Known as “kidneys of the Earth”, wetlands are of immense significance in the ecosystem. Havens for migratory birds, hotspots of flourishing flora and fauna, sources of clean water, etc. – wetlands are jackpots for us serendipitous humans.
Or at least, they were jackpots. Our actions have inflicted calamitous damage on the world’s “kidneys”. Wetlands are vanishing three times faster than forests, and only a ruinous future can be foreseen in their absence.
Amidst rising development, wetlands struggle to live in Chennai, much like any other water body of the southern city.
Take the Pulicat Lake for instance. Despite it being the second largest brackish water lagoon in India after Orissa’s Chilika Lake, sewage, chemicals, industrial effluents, pesticides, etc. menace its beauty. Birds flocking the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary and fish thriving in the water body have been severely affected by this. Those days when dense mangrove trees flanked the lake have long gone by. What remain today are scattered mangroves dotting the wetland. It is, however, hopeful that initiatives are being taken to protect the Pulicat Lake.
The lesser known Kattupalli Island (also called Ennore Island) is at crossroads. Lying south of the Pulicat Lake, the island is flanked by the Ennore Creek on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. This narrow island has been identified as a “no development zone” by the Coastal Zone Management Plan. Yet, ironically, it finds itself with two ports (the Kamarajar Port and the Adani Kattupalli Port Private Limited), a thermal power plant (the North Chennai Thermal Power Station) and a desalination plant (ABENGOA Seawater Desalination Plant).
The recent proposal of expansion of the Adani Port from 330 acres to 6111 acres has sparked protests among local fishermen, environmentalist and residents of the island to conserve the biodiversity of the region.
The Madhavaram and Manali Jheels too have a similar story to share. These twin lakes in north Chennai are home to several bird species. However, once stretching over 150 acres, these lakes today have been reduced to half their size. Garbage, sewage, illegal constructions and encroachments have victimized the wetlands and have affected their habitants adversely.
It’s hard to believe what has become of the well-known Pallikaranai marshland today. Less than half a century ago, the marshland sprawled across an area of 50 sq. kilometres. But today, over 90% of the wetland has been lost to IT corridors, urban settlements, garbage dumps and sewage treatment plants. With renewed efforts of the government and several local organizations to revive this booming water body, the Pallikaranai marshland can once again become what it used to be not so long ago.
Several smaller wetlands of Chennai such as the Adambakkam Lake or Mangal Lake have fallen prey to pollution and contamination, and have shrunk miserably.
Presently, human urbanisation and development at the cost of environmental damage seems like a short-term developmental victory. In the long run, however, humans are racing ahead for a devastating fiasco.