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Cows and Pigs have no Wings …

P G Wodehouse was an English author and one of the most read humorists of the 20th century. His book ‘Pigs have Wings’ was a classic and in a hilarious set of plots, his pet pig named ‘Empress of Blandings’ wins the first prize in the ‘Fat Pigs’ category and was a much loved and an adored pig …………..Moving from fiction to reality, the world’s farmers now annually raise roughly 1.7 billion cows and buffalo, 1 billion pigs, 2.2 billion sheep and goats, and 61 billion chickens, and use more than 3 billion hectares of pastureland and hundreds of millions of hectares of cropland to do so.

Indeed, cows, pigs and chickens have no wings to fly away from slaughter!

The real food-gap:

As our population crosses 9 billion by 2050, overall food demand is expected to increase by more than 50%. Simply increasing land usage to produce additional food is not sustainable as deforestation is most destructive to the environment. Most of the land cleared for agriculture (in the tropics) does not contribute much to the world’s food security but is instead used to produce cattle, soybeans for livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats), timber, and palm oil. Another important factor is the increased prosperity of people across the world especially India and China increasing the demand for higher meat, eggs, and dairy consumption.

We are in a catch-22 situation to close the food-gap we need to achieve the almost impossible :

  1. increase food production without increasing agricultural land and
  2. reduce growth in demand for food and other agricultural products

Shifting to more sustainable diets :

Around the world and in India, diets are increasingly more processed foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, fats, and animal-based foods. As people become richer, they are looking to eat more dairy and meat and convenient access to food outside the home encourages ‘fast food’. The per capita consumption of beans and other pulses, vegetables, coarse grains, and fiber is declining.

This is creating the following challenges:

  1. Consumption of meat, poultry, pork, farmed fish, and dairy are by far the most resource intensive food requiring more land, water and generating more green-house gas emissions when compared to pulses, staple crops, fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oils.
  2. Most people also consume more protein than they need, while the average daily protein requirement is around 50 grams per day, its consumption is around 71 grams/day and expected to increase resulting in an over consumption of protein from animal-based foods

Meat from beef, sheep, and goat is by far the most resource-intensive food (needs more land and water to grow). Meat requires over 20 times more land and generates over 20 times more GHG emissions than pulses per gram of protein. Relative to dairy, it requires four to six times more land and generates four to six times more GHG emissions per calorie or gram of protein ultimately consumed by people.

Water-footprint of plant and animal based foods:

The table below shows the water consumption between diary,animal and plant based foods . Beef,fish,sheep and goat consume highest water . Nuts (Pistachios,almonds,walnuts,cashews) require more water and deplete ground water fast and dairy,pork and poultry need a lot of water not only for feeding and growing ,but clean-up of facilities and handling of waste water.

Social concerns on treatment of animals :

The livestock sector in India has grown over 8% in the last five years with dairy the single largest agri-commodity in India contributing to 5% of GDP employing around 80 million dairy farmers directly . Industrial beef, pig and poultry farming is one of the most profitable livestock business and a lot has been written around the poor treatment of farm animals that are reared for slaughter. More recently McDonalds, the fast food giant was sued for sourcing bacon and pork products from suppliers who continue with a practice of using crates to house pregnant pigs so they cannot move.

Factory farming is the main cause of animal suffering and government supported meat-reduction strategies are required that enable farmers reduce animal stocking densities and move to free-range organic farming such as cage-free pigs, hens, grass-fed cows and avoiding use of antibiotics for their growth and disease prevention.

Gold Rush in Cow manure and poultry droppings :

Old-fashioned animal manure is now a hot commodity due to a global shortage of commercial fertilizers made worse by the Russia-Ukraine war (with Russia being a major Potash producer- a key ingredient in producing nitrogen fertilizer). Apart from being used as fertilizer, usage of cow manure for biogas is gaining popularity.

Cow manure is flushed out from the cow farms into a covered lagoon called as a digester, and the emitted raw biogas which has over 60% of methane is collected and piped to a central facility that collects biogas from all dairy farms in that area and purified, sent to the local utility pipelines. India is planning to build 5000 bio-plants by early next year to offset demand for natural gas.

In Conclusion:

Agricultural waste from poultry, cow and pig farms result in too much of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the environment and damaging the quality of groundwater , reducing oxygen in the water, killing aquatic life as well as causing gastrointestinal illnesses , skin reactions and neurological effects in people.

Even if India and the developing world were to reduce meat consumption in the coming decade, the demand for global meat consumption is expected to grow 32% by 2050 due to the sheer growing population. Hence several strategies can be tried out by consumers : Consciously balance protein and meat consumption with plant-based foods , explore alternate plant-based protein foods and be aware of the health risks associated with red meat. Strict guidelines around industrial farming with animal waste management plans and usage of biofuels such as biogas from decomposing animal manure can go a long way in making our food more sustainable from the farm to our plate and saving water for our thirsty population.

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Cloud Seeding: Seeding New Hope for Positive Environmental Action

In our favorite superhero universes, the capacity to control nature is an overpowering theme. Marvel character Storm was powerful enough to conjure fogs, tornadoes, and even mighty foods. The Varuna Yajna is a popularly performed ritual in India to appease the Rain Gods during extreme conditions of famine or drought. Rishis and priests immersed themselves in water and chanted mantras, urging the gods to show sympathy. The importance of rain for the well-being of a society is very evident in how most cultures have a similar spiritual practices. When Udupi faced a heartless rainless streak in 2019, the locals conducted a marriage between two frogs to invite the rains. But did you know that humans have found a way to control and manipulate even rainfall with the assistance of modern science?

The technique is called Cloud Seeding. Although the procedure cannot ‘create’ rain, it can help in the enhancement of natural precipitation. Clouds are basically water droplets or ice crystals floating in the sky. These droplets are too tiny to fall as rain but are big enough to form clouds that are visible to the naked eye. When they find a particle of dust or smoke, the droplets collide together and form a blob around it. The particle is known as the ‘condensation nuclei.’ What ‘cloud seeding’ does is introduce more of these particles that these droplets can latch onto, and eventually pour down as rainfall or snowfall.

The primary seeding agent used in this process is silver iodide. This is majorly due to the closeness of silver iodide to the hexagonal structure of ice. Dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and simple salts like sodium chloride are other common seeding agents. The seeding agent is presented in the desired region through pyrotechnic flares attached to aircraft, and it performs its job of catalyzing more collisions and groupings.

We are well aware that mindless human intervention is driving us towards an unavoidable climate crisis. However, “If human activities could change the climate, why not change it on purpose, to suit us better?” says one article released by the American Institute of Physics.

The first instance of cloud seeding can be traced back to 1946 when scientists at General Electric, America effectively seeded clouds with dry ice and witnessed the first-ever artificially induced snowfall. Presently, about 56 countries across the globe have cloud seeding programs working actively, including India.

In December 2021, China employed cloud seeding in its capital city Beijing to assure quiet and rainless weather on the day of the centenary celebration of its ruling party. Hydropower organizations incorporate this technique to acquire more snowfall in winter since it would facilitate more runoff during spring and that in turn aids in the production of hydroelectricity. Some wineries have begun using seeding agents to protect their vineyards from heavy hailstorms. Variations of cloud seeding have forever been used for storm and hurricane prevention.

Historically, we have more handy examples of climate modification by humans for greed and evil than for the betterment of the world. In Actor Suriya’s movie Kaappaan, we see geoscience used to initiate what is essentially a biowar. A locus attack is executed on crop fields to destroy the hard-earned yield of the farmers. The attacking party also cleverly makes sure the locusts do not increase their population and spread uncontrollably by selectively sending only male insects, thereby putting a cap on reproduction. From bug bombs to purposefully contaminating water or spiking food, our world’s history is a cesspit of countries trying to eliminate their enemies by slightly modifying the course of nature in warzones. To restrain further investment of human beings in warfare, Climatological modification in warfare has been banned by the UN.

However, how eco-conscious is the concept of climate modification, even if it uplifts and depollutes the environment? When posed with the question, Dr. Emmanuel DiLorenzo, Professor, and Director at Georgia Tech call climate modification an equivalent to taking a climate pill. He argues that a patient who has cholesterol has two options they could adopt: either changing their lifestyle healthier to prevent cholesterol or taking an anti-cholesterol pill to control their illness. They are more likely to take the pill, and so is humanity’s approach to climate change. Artificial weather modification counters the damaging effects of climate change without removing the root cause itself. But it might be too late for humanity to adopt an entirely new lifestyle, so artificial climate modification is a more viable option at present. Most scientists agree that climate modification is progressive and sound science, and will relieve us from the woes of climate change when used consciously.

References

  1. Weather Modification – Wikipedia
  2. What is seed clouding? – india.mongabay.com
  3. How One Country ‘Modified’ Its Weather to Create Artificial Rain and Lower Pollution – theswaddle.com
  4. Climate Modification: Good or Bad? – The Weather Channel
  5. Climate Modification Schemes – history.aip.org
  6. Brief history of insects in entomological warfare – entomologytoday.org
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The Worrying Space Case: How is Space Junk affecting us?

We no longer only litter and pollute our land, water, and air. The human way of exploiting our surroundings has reached a new height, literally, as we have transcended beyond earthly boundaries and are invading Space itself.

Launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union, Sputnik 1 was the first successful artificial satellite to orbit around the Earth. Subsequently, the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War rivals, immersed in an elaborate space race to establish dominion over the other. The space race effectively ended a few years after the United States’ successful landing on the moon in 1969 and the Soviets incurring four failed moon-landing attempts in the years following this. Sixty years since Sputnik 1, humanity has bowled numerous spacecraft and rockets into the vast expanse of space enveloping our earth.

