by Goutham Krishna
Ashtamudi lake which is called as the gateway to Kerala backwaters is one among the most visited back water lake in the country. It is situated in Kollam district of Southern Kerala with surface area about 61.4 Km square. Kallada river is the major source of water for Ashtamdui lake. The lake has an opening to the Arabian sea in the west at Neendakara and Sakthikulangara which is accountable for the brackish water present in the lake. It is also the deepest and second largest estuary in Kerala with a maximum depth of 21 feat at its confluence.
The word Ashtamudi means Eight braids in Malayalam which can be explained by the palm-shaped topography of the lake with multiple branches. The Ashtamudi wetlands are included as one of the 42 Ramsar sites of international importance in India.
The historical significance of Ashtamudi lake date back to the 14th century when the lake surroundings were the important port connecting the ancient city of Quilon to the rest of the world. Historical records of the Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta highlights Quilon city, in the banks of Ashtamudi lake as one of the major trading centers in the ancient period. Kollam aka Quilon still is one of the important cities in Kerala and is considered as the entry city towards the lake. A 1000-year-old temple and a 200-year-old church situated in the lakeside also highlight the socio-cultural importance of the lake and its premises in the ancient periods.
The presence of various populated islands in the lake is also a specialty of Ashtamudi lake. The Chavara South Island in the lake premises is widely known for its high titanium and other mineral deposits in the soil. Several factories and industries functioning for mineral extraction and their commercialization are present on this island. Munroe islands are another famous group of islands present in the confluence of Ashtamudi Lake and Kallada River. It is a famous tourist spot in the lakeside where rare migratory birds can be spotted on a seasonal basis. Boating is the major mode of transportation interconnecting these groups of islands together. The Ashtamudi estuary is famous for its diverse biodiversity and ecological peculiarities. The presence of 43 different species of marshy mangroves was reported in the region, including two endangered species called Syzygium travancoricum and Calamus rotang. Moreover, the lake system hosted rare and diverse aquatic fauna including migratory species. About 40 wetland-dependant bird species, 45 insect species, and 9 phytoplankton were reported in the area according to different studies. Apart from these, the scenic villages in the lakeside are abundant with coconut and palm trees which are also considered as an economic resource for the local communities.
Even though the lake and its ecosystem are very much important in the socio-economic sphere of Kerala, presently it is facing the threat of environmental degradation. The ever-increasing population pressure on the lake, disposal of sewage, pollutants, and even human excreta into the water along with the oil spilling from fishing boats lack spawning facilities in the lake premises, etc. are seriously deteriorating the lake environment. The extinction of Kanjirakode creek in the lake due to uncontrolled dumping of waste and clay is a scary example of the threats faced by Ashtamudi lake. In this context restoration plans and actions in the affected areas are mandatory for the conservation of the lake environment. Already studies have been conducted by national and international bodies regarding the environmental damage of the Ashtamudi lake eco-system and the possible redressal mechanisms that can be adopted to tackle the same. All of these studies are suggesting to bring about changes in the waste treatment methodology practiced in the locality and to reduce the practice of encroachment and reclamation of land for varied reasons. Sustainable and conservation-oriented approaches in sectors like tourism, coir production, mineral extraction, etc. should also be ensured so as to maintain the natural serenity and tranquillity of Ashtamudi lake and associated ecosystem.