coconut Island”. The island is uninhabited.
Tour boats to the island are available from Malpe. Their timings are rather haphazard and the frequency depends on the availability of tourists. On holidays, there are up to 10 trips a day and the ride lasts about an hour. The journey is idyllic —— as the boat lethargically slices its passage through the wavy sea a few exuberant fish keep you amused by their acrobatics.
Totally uninhabited, Saint Mary’s has just a few coconut trees as vegetation but, nonetheless, there are quite a few things that one can do here. You can spend relaxed moments watching the azure blue sea. And when it gets too hot, you can catch your proverbial 40 winks of sleep in the straw huts constructed by tour operators.
The rock formations in various shades of black and red are certain to hypnotise the itinerant tourist and one can spend quite some time climbing the taller rocks. Or you can walk on the soft sands with waves gently caressing your feet. Adults and children often succumb to the pleasure of collecting seashells that litter certain stretches of the beach.
There are no buildings, shops or fences anywhere, and the tourists can pretty mush wander as they please. The beach, itself, is quite clean. There are no domestic animals on the island. 90mins are sufficient to cover the entire island. Colonies of birds settle on the volcanic rock formations that rise out of the sea and they are mostly gulls and terns. There are a few sandpipers, but they are very shy.- The islands suffer from lack of maintenance. Large numbers of coloured plastic bags can be seen along the coast. Tourist activity is not regulated, and on holidays, people descend on the islands by the boat load. There are no dustbins on the islands.
Air Tel connectivity is quite strong on the island. Most of the ferry crew carry mobile phones, so can be reached in case of an emergency. The best time to visit is December-January. The island has a covered pavilion with 3 park benches right on the shore and a few further inland. Avoid wearing sneakers as getting to the island requires wading through one and a half feet of water.