The status quo of space junk according to The World Economic Forum is that 6,000 satellites are presently orbiting our planet, of which 3,600 are dysfunctional or dead. These statistics lead us to the jarring realization that more than half of the satellites lodged around the Earth are space junk. At present, thousands of tiny screws and nuts to broken parts from collisions or explosions to enormous, complete satellites that are no longer in use traverse the realm of our Space as debris. 

Reports show that about a thousand satellites will be dispatched into space per year in this decade. This number is four times that of the previous decade and is bound to keep increasing in the future. When it comes to the generation of debris of any kind, the more is never the merrier option. The more man-made space projects and ventures, the more space debris we are generating. Researchers predict that the Earth might soon have rings made of space junk orbiting around it like the planetary dust rings of Saturn. In short, we humans are preparing for a self-induced war that we do not stand a chance at winning.

Ron Garen, who worked on the International Space Station for 6 months has observed the beauty of life the way most others can only dream about. He records that the Earth is a truly stunning sight with all its diverse sweeps of terrains and forests, snow-capped mountains, vast blue seas, as well as the evidence of human existence in the actively twinkling cities during the night. “Because our planet is surrounded by this cloud of space debris,” he says, space pollution is developing an unprecedented impediment in observing the earth from space and vice versa. Space junk reflecting sunlight is proving to be a major hindrance in the day-to-day study of astronomers.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s milestone ‘trip’ to Space in 2021 is certainly the first of many such travel expeditions to come by. The giant space stations, space travel, tourism and entertainment zones, and even space civilizations are no longer only absurd imaginations from the pages of your sci-fi novels. Considering the direction we are headed in terms of astronomical and space exploration, these might become very normal and quintessential parts of human life that nobody questions, like how mobile phones did not exist a century ago but have become integral parts of our life in the 21st century. The more commercialization and privatization that Space undergoes, the more profit-oriented the scenario is going to be, and a new kind of ‘space race’ is doomed to take over. become and the more space junk we are bound to create.

But why does space junk matter so much? How much can these floating metals that are miles away affect us? Major Paul Land gives us the answer with his warning that “Everyone here should care about what’s going on with space objects and space debris,” because humans largely rely on technology more than anything else nowadays. If a satellite incurs damage due to fast-moving space debris (They can reach up to 29,000 kilometers per hour.) which is hardly even the size of a bolt, any technology-dependent system like ATM withdrawals to GPS tracking internet usage might completely crash. Damage to satellites is a threat to the use of technology itself.

Or worse, the increasing Space pollution might trigger a domino effect of space junk collisions that will increase the density of unwanted litter around the planet, making Earth’s orbit basically unusable to satellites.

Trey Livingston, an Orbital Space Analyst states to our shock that “Even a piece of debris the size of a small screw could destroy a Space Station. You can think of a two-centimeter ball bearing up in space, traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. That force is equivalent to a Jeep Wrangler traveling at 70 miles per hour.”

The adverse threat that space junk poses to our livelihood is only now beginning to get attention in serious discourses. Scientists have started sending space whips to jolt debris out of the Earth’s orbit using giant magnets, nets, and harpoons, as well as working on obliterating space junk with the help of Earth’s atmosphere. Japanese space scientists are trying their hand at constructing the world’s first wooden satellite. However, the noose is tightening ever so slightly every single day. To ensure that we do not damage our Space beyond repair, we can no longer afford to be ignorant of space pollution and its impacts. The world’s nations need to roll up their sleeves and act on resolving this issue immediately.

References

  1. “Space is not a trash can,” says scientist about worsening debris problem – The Swaddle
  2. Space Junk Around the Earth – DCODE by Discovery
  3. space.com
  4. Space Race – Wikipedia
Featured

Green Weddings: The Zero-Waste Trend that Couples Need to Hop on

As a country known for its elaborate festivities and celebrations, India’s obsession with big, fat, and extravagant weddings does not come as a surprise. The Bollywood union of Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor has flooded social media platforms and will continue to be romanticized until the next big thing. With wedding planners and consultancy firms that take into their own hand several tasks – like booking venues, hotels, decor and furniture, hiring professionals like DJs, photographers and videographers, caterers, florists, make-up and hair stylists, etc – many have had their fairytale fantasies precisely come to life on their big day.

However, underneath the laughter and tears of a wedding scene, the enormity of these celebrations comes at a massive cost. An average Desi wedding produces about 300 kilograms of plastic waste and 200 kilograms of food waste. As the renowned comic Rohan Chakravarty puts it in his comic strip,  instead of a bride and a groom, we could indeed imagine two huge landfills tying the knot.

It is estimated that more than 10 million weddings happen in India every year, each occurring over a stretch of three to five days. With the industry growing annually at a startling rate of 30%, we humans are not prepared to deal with the tricky issue of waste disposal. The biggest concern with the wastes generated at weddings is that they are in the form of “Mixed garbage.” The term Mixed garbage is used to refer to the inseparable clump of garbage that includes cutlery, paper, foil, and wet food waste all mixed together, which makes reusing and recycling an impossible task.

The large quantities of waste generated also leave a massive carbon footprint on the earth. One wedding might seem too small to drive a significant change in our environment, but the cumulative effect of all the weddings that occur over a year added together substantially accelerates global warming and climate change.

Having said that, today’s eco-conscious millennials are emerging as a new ray of hope for the environment. With greater awareness of the role of humans in climate decline, many millennials are opting for a minimalist wedding which proves to go easy on their wallets as well. A young couple, Dadawala and Aravind, took an oath to make their marriage waste-free and green. They were able to divert over 900 kilograms of waste from landfills due to their efforts and directed 710 kilograms of wet waste for bio-methanation at Carbon Masters India Pvt Ltd. It only takes a little extra effort to pull off a green wedding.

The first step in arranging a wedding is the distribution of invitations. Instead of printing out a multi-page invitation, you could opt for a minimal one-page invite. An even better option is creating an e-invite. You could splash around with a variety of colors, explore a range of designs and animations and make it personal. More couples today are leaning towards intimate weddings, inviting only close relatives and friends. You could likewise limit the count of your guests, and conduct a virtual live stream of the event to the remaining guests. This will ultimately reduce the wastage that your ceremony is going to leave behind.

Instead of booking a grand hotel as your venue, try picking an open space like a beach, lawn, garden, or farm that will help you cut down on electricity by providing natural lighting and breeze. For decorating your venue, use locally sourced flowers instead of plastic or paper decorations. By choosing a location that already presents you with an aesthetic setting, like a garden or lawn, you can again avoid spending on decoration. Abandon plastic chairs and instead rent wooden chairs or floor cushions that can be reused later.

Hire a ‌catering company that serves dishes made of locally sourced ingredients. It is also best to use stainless steel cutlery and biodegradable banana leaves instead of plastic spoons and plates. Reports claim that about 40% of the food prepared for weddings gets dumped. Therefore, make sure you tie up with an NGO to distribute the leftover food to the needy. Feeding India, Robin Hood Army, and No Food Waste are some non-profit organizations that operate in India. Pack off your vegetable and floral wastes to a compost pit.

‌Flaunting our wealth with our clothing and accessories is the Indian convention. We buy one set of clothing and jewelry exclusively for each ceremony of the wedding. But if you’re hoping to make yours a green wedding, it is best to reuse or upcycle your ancestors’ sarees and jewelry instead of the go-to Kanjipuram silk or Sabyasachi. Select organic and cruelty-free makeup products like Ruby organics, Biotique, Lotus Herbals, etc.

Gifts are a big deal at Indian weddings. But oftentimes, you find gifts that you received collecting dust in your attic as they are of very less use to you. To avoid the wastage of such gifts, you could create a ‘gift registry’ for your marriage where you list out the presents you would like to receive from your guests. Your guests will now have an idea of what specifically you’re looking for. As a return gift, you could offer saplings that your relatives and friends can cherish for years. Eatable wrapped in seed paper is another delectable option. When planted into the soil and water, seed paper germinates and sprouts seedlings. You could further ask your guests to donate to environmental conservation programs and organizations instead of buying a gift.

By systematically arranging and regulating a green wedding, not only are you being an eco-conscious couple, you’re also seeding awareness in a gathering of 100-400 guests. By allowing people to witness that it just takes a little effort to pull off a zero-waste wedding, you’re also helping clear their misconceptions about how tedious a green wedding could be. You could additionally engage your guests by organizing a plantation activity, seed ball-making activity, or an impromptu street play to keep your audience entertained.

References

  1. Make your wedding a low waste affair – Times of India
  2. 7 perfect ideas to celebrate your perfect zero-waste wedding – thebetterindia.com
  3. 17 Green Wedding Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Celebration – brides.com
  4. The wedding industrial complex – theweek.com
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Fast Fashion: A Fast-Growing Pandemic to the Environment

Imagine you are shopping on a hot Monday afternoon and an adorable shirt catches your eye through the shiny, sanitized glass panes of your favorite clothing store. The cheap rate of Rs 199 on the price tag is tempting, but having already purchased beyond your budget for the day, you make a mental note to return to the store the coming week to buy the shirt. While you are home catching up on youtube, you see that two of the influencers you subscribe to have bagged this shirt in their clothing mega-haul videos, which further invigorates you to get your hands on it too. However, when you walk back through the same glass panes on the following Monday, you quickly realize that the shirt is long gone. The store is now swamped with a fresh collection of clothes, with no trace of what you saw the previous week.

