Prawn Gherries in the Chilika Lake

Chilika lake is a brackish water lagoon located in the state of Odisha. It was the first lake to be declared as the first wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1981.  Chilika’s ecosystem includes tidal ingress from the sea, which mixes with fresh water carried in by rivers such as the Daya, Bhargabi, and Luna, as well as a vast number of rivulets, and it is a hotspot of rich biodiversity. Snubfin dolphins, Barkudia lizards and many other rare creatures reside in this precious ecosystem.

But the vigorous prawn culture of Odisha is threatening the lake. It has brought traditional fisherman and larger, affluent farmers against each other, and has contributed to the lake’s increased silt load, which has negatively impacted its biodiversity. The water-body consists of a variety of sedimentary particles such as gravel, silt, etc. The heavy pressure thrusted by prawn gherries (prawn enclosures) has led to an increase in the salinity of the lake. Chilika’s expanding commercialization has done more harm than good to the lake, as seen by the effect of prawn culture.

While the government has promoted Chilika as a tourist attraction in order to generate income, private companies are often as eager to capitalize on the lake’s natural beauty. The natural flow of water in the lake is obstructed by prawn gherries, which increases the lake’s silt burden. As a result, the lagoon’s salinity and overall quality is affected. The quality of the lake’s water is directly affected by the loss in its depth caused by the rise in its bed as a result of significant silt deposition.

The Odisha government has begun evicting illegal prawn gherries from the Chilika lake, to restore its ecological health. During the pandemic, there was a marginal increase in the number of prawn gherries across the lake, though today there is a significant decline in their numbers. The effect produced was phenomenal. Dolphins were spotted in the Rambha sector for the first time in three decades! Endangered Irrawaddy dolphins benefitted too.

Illegal prawn gherries have been killing the flora and fauna of the Chilika for years, and the government of Odisha’s measures to curb the degradation of the environment has given a major boost in the direction of the lake’s restoration. But until fishermen and prawn-traders themselves realize the degree of their actions, this environmental battle will never end. Who knows, we may be reviving the Chilika lake only to clobber it once again.

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