By Lucy Gibson
Arasankazhani Lake lies about 26km from Chennai near Chemmancherry-Perumbakkam, at the base of the Sithalapakkam hills. It is just one of the lakes that the E.F.I. have successfully restored; this article will focus on how this was achieved and the benefits this restoration has brought.
Prior to restoration, Arasankazhani’s waters had been polluted by illegal sand-mining, heavy silting and was covered with weeds and water hyacinths which choked the lake and the life bodies it contained. Its densely populated surroundings, overlooked by schools, colleges, IT parks and tall apartments threatened Arasankazhani. Additionally, the roads which wrapped themselves around the area of the lake had also previously been used by local residents as sites from which rubbish could be thrown into the lake’s waters. As many examples can show, at this time, Arasankazhani’s 39 acres represented the negative impact humanity can have on nature.
Now, however, Arasankazhani also represents humanity’s impact in a different light; that with time and determination nature can be restored.
This is the story of how the E.F.I. restored Arasankazhani to its former glory.
Having first been approached by residents from the neighbourhood, and having received permission from the Government, Arasankazhani Lake was restored in two phases, first in 2012, and then in 2014. Volunteers of E.F.I., with the support of residents, removed the rubbish and weed growth from the Lake’s waters. The removal of weeds, means that sunlight is now able to reach native aquatic plants, and prevents the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, which in turn allows fish stocks to thrive. Moreover, the removal of rubbish, prevents microplastic pollution, as well as the leaching of heavy metals and toxins into the water body.
After removal of rubbish, focus was given to creating outer and inner bunds, wind barriers, and a large central G-shaped island.
The G-shaped islands on the lake with an outer and inner mud wall that is fenced by plants are an innovation, ensuring water circulation in the lake. Planted with ‘Vettiver’ grass, for example, as well as bamboo, Pongamia, pinnata, and neem, these islands recreate and establish habitats for birds, pond turtles, and other native living species, thus restoring biodiversity to Arasankazhani’s waters. The North-western part of the lake was also de-silted to increase the water holding area.
Moreover, the creation of foreshore plantation bunds were designed to prevent lake encroachment and to restrict residents from dumping rubbish in the lake. On the bunds, around 500 palm seeds were planted, their roots stabilising the soil and strengthening the bunds alongside waterbodies; thus preventing breaches from waterbodies and soil erosion.
The planting of native saplings along the lake to create a small, forested area also brings great benefit, reducing flood risk potential through infiltration.
Today, the restoration efforts have yielded positive results and residents have stopped dumping rubbish into the lake. Additionally, species which originally considered the lake their home, can thrive again. More than 40 species of birds can be spotted enjoying its waters, including the Grey heron and three amphibian and four reptile species also all got their homes restored in a natural way.
Arasankazhani Lake was given a new life, and provides a fine example of collaborative conservation by local residents, the government, academics, and the E.F.I.