The 90s fashion schema of people eagerly awaiting the biannual autumn and spring clothing launch has long divorced itself from the scene of the 21st century. In hopes of staying relevant in the market, today’s fashion stores churn new clothes almost on a weekly basis. The term ‘fast fashion’ is used to depict this rapid cycle of revamping that the retail floor goes through in such a limited time. Fashion giants like Zara and H&M move from the birth of a design idea to the sale of the product in a mind-bogglingly short span of 14 to 21 days.

Here’s the catch. Since the inherent objective is to keep people up with the fluid trends of fashion as well as to keep them as frequent customers, the quality of the clothes is poor. The low quality of material used reflects on the prizes as well. The greatest appeal of fast fashion is that the garments are cheap. Even if the cost of manufacturing and transport happens to exceed the selling price, the overspill is compensated with reduced salaries and inhumane working conditions for their employees.

On a global average, a person buys about 70 clothes per year, which means each of us is bound to buy more than one piece of clothing per week. More than 56 million tons of clothes are sold every year in the world. Among this, India itself singlehandedly generates more than 1 million tonnes of textiles per year. For the first time in the history of human existence, customers can very easily take their wardrobe “To the salon” in the time it takes to bat an eyelid.

Although fast fashion has allowed us to experience a new form of freedom – since our self-expression and clothing preferences have started becoming a symbol of our identity – the mass production of cheap clothes has high environmental consequences. The fashion industry is the eighth-most polluting industry in the world. Not only does this ceaseless pattern feed to over-consumption, it concurrently keeps leaving longer and longer trails of clothes that go to the dump every day. 92 million tonnes of textile waste is discarded into landfills per year, which comprises 4 percent of the world’s solid waste.  This is equivalent to saying a truckload of abandoned clothes reaches a landfill every single second!

Zooming into the materials used to produce clothes, Polyester poses a major threat to microplastic accumulation in the ocean. It is a petroleum-based fiber that makes manufacturing clothes abundantly easier and cheaper and therefore has outpaced the production of the usual cotton or wool. However, polyester is also a non-biodegradable substance that sheds fibers every time it is washed. These fibers trickle into our soil, ocean, and other water bodies eventually and can take from 20 to 200 years to decompose.

Several fast fashion brands have now taken up ‘Greenwashing,’ which is the practice of maintaining a sustainable image of their brand. With pompous advertising of their efforts for sustainability with recycling baskets or donation baskets in their stores, quality and cruelty-free products used in their manufacturing, safe and healthy working conditions, etc, fashion brands capitalize on consumers’ consciousness. Their slogans are oftentimes empty rhetorics with the central objective of attracting more sales. Barely one percent of the clothes that fall into H&M’s recycle bins are actually used for the said purpose. As for charity and donations, we certainly generate more unwanted clothes than the needy even need. “It takes twelve years to recycle what they sell in 48 hours,” says Claudia Marsales, a Senior Manager from Waste Management and Environment, City of Markham.

Patagonia’s campaign slogan is a classic case of employing reverse psychology. Following the launch of a blue jacket captioned with “Don’t buy this jacket,” Patagonia claimed in a press release that their campaign was an initiative to address the growing issue of over-consumption. However, the caption did the expected trick of attracting more buyers.

As individual consumers, we can resist the motion of fast fashion by simply not participating in its system. Buying less is the ultimate objective, so it’s best to be mindful of how much we’re consuming. Thrifting, swapping clothes with our friends and family members, upcycling our clothes to trendier styles by ourselves, and buying from better options than from fast fashion giants are some sustainable alternatives. In this age of technology, one can explore an array of YouTube videos to find inspiration.

References

  1. The environmental prize of fast fashion by Krisi Niinimaki, Greg Peters, Helena Dahlbo, Patsy Perry, Timo Rissanen and Alison Gwilt
  2. Fast fashion in the retail store environment by Liz Bernes
  3. Climate Change: How Fast Fashion Hurts the Environment – indiaspend.com
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The Role of Nature Stories and Folklore in Cultivating Eco-Consciousness

We have all heard the Aesop fable about the woodcutter who accidentally lost his axe in a river. The sentient river is moved by the weeping woodcutter and produces a golden axe, then a silver axe, from its depths, asking if it was the one he lost. The honest woodcutter shakes his head no for each of them and only accepts when the river fetches his own, inexpensive wooden axe. Impressed by his nobility, the river showers him with rewards. Although not explicit, the inherent moral that this fable is successfully propagating is that natural resources aren’t abundant and should be consumed mindfully and sustainably.

A similar folktale traveled between the ears of the Kokama people of the Peruvian region. The Kokama people considered their lakes as their magical madre or mother. The story believed that these enchanted lakes were capable of morphing into enormous boa constrictors and swallowing the greedy fishermen who might overfish. As the myth is cemented deeply in their culture, the locals often avoid overstaying at the bank of these lakes. Instead of adopting an anthropocentric logic where humans are the focal point and the rest of the environment exists simply to benefit them, traditional myths and legends largely tended to employ a more ecocentric approach where humans and non-humans coexisted in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Like how our mothers always warned that a Poochandi will steal us away at night if we didn’t finish our meal, several indigenous tales nurture the importance of conserving and protecting nature by seeding in a fear of punishment or death. By further assigning a higher, spiritual power to the elements of nature, these stories built respect for natural resources among the community, however tall and superstitious their claims were.

Several spiritual beliefs and religions of the world revolve around nature worship – from the Pagans who believed that the natural cycle of birth, growth, and death entailed deeper, spiritual meanings, to your local Maariyamma (Maari means Rain) who slowly took the form as a goddess, even though the practice initially began as simply Rain worship.

In Riders to the Sea, author JM Synge catalogs the lifestyle of the Irish fisher community and their perception of the ocean in harrowing detail. Not only is the sea their major source of income and livelihood itself, but it is also their biggest threat to life in the form of rash floods and cyclones. In such stories, we are reminded of the fragility of human life in front of the enormity of nature.

Unlike the anthropocentric, majorly-western and capitalist viewpoint, humans are not the ones that are wielding absolute power over and exploiting the ecosystem. The environment isn’t simply a backdrop in these stories. It plays an active role in moving the plot and amply influences the lives of the human characters. In this way, local myths also paint the Environment as an unpredictable force that would not only provide protection for humanity but can also turn into a destructive force at times. Instead of trying to assert dominance over their habitat, these stories showed how humans could accommodate the unchangeable ways of nature.

Another significant way through which storytelling encourages eco-consciousness in people is by employing Anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism can be defined as the practice of attributing human characteristics, emotions, and behavior to non-human entities, in this case, Nature. The closer we are able to relate our human experiences with nature, the better we allow ourselves to appreciate it. Even when it comes to eco-centric literature, we cannot forget that they too are creations of the human mind. Therefore, Nature’s stories are every bit more human than their own. From Indian Panchatantras to Samaniego’s Spanish fables, animals have forever been sentient beings who can think, feel and act human. Who could forget the bedtime Panchatantras about clever monkeys, wicked crocodile wives, and wise old owls?

In these ways, local stories have been cogs in shaping an eco-conscious and eco-sensitive mindset in people across the world. However, the new wave of scientific thought that is studied largely through a myopic lens of western ideas has led to the rejection of these myths. The fantastical elements of these traditional stories become illogical and useless in its eyes. Regardless, these stories always find a way of being passed and revisited – be it in storytelling conferences or under the nightlamp in your grandmother’s tender voice.

References

  1. Keeping indigenous stories alive – mongabay.com
  2. “Man is the Story-Telling Animal”: Graham Swift’s Waterland, Ecocriticism and Narratology by ASTRID BRACKE
  3. The Influence of Environment upon the Religious Ideas and Practices of the Aborigines of Northern Asia Author(s): M. A. Czaplicka

The Honest Woodcutter – Wikipedia

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The Himalayan Great Thaw

A little bit of history to begin with: The Pleistocene Epoch, also referred to as the ‘Ice Age’ is a period that started around 2.6 million years ago and lasted until around 11,000 years ago. This was the time when extensive ice sheets, ice caps, large lakes and glaciers were formed repeatedly on landmasses with about 30% of Earth’s land area covered in ice.

As temperatures began to rise, the planet altered between glacial and interglacial (warmer) periods with fluctuations in sea levels. We are currently in a warmer interglacial period called the ‘Holocene Epoch’ where frozen ground is thawing at an accelerated rate and referred to as ‘Permafrost Melt’.

What is Permafrost ? The soil that remained frozen year-round over the millions of years came to be known as permafrost. These permanently frozen grounds are most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes—near the North and South Poles and lies deep beneath nine million square miles of Earth’s surface. Russia has the world’s largest share: two-thirds of the country’s area sits on permafrost. In the Asian sub-continent, the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) mountain ranges spanning across 8 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan have extensive permafrost and glacial covers and the melting of this ice due to global warming is a critical topic to address.

What happens when permafrost melts ? Think about food in a refrigerator when there is a power cut for a longer period. Food gets spoilt and freezer items start to thaw and emits smelly gases. This is exactly what happens when permafrost melts. Deep inside the frozen earth are remains of dead plants and animals and as the ice thaws, microbes in the soil awaken and thrive on the defrosting biomass. This microbial digestion releases carbon dioxide and methane and is an alarming scenario as warmer conditions results in more carbon emitted out into the atmosphere. An increase in the amount of carbon dioxide creates an overabundance of greenhouse gases that trap additional heat. This trapped heat leads to melting of glaciers, increases risk of dangerous glacial lake outburst floods, rising ocean levels, which in turn cause flooding.

The Third Pole: The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of the greatest mountain systems in the world, covering 4.2 million sq km and home to the world’s highest peaks. It contains the largest area of permanent ice cover outside of the north and south poles and referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ and has:

  • Nearly 1.9 billion people depending on HKH for water, food, and energy
  • Source of 10 major Asian river systems and called the ‘water tower of Asia’
  • High biodiversity: 330 important bird and diversity areas documented and crucial to protect (because we have already lost 70-80% of biodiversity hotspots relative to 1500AD)
  • Approximately 35% of the world population benefits indirectly from HKH resources and ecosystem services

Permafrost warming in the HKH regions has resulted in reduced ground stability, increased occurrences of rockfall, and outburst of glacier lakes. Even if we manage to limit global warming to around 1.5 degree Celsius, it is projected that glacier volumes would decline substantially under current green-house gases emission scenarios that may result in the complete disappearance of glacier mass in the coming decades.

What are the current gaps?

  • More research is needed with international cooperation: The HKH region has a complex topography covering eight countries and hence consolidated snow data prior to year 2000 is unavailable. Satellite imagery is required to build out climate models and re-construct snow cover both historical and for predicting future trends with long-term snow course monitoring sites, data collection and the development of cryosphere-related hazard warning systems.
  • Increased focus on water governance: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China together account for more than 50% of the world’s groundwater withdrawals. These withdrawals mostly take place in the plains of river basins that originate in the HKH. Groundwater is used mostly for irrigation and in other sectors like urban water provisioning. The eight countries that share the Himalayas have poor government cooperation in terms of knowledge sharing as well as recurring geopolitical standoffs. Increased collaboration at local levels and formal collaboration at state, national and country levels can help ensure water security.
  • Restore nature to order by allowing grasslands to reappear: During the ice-age, these regions were covered by grasslands which acted as a safety net for the permafrost. The HKH has numerous examples of good practices in conservation and restoration of degraded habitats that go together with community development. These practices need to be scaled up and scaled out. Rewilding and reforestation practices can help restore nature to earlier times.

In Conclusion:

Imagine a hypothetical scenario where temperatures on earth move to an extreme of the ‘Ice Age’ where the global average was colder by 10 degrees. In this case, life will cease to exist as it would be too frozen to live. Now fast forward to the 20th century, we are almost 2 degrees warmer, with accelerated glacier melts and ocean levels rising.

Visualizing a worse-case scenario of getting to 5 degrees warmer, would be catastrophic as permafrost melt would be irreversible leading to cities and societies falling apart, risking our entire humanity and future generations. Neither the ‘Ice Age’ or a ‘Scorched Age’ is an answer as we try hit middle ground for an inclusive, species and habitat focused approach for our mere existence.

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Scientific Study on the Chembarambakkam Lake

Introduction and Background

The district of Kancheepuram is located in the state of Tamil Nadu. The district spans an area of 36.14 square km. This district houses one of the State’s well-known artificial lakes which formed due to the collection of rainwater over the years – the Chembarambakkam Lake (Eri). The full tank capacity of the lake is 108 million cubic meters. In reference to Chennai, the Kanchipuram district is around 40km from the city lying between 13º0’22’ North 80º3’35’ East. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Chembarambakkam lake – Location

Source: (Narain, 2015)

Geologists and archaeologists trace the history of the lake to over thousands of years. According to the stone-tool evidence found on the banks of the Chembarambakkam Lake, scientists believe that early humans migrated from Africa to India over a million years ago, where they might have moved from West Asia in small groups to the South Asian region. This mobilization could have expanded to the Chembarambakkam Lake region. Evidence of such a settlement along the banks of the lake can be seen from the palm-held axes of the Lower Palaeolithic found in the lakebed (Chandrasekaran, 2018). This suggests that some water bodies existed at that time, and it could have been a lot different from what the lake appears today.

Studies published later suggest that the lake was built by Rajendra Chola I, the son of Rajaraja Chola, and Thiripuvana Madeviyar, prince of Kodumbalur, which was filled with water during subsequent rainfalls. Chembarambakkam was known as Puliyur Kottam and was one of 24 villages during the Chola period in Thondai Mandalam, in which Kancheepuram was the capital. For centuries, the water-fed the paddy fields along its banks and was used for irrigation purposes.  The Adyar river originates from the lake and presently, automotive companies dot the fringes of the lake.

Present condition & issues pertaining to the Chembarambakkam lake

As mentioned above, initially the water from the lake was used for irrigation and helped about 13,500 acres of land in 39 villages. Over the years, due to rapid urbanization, the agricultural lands have been covered with concrete and the lake presently provides only drinking water (Kumar, 2020). Environmentalists and scientists have also identified that the capacity of the lake has been reduced to 60% of its initial capacity due to sedimentation and waste dumping (Vithaspa, 2020). In 2019, first time in several decades, efforts to clear silt were taken which would eventually make room for 536 million cubic feet of water storage. (The Hindu, 2019)

Water from the lake is distributed through canals after treating the water. There are two pipelines existing from the lake’s water treatment plant. The existing one on Poonamallee Road can only convey half of the lake’s capacity and hence, the Chennai Metrowater proposed the construction of the third pipeline at INR650 million (Barath, 2019). The new pipeline is under construction and is expected to be completed in 2022 (The Hindu, 2021).

In 2018, Physico-chemical parameters of the Chembarambakkam lake in summer and monsoon were recorded and the results are tabulated below.

Table 1: Physico-chemical properties of Chembarambakkam Lake

ParametersPermissible LimitSummerMonsoon
Colour (Hazen)1.01.0
OdorNoneNone
pH@25ºC: Alkalinity is good for the growth of aquatic organisms.6.5 – 8.57.678.78
Turbidity (NTU): Increased turbidity causes decreased light penetration, plant growth, and oxygen production in the water, which can reduce the survival of aquatic animals.5.090.10.2
Electrical conductivity (µS/cm): EC is controlled by the geology of the area where the water body is situated, the size of the watershed, wastewater from sewage treatment plants, wastewater from septic systems, urban runoff from roads, and agricultural runoff.488205
Total hardness (Mg/l): High values of hardness are probably due to the regular addition of large quantities of detergents draining into the water bodies.6005156
The distribution of nutrients (Ca, Mg, Fe, Cl, S) is due to the season, tidal conditions, and freshwater flow from land sources.   
Calcium (Mg/l)20013.414.4
Magnesium (Mg/l)1004.34.9
Iron (Mg/l)1.07.10.3
Chloride (Mg/l)100010220.9
Sulfate (Mg/l)4009245.6
Total dissolved solids (Mg/l)200036094
Biochemical oxygen demand @25ºC (Mg/l): The high BOD might be due to the decomposition of organic matter and decay of vegetation in rivers that mixed seawater during the rainy season.6.86Below Detection Limit
Chemical oxygen demand (Mg/l): High COD due to runoff from the surrounding areas of the lakes.95.139.2
Dissolved Oxygen (Mg/l): The partially dissolved oxygen in water depends upon the partial pressure of gas in the air close to water, the rate of photosynthesis, and the oxygen holding capacity of water.0.981.1
Fluoride (Mg/l)1.50.40.6
Manganese (Mg/l)0.3Below detection limitBelow Detection Limit
Source: (Thangamalathi & Anuradha, 2018)

Figure 2: Lake through the years from 2016 to 2019 and the percentage of water area

During the water crisis of 2019 in Chennai, the Chembarambakkam Lake dried up and the city was parched. Figure 3 gives a comparative picture of the lake in 2018 and 2019

Figure 3: A satellite view of Chennai’s water crisis of 2019

Source: (Chakravartty, 2019)

Several concerns have been raised as to how the effluents have resulted in the poor water quality in the lake (Chembarambakkam Water Treatment Plant, n.d.). In addition, the water itself has dried up owing to rapid urbanization and exploitation of the water. The main cause of the water drying up in 2019, can be attributed to urbanization and the unreasonable run-off of rainwater into the sea during the 2015 floods. Lack of proper water and disaster management has impacted the water in the lake. It is important to note that the lake itself is dependent on rainwater and thus, there is a need for water management through policy-making to ensure that rainwater is collected and distributed with no wastage across the State from the lake. Further, the water collected in this lake keeps the Adyar river alive, impacting the biodiversity around the river.

Biodiversity of the Chembarambakkam lake

  • Zooplankton Species (Altaff, 2019)

Rotifers, Cladocerans, Ostracods, Nauplii & Copepodids, Calanoids, Cyclopoids, Harpacticoids, Mysids

  • Reptile Species (Tsetan & Ramanibhai, 2011)

Ahaetulla nasuta (Common Vine Snake), Atretium schistosum (Olivaceous Keelback), Bungarus caeruleus (Common Krait), Coelognathus Helena (Trinket Snake), Daboia russelii (Russell’s Viper), Dendrelaphis tristis (Common Bronzeback Tree Snake), Gongylophis conicus (Common Sand Boa), Lycodon aulicus (Common Wolf Snake), Naja naja (Spectacled Cobra), Oligodon arnensis (Common Kukri Snake), Ptyas mucosus (Common Rat Snake), Xenochrophis piscator (Checkered Keelback Lizards), Calotes versicolor (Indian Garden Lizard), Hemidactylus brooki (Spotted Indian House Gecko), Hemidactylus frenatus (Southern House Gecko), Lygosoma punctata (Dotted Garden Skink), Eutropis bibronii (Sand Skink), Eutropis carinata (Common Skink), Eutropis macularia (Bronze Grass Skink), Sitana ponticeriana (Fan-throated Lizard), Varanus bengalensis (Common Indian Monitor Turtle), Lissemys punctata (Indian Flapshell Turtle)

  • Molluscs (Johnpaul et al., 2010)

Pila, Thiara, Sulcospira, Paludomus, Indoplanorbis

References

Altaff, K. (2019, June 20). Zooplankton diversity of freshwater lakes of Chennai, Tamil Nadu with reference to ecosystem attributes. International Journal of Life Science, 7(2), 236-248. https://oaji.net/articles/2019/736-1561403054.pdf

Barath, E. (2019, December). Degradation of Chembarambakkam Lake’s Water Surface Area. International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology (IJERT), 8(12). https://www.ijert.org/research/degradation-of-chembarambakkam-lakes-water-surface-area-IJERTV8IS120060.pdf

Chakravartty, A. (2019, June 25). One of India’s biggest cities has almost run out of water. The Independent. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/india-chennai-water-reserve-lake-puzhal-drying-up-monsoon-a8971211.html

Chandrasekaran, A. (2018, October 10). Tamil Nadu’s Chembarambakkam Lake Foretells an Aridity in the Sands of Time. The Wire. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://thewire.in/the-sciences/tamil-nadus-chembarambakkam-lake-foretells-an-aridity-in-the-sands-of-time

Chembarambakkam Water Treatment Plant. (n.d.). Water Technology. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.water-technology.net/projects/chembarambakkam/

The Hindu. (2019, September 12). After decades, government begins desilting Chembarambakkam lake. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/after-decades-government-begins-desilting-chembarambakkam-lake/article29395875.ece

The Hindu. (2021, June 19). Work to lay pipeline from Chembarambakkam water treatment plant will be accelerated, say Metrowater Managing Director. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/work-to-lay-pipeline-from-chembarambakkam-water-treatment-plant-will-be-accelerated-say-metrowater-managing-director/article34861585.ece

Johnpaul, A., Ragunathan, M. B., & Selvanayagam, M. (2010). POPULATION DYNAMICS OF FRESHWATER MOLLUSCS IN THE LENTIC ECO – SYSTEMS IN AND AROUND CHENNAI. Recent Research in Science and Technology, 2(4), 80-86.

Kumar, V. (2020, November 25). Chembarambakkam holds freshwater and scare for Chennai. The Federal News. https://thefederal.com/states/south/tamil-nadu/chembarambakkam-holds-freshwater-and-scare-for-chennai/

Narain, S. (2015, December 4). Why better sewage management in Chennai will help fight floods. Down To Earth. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/why-better-sewage-management-in-chennai-will-help-fight-floods-51993

Thangamalathi, S., & Anuradha, V. (2018, September). Seasonal Variations In Physico – Chemical Parameters of Seven Different Lakes In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. IOSR Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology and Food Technology, 12(9), 11-17. 10.9790/2402-1209031117

Tsetan, C., & Ramanibhai, R. (2011, September 21). Reptilian fauna of agricultural landscapes of Chembarambakkam Lake, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.zoosprint.zooreach.org/ZoosPrintNewsLetter/Reptile_Rap_13_Sep2011.pdf Vithaspa, S. (2020, December 11). The Phenomenon called Chembarambakkam – Lakes of India. Lakes of India. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://lakesofindia.com/2020/12/11/the-phenomenon-called-chembarambakkam/

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Frugal, Fine Fashion …

The fashion industry (apparel, footwear, and accessories) is huge with a market size of around $2.4 trillion-a-year and growing exponentially. USA and China are the among the largest markets for clothing with India not too far behind at around $108 billion-a-year and India also amongst the world’s largest producer and exporter of textiles valued at around $36 billion. Given that this is a multi-billion-dollar industry with appetite for more, India is in the spotlight to be a ‘responsible’ fashion consumer and producer.

Synthetic versus Natural fibers:

Majority of the garments and textiles made today are from fabric fibers that are synthetics (polyester, rayon, acrylic etc.) due to a booming demand for affordable and fast fashion. Easy to mass produce in factories, synthetic fibers are cheaper, stain and water resistant and most popular. However, these synthetics slowly break down into smaller pieces called micro plastics and make their way into our oceans, our own food and water supplies. Severe health issues arising from ingesting these tiny micro plastics has been well documented along with negative impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife and biodiversity.

Natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool) are far more eco-friendly having a smaller environmental impact with fewer chemical additions and more durable, absorbent, and anti-bacterial making them ideal for sensitive skin. But natural fibers are also not truly sustainable. Let’s take cotton as an example that needs massive amounts of water to farm and produce cotton. It takes an average 10,000 liters of water to cultivate 1 kilogram of raw cotton and 2700 liters of water to produce a cotton t-shirt.

Textile dyeing and finishing:

Extremely a thirsty business, the fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion liters of water each year. Textile manufacturing uses more than 8000 chemicals in various processes from the fabrication of yarn to finished product and water is the main ingredient to wash off chemicals and dyes. Textile mills discharge millions of gallons of effluents as hazardous toxic waste, full of color and organic chemicals from dyeing and finishing salts. According to evaluations of the World Bank, around 20% of all present water pollution is solely induced by coloring and finishing patterns. Nearly 72 unique toxic synthetics are stated to be available in water only for coloring patterns.

Tiruppur, India’s most famous textile city is an environmental dark spot with the city’s dyeing and bleaching units that add color and flair to its apparel turning the once-beautiful Noyyal river into a toxic sewer, and destroyed vast areas of agricultural land the water body once sustained. Industrial pollution has ensured agricultural farming operations are unsustainable due to extensive groundwater contamination.

  • Reduce Impulse buying: Shopping over the internet has taken impulse buying to a whole new level where we have a hunger for newness and buying new clothes is also a way of self-appreciation. Forcing ourselves to give away, reduce clutter and understanding the concept of ‘less is more’ and fashion minimalism is a good thing. Iconic Paris fashion brand YSL famously states: ‘fashion fades but style is eternal’ and so getting creative by picking up a needle, getting crafty, investing in an automatic sewing machine and repurposing or adding some fancy patterns to our clothes are great concepts. Here are some neat ideas for creative clothing designs.
  • Move from fast fashion to slow fashion – ‘Slow’ fashion is made of quality material that is made to last from locally grown materials often domestically manufactured or sourced on a relatively small scale. India’s leading luxury fashion designer Sabyasachi talks about how fashion fulfills the role of functionality, helps you express your dreams within a budget and how to consume less but the best fashion.
  • Sell what you have in your cupboard: Used clothing in good condition (referred to as pre-loved) can be sold on social platforms like Poshmark India as an example. Instagram has several thrift stores selling used clothes, home décor and new beauty items and very appealing to people who are increasingly becoming conscious of their water and environmental impact. The second hand/resale market is expected to double in the next 5 years.
  • But wait, there’s more! Here is a link to a fashion footprint calculator that looks at your fashion habits and indicates your contribution to carbon emissions.

In Conclusion:

To align with the goal to limit global warming to around 1.5-degrees Celsius targeted by the Paris Climate Change agreement by 2030, it is imperative that our fashion industry must focus on transparency and traceability of products, chemicals and materials being used including production practices such as sorting, remaking and recycling and more importantly efficient re-use of water.

Adapting to a circular economy for fashion, where products and their materials are designed and manufactured to be disassembled so that they can be reused, remade, recycled, and – where applicable, and after maximum use and cycling – safely composted. Thus a ‘zero-waste’ fashion economy will contribute to a resilient and thriving industry helping regenerate the environment and saving water for generations to come.

Remember the 7Rs of sustainable fashion: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Repair, Research & Rent.

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Cryptocurrency and their impact on the environment

Cryptocurrencies are digital assets that are mined and traded on super-computers which consumes large amounts of energy and fuel, which is detrimental to the natural resources. A single bitcoin transaction can leave behind carbon footprints worth 1088.94 kgCO2, electrical energy of 2292.50kWh and electronic waste of 289.80g.

Can it be made more sustainable?

Efforts to make the crypto platform more sustainable can be made by generating the energy required for mining and transacting crypto coins using methane gas and other alternative energies rather than fossil fuels. Initiatives like co-locating bitcoin mining operations with zero-carbon resources (nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar) can help reduce the carbon emissions associated with mining the bitcoins. Global initiatives like Bitcoin Mining Council and Crypto Climate are working on developing ways to make the process more sustainable. However, not too many efforts are taken to tackle the amount of e-waste generated from mining and trading in cryptocurrencies.

Environmental laws put in place to monitor the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies

As of now, there are debates to make it more sustainable by relying on renewable sources of energy to mine and trade the coins, but there are no laws that specifically address the regulation of supercomputers and the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies. Both national and global laws can be drafted to regulate the use of supercomputers and manage e-waste generated from mining and trading in cryptocurrencies. India already has E-Waste Management Rules that can be expanded to include waste generated from cryptocurrencies. However, specific guidelines and penalties must also be imposed so as to bring accountability among those involved in the cryptocurrency market. At the global front, the Basel Convention International Treaty seeks to address hazardous waste and its management. These can further be amended for countries to incorporate laws on managing e-waste generated from the cryptocurrencies market.

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Local water sports & their ecological and economical impact to the regional habitat

In the present day, when IPL and World Cup gain international attention, it is evident that sports as an industry has substantial potential to grow with both economical and social benefits. In line with the same, water sports also have a considerable amount of support and a business in this sector can have its positive and negative effects on the ecology and economy. This article aims to understand how local water sports and their development impact the ecology and economy of the beach or ocean habitat, as the case may be.

It is inevitable that when humans interfere with the natural environment for personal gains, it would leave behind a broken environment with no biodiversity and life. However, environmentally conscious activities will provide room for growth and development of the country and also provide scope for local communities to protect their water resources by engaging in profitable initiatives.

Just like how cricket grounds are well maintained, and pitch protected at all costs for a game, so will a business in water sports impact the way water bodies are maintained and conserved. Recreational activities related to water would enable the conservation of the water body, for with water there would be no income generated which would further impact the livelihoods of those dependent on it. Having a well-structured business involved in water sports and allied tourism would provide a space for water conservation, protection, and preservation. Even though the primary reason for protecting the water body is based on economic reasons and not rooted in ecological one, it is still a system that could ultimately lead to conservation of India’s water bodies including lakes, ponds, coastal waters, and rivers.

In order to understand the linkages that exist between the local communities and developing water sports activities in regional water resources, let us consider an example. For instance, let us consider the Marina beach, located in the heart of the city of Chennai. Marina beach is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal is India’s longest beach and is considered the second-longest in the world. Despite the historical and geological significance, the beach is unpopular due to poor maintenance and is often strewn all over with a thick plastic cover. The Bay of Bengal has several scopes for water sporting activities, but sadly the water is unclean and maybe do more harm than good when one soaks their feet in the chill waters. As of 2018, scientists from the National Centre for Coastal Research found extremely high levels of fecal coliforms like E-coli in the water which may be due to the garbage and sewage dumped into the waters (Tejonmayam, 2018). As a result, the fish from the water may not also be healthy for consumption, and a beach of wonder which has the potential to generate income remains yet another poorly developed region of the country.

However, if the city management involves the local public in maintaining the beach, it would generate income and would attract tourists. The money collected in the form of tickets can be further used to expand the businesses around the region to provide room for recreational activities like water sports including boating, kayaking, yachting, swimming, and the like. These recreational activities would over a period of time provide an incentive for the local communities to preserve and protect the natural environment for it generates a reliable source of income. In other words, the economic benefits will provide scope for the preservation of the water resources so as to maintain the income levels and the resultant standard of living from beach tourism.

In addition to these processes at a local level, initiatives at the individual front will also further help in the conservation of water resources. Many joggers and surfers across the world, utilize their time jogging, to pick up plastic and trash strewn around the community, which again helps in ensuring that this waste does not end up in water bodies.

In essence, for a water body to be used for recreational purposes, conditions focusing on the physical, chemical, and biological attributes determine whether the water is capable of supporting recreational activities. The sporting activities would generate economic benefits and thus, there would be an imposed pressure to maintain the various determining factors of water quality at the optimum level. In the larger picture, this would protect the water resource. The conservation efforts would further nurture and nourish the flora and fauna dependent on the water body. With the entire system well-planned and executed, it would make the ecosystem of the region sustainable.

References

How are water-sports groups aiding cleaner oceans? (2019, April 26). Open Access Government. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/water-sports-cleaner-oceans/63972/

Raj, V. (2020). India and Water Sports: A theoretical study. Zeichen Journal, 6(12), 360-367. http://www.ezeichen.com/gallery/1597.pdf

Recreational Waters | US EPA. (2021, September 7). US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/recreational-waters

Tejonmayam, U. (2018, April 20). Marina: Why a dip off the Marina may be bad for your health | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/why-a-dip-off-the-marina-may-be-bad-for-your-health/articleshow/63837350.cms

Zhang, B. (2020, October 5). The Social Benefits of Water Sports Events and Their Impact on Environmental Pollution. Journal of Coastal Research, 104(1), 111-115. https://doi.org/10.2112/JCR-SI104-020.1

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Urban forestry using the Miyawaki technique

The Greater Chennai Corporation is making plans to restore the Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot with several benefits including a bird island flooded with trees using the Miyawaki technique (DTNext, 2022). As green and novel the term ‘Miyawaki’ sounds, it has its own set of advantages and challenges. This article aims to give an overview of the Miyawaki technique and further understand the role of this technique in light of the developments in Chennai.

What is the Miyawaki technique?

Miyawaki is a man-made afforestation technique to grow natural forest cover native to a particular region developed by a Japanese Botanist by the name, Akira Miyawaki (Shekar, 2020). Akira Miyawaki was the recipient of the Blue Planet Award for his contributions to the unique method of afforestation by which plants could be grown in regions where no plants existed before. This method has been in practice in Japan since the 1990s and has been used to restore and revive degraded land. The concept helps in bringing green cover to cities and has now been adopted in several Indian cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai.

The biggest asset of the Miyawaki technique is growing a wide range of species native to the land, within a small area in a short period of time. In other words, a multilayer of shrubs and trees are planted at an average distance of 60 cm (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). To provide an example, a backyard in a house can be transformed into a forest teeming with flora and fauna. In 2010, a family based in Kashipur, a city in Uttarakhand converted their backyard into a forest cover using the above technique. A 75 square metre space, turned into a home for 224 saplings of 19 species of shrubs and trees (Nargi, 2019). Against the conventional method, this method provides room for growing plants 30-times densely in a small space with an aesthetic appeal.

This method has great potential in terms of addressing climate change and mitigating the amount of greenhouse gases. However, the methodology is not a one-size fits all solution to deforestation and may work counterintuitively in Indian cities. 

Challenges with the Miyawaki technique in India

‘Nothing can substitute natural forests’ is the place to begin with when it comes to understanding the effectiveness of the Miyawaki technique in certain regions. As far as cities like Bengaluru and Chennai which are witnessing great transformations in urban forestry, the novel method is trying to replace natural forests in the regions. The Miyawaki technique was developed in Japan in that particular climate to handle calamities like earthquakes and may not be suitable for a tropical country like India. Several environmentalists argue that this method is giving an impression to people that they can replace forests altogether to the extent where citizens have remarked that even if trees are cut down, it can be replaced with the Miyawaki technique.

Sadly, plants grown with this technique cannot run an entire ecosystem. A natural forest is built over millions of years, and the quick remedy Miyawaki provides is not an alternative to the green cover of nature. Scientifically, it may not be sustainable in the long run to force plants to photosynthesize fast (Kaushik, 2019).

Further, even though Miyawaki helps in climate mitigation, trees will be able to do so only if they are allowed to grow to their full capacity. In the Miyawaki technique, trees are made to grow straight uniformly. It is important to note that different plants can sequester carbon based on size, leaf shedding habits among others. If all shrubs and trees are made to grow uniformly without paying heed to its natural characteristics, the Miyawaki forests may not benefit in climate mitigation.

Specific to Chennai, this method again may not be suitable for the city’s conditions. The first Miyawaki forest in Chennai was established in 2020 at a cost of INR 20 lakhs. Chennai is a coastal city with native species like the Indian laurel (Calophyllum inophyllum), banyan (Ficus bengalensis), Indian beech (Pongamia pinnata) and portia (Thespesia populnea) (Daniels & Vencatesan, 2021). These do not have a natural structure to grow tall and straight, but rather spread wide and it is not advisable to force them into the fixed pattern of the Miyawaki technique. Secondly, much of the vegetation introduced in the Miyawaki zones in Chennai, insufficient efforts are taken in terms of planting the native species. The technique specifically stipulates that only native species ought to be grown in the method. Experts voice out that the technique will work only if the species chosen for growing is native to the region (Gautham, 2021). A deviation from the same can further aggravate the ecological disruptions prevalent due to various environmental crises. Thirdly, Miyawaki forests do not help in rain and can again add onto the climatic woes the city faces. As much as they can supplement and complement existing green cover, they cannot replace them. 

References

Daniels, R., & Vencatesan, A. (2021, July 9). Why the Miyawaki Method Is Not a Suitable Way to Afforest Chennai – The Wire Science. The Wire Science. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://science.thewire.in/environment/why-the-miyawaki-method-is-not-a-good-way-to-afforest-chennai/

DTNext. (2022, March 12). GCC plans to restore Kadapakkam lake into a recreational spot. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2022/03/12142013/1357719/GCC-plans-to-restore-Kadapakkam-lake-into-a-recreational-.vpf

Gautham, K. (2021, September 17). miyawaki: Civic body getting its strategy on Miyawaki forests all tangled | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/civic-body-getting-its-strategy-on-miyawaki-forests-all-tangled/articleshow/86286075.cms

Kaushik, T. (2019, June 13). Miyawaki forests are no substitute for natural ones: Experts. The Economic Times. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/miyawaki-forests-are-no-substitute-for-natural-ones-experts/articleshow/69766810.cms?from=mdr

Nargi, L. (2019, July 24). The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests? JSTOR Daily. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://daily.jstor.org/the-miyawaki-method-a-better-way-to-build-forests/

Shekar, A. (2020, October 5). A jungle in the heart of Chennai: The story of the city’s latest ‘Miyawaki forest’. The News Minute. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/jungle-heart-chennai-story-city-s-first-miyawaki-forest-134567

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“Glocal”:- Local solutions for Global problems

The global politics around environmental actions faces the paradox of an impending doom and inefficient conservation. The Conference of Parties 26 is an example reflecting the global voice of environmental activism, while the continued destruction of the Amazon Forest and the lack of awareness of battery waste management post the advancing electric vehicles revolution reflects the slow the entire fight against climate change.

The contradiction is often rooted in difference in culture, the socio-economic scenario and other external factors beyond the word “climate” that shapes how we look at our environment. A person living in the Netherlands, cycling to work every day has a completely different outlook to what environmental action means as against a commoner from the city of Chennai, India who is unequipped with the skill of segregating waste at the source. Thus, there is a dire need to build smaller closer-knit activist and action groups to address regional issues that have a global impact with the support of national and state governments.

A Glocal model would ideally provide an informal forum for individuals to make an impact at the community and city level which can overall reduce the carbon footprints. Thoughtfully empathising and resonating with the emotion of the local communities and policymakers will help build stronger, vocal and environmentally conscious cities. These efforts can start from choosing to consume locally produced food that overall reduces the cost of transportation and waste generated in the supply chain to reducing the energy consumption at buildings from minimising the use of air conditioners.

Local initiatives and the path to global mitigation of environmental crisis

  • Travel: Logistics and transportation of resources from one place to another is a significant contributor to the carbon footprints generated by individuals. One of the most common modes of travel that generates the maximum amount of pollution is air transport and pollution generated from fossil fuel run vehicles. It is rather ironic that climate policy makers at the international front often commute in an airplane to address climate change conferences. The intention is not to do away with air transport and cars altogether, but to reduce the generation of carbon as best as possible. To encourage surface transport, most cities across the world have a public transport system that can connect regions together alongside providing room for residents to use cycles and other environment friendly modes of commutation.

To assist and strengthen this individual fight, governments can incentive the use of eco-friendly modes of transportation that address a small group of individuals which inevitably impacts the larger goal of climate action. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Government in 2017-18 came up with a national policy for companies to pay employees who cycle to work. According to the European Cyclists Federation, “driving a car emits about 271 g CO2 per passenger-kilometer” while taking the bus or any equivalent public transport will reduce it by half. Contrarily, cycles generate only one-fourth of the greenhouse gas a car produces, making it one of the most eco-friendly commutations. As far as India is concerned, several cities including Chennai have joined hands with the cycles4change initiative as part of the Smart City Mission. This has the potential to bring forth change in the travel sector in India.

  • Food: The diet of an individual, an essentially physiological need, is yet another big contributor to carbon footprints. While most diets involve the consumption of dairy products and meat, veganism proposes a plant-based diet. The former diet leads to a loss of millions of gallons of clean water and forested land during the production process while the latter uses relatively less of these resources and emits up to 90% less greenhouse than a meat-based meal. Shifting from an animal-based diet to a plant-based can trigger the restoration of pasture lands to forests and grasslands which has the potential to capture carbon and provide space for the native species to thrive.

In an article titled, “A New Veganism: How Climate Change Has Created More Vegans”, the author concluded that 8 out of 12 vegans cited environmental concerns as one of the major reasons they practice veganism. Thus, taking initial steps of eating a plant-based meal once-a-day or once-a-week can overall bring a balance in the individual and collective net carbon footprint.

  • Sustainable consumption: Yet another contributor to environmental damage has been due to the heavy reliance placed on plastic packages and other environmentally unsafe packaging materials. Several local stores address the issue by substituting plastic with bamboo, paper bags and other sustainable materials. This would provide a platform for consumers to choose the more sustainable option instead of purchasing consumer goods sealed in plastic, in turn leading to reduction in disposability.

In Mylapore, Chennai, Ecoindian is a sustainable store that sells consumer goods from toothbrush made from bamboo to coconut shell soup bowl. Similar stores are step-up across the country in small-scale, including Bare Necessities at Bengaluru.

In addition to reusing containers and choosing sustainable alternatives, consumption also extends to the fashion industry. Just wearing clothes longer is a path to sustainability. Sustainable fashion does not necessarily mean spending on expensive fashion brands, but rather wearing clothes one already owns for longer, thrifting, purchasing from sustainable brands, mending, washing with care, turning old clothes into rags and borrowing.

  • Education and awareness: The awareness of what climate change has instore for the people is varied across different classes of the society. As far as developing countries are concerned, when the basic needs of food, water, shelter and clothing are a question, the idea of climate change and pollution becomes secondary to many. In order to bridge this informational gap about environmental damage, awareness needs to spread as to how climate change could further impact their socio-economic standards through stories and relatable content.

The bleaching of coral reefs in the Australian coastline may mean nothing to a commoner in Chennai who works day-in and day-out trying to feed a family of five. But for that commoner, if a story of how Chennai faces the impact of climate change in the form of floods in November and drought in May, it could provide sufficient basis to involve more number of people within the ambit of environment protection.  In 2021, a climate change campaign was organised in the city of Chennai which gained attention among a few activist groups. The story they shared on climate change was not about what was happening in the USA or UK, but rather very specific to what Chennai was confronted with.

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Intergenerational equity – Rights of human and natural capital

The well-known environmental principle of Sustainable Development as defined in the Brundtland Report makes room for ambiguity and questions the fundamental idea of  ‘Why does this generation get to decide the future generation’s consumption standards of world’s natural resources?’. This intergenerational disparity needs attention to ensure there is an equitable distribution of wealth in a just and fair manner. The value idea that focuses on the rights of the future generations emanating in this backdrop is the principle of intergenerational equity.

What is equity?

Before delving into the nuances of intergenerational equity, there is a prerequisite to understand the difference between equity and equality for they are an alliteration used interchangeably, despite them not being so. While equality emphasises on treating everybody the same way, equity involves an ethical component of treating everybody fair and just. In other words, equity aims to satisfy the needs of individuals based on their socio-economic status, while equality aims to treat everybody in the same manner irrespective of external factors like socio-economic status. 

Intergenerational equity and environmental sustainability

Intergenerational equity refers to satisfying the needs of every generation in terms of economic, psychological, and sociological contexts in a fair manner. (Summers & Smith, 2014) From an environmental perspective, intergenerational equity provides the principles to preserve the natural resources and environment for the benefit of the future generations. (Venn, 2019) . This is the aspect of environmental sustainability as propounded in the Brundtland Report which aimed to address intergenerational inequity in order to ensure that the present and future generations have equal accessibility to environmental resources.

In the Indian landscape, several Supreme Court judgements recognise the significance of sustainable development and intergenerational equity. In the writ petition, State of Himachal Pradesh v Ganesh Wood Products (1995), the Apex court observed that the present generation has no right to interfere with the safety of the future generation by highlighting the duty of every citizen to protect and preserve the environment. (State of Himachal Pradesh and Others (Appellants) V. Ganesh Wood Products and Others (Respondents) | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform, n.d.). The matter essentially involved the Government of Himachal Pradesh refusing the establishment of a wood factory that proposed to run the business by felling khair trees for raw materials. The court found merits on the Government’s part and restricted the establishment of factories on the grounds that it will adversely impact the ecology and environment of the region.

In S. Jagannath v Union of India (1997), the Supreme Court ruled that all industries prior receiving permission to establish the business, must undergo Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) taking into account the intergenerational equity in order to ensure the future is not devoid of the natural resources (S. Jagannath V. Union of India & Ors | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform, n.d.). Two year post the above judgement, in A.P. Pollution Control Board v Prof, M.V. Nayudu, Justice Jagganda Rao starts the order by quoting A. Fritsch, “The basic insight of ecology is that all living things exist in interrelated systems; nothing exists in isolation. The world system is weblike; to pluck one strand is to cause all to vibrate; whatever happens to one part has ramifications for all the rest. Our actions are not individual but social; they reverberate throughout the whole ecosystem” (1994 (3) SCC 1). The court traced the entire significance of the principle of intergenerational equity by referring to the Stockholm Declaration among others to reiterate that the environment is to be viewed as a resource basis for the survival of the present and future generations, whereby the present have no overbearing right over the future. (AP Pollution Control Board V. Prof. MV Nayudu (Retd.), n.d.)

Environmental dynamics cannot be substituted by human capital

Taking account of intergenerational equity paves the way for a strong sustainable model. Within the environmental system, there are social and economic components which work hand-in-hand, implying that human capital cannot substitute the environmental resources. Contrarily, the view of weak sustainability assumes that there is substitutability between human and natural capital, suggesting that depletion of environmental resources can be offset by human capital. If the latter is incorporated into the system, it may lead to exploitation of the resources today and leave the future generation with the burden of finding substitutes to natural processes which may not even exist.

It is vital to understand that there are certain processes such as ozone layer formation and the carbon cycle in nature that cannot be replaced or substituted with any man-made services. The human actions of the past, the emission of greenhouse gases from commercial activities led to the hole in the ozone layer. The absence of the ozone layer will make the existence of life precarious on Earth. It is the present generation confronted with the task of finding sustainable alternatives and initiatives to protect the ozone for their survival with icebergs melting away and heatwaves engulfing cities. The same will continue into the future, if the present generation does not respect and acknowledge the rights of the future generations.

The environment as an entity has a function beyond merely providing resources needed for development. They help the overall balance in the global ecological cycle and ensure the stability in the chain reactions. If the balance is disrupted, it may cause severe alterations in the global ecological cycle impacting the life system of the planet. The equity across generations needs protections of these natural processes and a balance in the critical levels of the cycles to ensure there is an overall balance in the ecological cycle. (Padilla, 2002). The presence of a weak sustainable model in the present day-and-age might impact the future generations in contravention to the intergenerational equity principle. Maintaining a strong sustainable model does not necessarily discourage green innovation altogether, but rather they can supplement the natural processes. This way, intergenerational equity can be established whereby the action of today’s generation does not negatively impact the future.

References

AP Pollution Control Board v. Prof. MV Nayudu (Retd.). (n.d.). InforMEA. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://www.informea.org/en/court-decision/ap-pollution-control-board-v-prof-mv-nayudu-retd

Padilla, E. (2002). Intergenerational equity and sustainability. Ecological Economics, 41(1), 69-83. 10.1016/s0921-8009(02)00026-5

S. Jagannath v. Union of India & Ors | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform. (n.d.). UNEP’s Law and Environment Assistance Platform (UNEP-LEAP). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://leap.unep.org/countries/in/national-case-law/s-jagannath-v-union-india-ors

State of Himachal Pradesh and others (Appellants) v. Ganesh Wood Products and others (Respondents) | UNEP Law and Environment Assistance Platform. (n.d.). UNEP’s Law and Environment Assistance Platform (UNEP-LEAP). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://leap.unep.org/countries/in/national-case-law/state-himachal-pradesh-and-others-appellants-v-ganesh-wood-products

Summers, J. K., & Smith, L. M. (2014, January 9). The Role of Social and Intergenerational Equity in Making Changes in Human Well-Being Sustainable. NCBI, 43(6), 718-728. 10.1007/s13280-013-0483-6

Venn, A. (2019). Social justice and climate change. In Managing Global Warming: An Interface of Technology and Human Issues (pp. 711-728). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-814104-5.00024-7

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The mere memory of the Long Tank of Mylapore

The remains of the Long Tank Lake at the heart of the city of Chennai is now what the city-dwellers call as T.Nagar. The lake once occupied 70 acres to the west of the Mount Road and was largely replenished by the Lake Area of Nungambakkam, which too has now taken the form of Tank Bunk Road and New Tank Street. (Sriram V., 2014)

The lake’s vanishing journey began prior to the 1920s with a surge in population. To make room for this population which had grown from 398,000 in 1871 to 527,000 in 1921, by the Madras Town Planning Act of 1920 the lake was sealed with concrete to accommodate new dwellings (Muthiah, 2015). With the Mambalam Housing Scheme Town Planning Trust, the faster the water from the lake was ousted making way for Theagaraya Nagar or T. Nagar (Ramakrishnan, 2019). The region was largely bought by Justice Party leaders and personalities and takes its name after the father of the Justice Party, Sir Pitty Thyagaraya (Keerthana, 2012). For all those wondering why Mambalam was hit hard with 2016 floods or Vardah among other lakes to cement localities, well it is because water is finding its way to where it belongs.

Once T.Nagar was established, the feeder was not too far from urban development since the stagnant water became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. By 1971, the Nungambakkam lake too was filled up and the land became Valluvar Kottam. (Keerthana, 2012)

The lake was boomerang-shaped, spreading over 6 km in length. Much of today’s Boat Club activities happened on this lake. Until this lake was present, it was considered the western limit of the city and the region beyond the tank was categorised as another village – Mambalam village. The southern point of the tank was called the Mylapore Tank and it has been recorded in history through the words of Robert Bruce Foote in the early quarter of the 20th century who referred to it as the “Mylapur tank” (Ramakrishnan, 2019). As a geologist, Foote on observing numerous marine shells close in the tank’s vicinity proposed that the lake “could have been a saline lagoon in the distant past which later became a freshwater lake after the sea receded.” (Ramakrishnan, 2019) 

The region on the western part of the tank was home to trees called Maha Vilva Ambalam and paddy fields (Madras Musings, 2016). In line with the same, considering it is a freshwater lake, it ought to have also contributed to the water demands in the city for essential purposes. By the 1970s no evidence of the lake existed and with rapid urbanisation, the region is now surrounded by concrete.

Looking at the history, it might be too late to recover the tank owing to the fact that it is close to a hundred years since the lake began to be encroached upon. Recovering the lake would cost the city heavily for the entire region’s population of approximately 2 lakhs would have to be relocated and the economic activities would be disrupted. However, once a lake area, it is always one, and efforts can be taken to capture the surplus water received in these regions during the monsoon season to meet the ever-growing demand for water in the city.

References

Keerthana, R. (2012, May 1). Once upon a time in Thyagaraya Nagar…. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/once-upon-a-time-in-thyagaraya-nagar/article3436296.ece

Madras Musings. (2016, December). Rambling in West Mambalam … with Janaki Venkataraman « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai. Madras Musings. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from http://www.madrasmusings.com/vol-26-no-16/rambling-in-west-mambalam-with-janaki-venkataraman/

Muthiah, S. (2015, October 24). Better in Madras than at Essex. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madras-miscellany-better-in-madras-than-at-essex/article7800117.ece

Ramakrishnan, V. (2019, June 16). The price that Chennai continues to pay for Long Tank and T Nagar. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/06/16042057/1152290/The-price-that-Chennai-continues-to-pay-for-Long-Tank-.vpf

Sriram V. (2014, June 6). Locating a lost lake of Madras. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/locating-a-lost-lake-of-madras/article6089792.ece

Thiyagaraya Nagar, Chennai | Locality. (n.d.). GeoIQ. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://geoiq.io/places/Thiyagaraya-Nagar/6t9w98G4P0

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Is solar energy as sustainable as it sounds?

Solar energy is sustainable, but solar panels are not. Solar energy is captured using panels manufactured at 2000ºC made using metals that have limited supply (Chen et al., 2019). It is a sad truth that the carbon footprints not generated using solar energy are offset by the amount of carbon footprints left behind in the process of manufacturing and disposing of solar panels. This article aims to look into the environmental impact of solar panels and to further highlight the importance of using life cycle analysis in green technology.

Life-cycle analysis

Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product by taking account of the raw materials used in manufacturing, the impact of the product on humans and the ecology among several other determining factors (Hill, 2013). The LCA methodology has been used for decades as a primary tool for assessing a technology or a product as environmentally sustainable for sustainable development (Brusseau, 2019).

More often than not, life-cycle assessment is ignored or overlooked when one portion of the analysis is “green”. In other words, every stage of the cycle is looked at in isolation of the next.  Unfortunately, this may not prove beneficial in the long run. It is crucial that the entire technology is assessed holistically to understand its impact on the environment. What is “green” in one part of the cycle may not be sufficient to negate the environmental damage the entire technology, innovation or product can cause to the planet.

In the case of solar energy, or the energy from the sun that can be used as an alternative to energy produced from fossil fuels is confronted with inadequate understanding of the technology used in collecting the energy from the sun.

Photovoltaic cells

The technology that has been developed to capture solar energy has failed to appreciate the environmental hazards of processing a photovoltaic cell. In other words, every technology or product has a life cycle, and looking solely from one beneficial angle would do more harm than good. This is precisely what happened with photovoltaic cells. Even though the aspect of solar energy is sustainable, the life cycle of the technology from creating a solar panel to getting rid of the waste from the technology is ignored creating a mindset among people that solar panels are ‘green’ enough. 

Manufacturing a product at 2000ºC requires tons of energy. With the present status of technological advancement, it is not fossil free to create such an environment for building solar panels (Chen et al., 2019). Secondly, at the end of its useful life, only a small portion of it can be recycled. The usage of rare earth materials like copper, nickel and cadmium for manufacturing solar cells created geopolitical tension due to the scarcity of the resource and this dependence on chemicals can also trigger chemical pollution (Mulvaney, 2014). The mining of these metals (silver, lithium, silicon etc), regardless of their scarcity, is in itself a very unsustainable process.

Thus, solar energy is a renewable source of energy with its own set of downsides when it comes to extracting the same. It is undeniable that they are a renewable resource, but more technical advancements need to be made in order to make the whole process from manufacturing till disposing, eco-friendly and sustainable.

Role of governments

As much as solar energies are beneficial, solving the issue of reducing the dependence on fossil fuels should not result in the creation of new problems like waste management and chemical pollution. (Gonçalves, 2019). More science and research should aim towards addressing green technology by looking into the life-cycle analysis.

The role governments could play in mitigating the side effects of using solar panels or any other alternative technology that is often considered “green” should be from the perspective of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Before issuing the patenting license for green technology, governments could take the initiative to ensure that the entities seeking the same have gone through the LCA of the products or technology. Eventhough it may raise the standard or bar for science and technology, which may further disincentivize companies and individuals from investing in green technology, it would at least help in creating quality technology that truly aims to address the global challenges of climate change and global warming. It would help break myths and will prevent the creation of new problems arising from resolving one.

References

Brusseau, M. L. (2019). Chapter 32 – Sustainable Development and Other Solutions to Pollution and Global Change. Environmental and Pollution Science (Third Edition), 585-603. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-814719-1.00032-X

Chen, C., Milne, C., Carlquist, K., & Paulos, B. (2019, January 31). Solar energy is green. Solar panels are not. AI can revolutionise their design. Energy Post. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://energypost.eu/solar-energy-is-green-solar-panels-are-not-ai-can-revolutionise-their-design/

Gonçalves, A. (2019, February 7). Solar Energy Is The Future. Right. But Is It Really 100% Green And Sustainable? Youmatter. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://youmatter.world/en/solar-energy-green-sustainable-27596/

Hill, J. (2013). Life Cycle Analysis of Biofuels. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition), 627-630. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-384719-5.00365-8 Mulvaney, D. (2014). Solar Energy Isn’t Always As Green As You Think. IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://spectrum.ieee.org/solar-energy-isnt-always-as-green-as-you-think

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Water technology to protect and preserve freshwater bodies in India

India is home to 18 percent of the world’s population and stores only 4 percent of the world’s renewable water resources (Mishra, 2019). As the population continues to increase and societies get more urbanised, these water resources are prone to exploitation, depletion and toxicity. Some of the primary water conservation strategies include – limiting consumption, reusing and recycling, elimination of losses and pollution prevention (Fedkin, n.d.).

To conserve, protect and save these water resources, innovation and technology can assist in reviving, recycling and overall conserving these water resources. Here are a few such water-related technologies that have been or can be used to conserve freshwater resources:

  • Lamaara Technologies: The company developed a cartridge using activated carbon, the size of an index finger with pores that act as micro-reservoirs to eliminate foul smell, harmful metals and colours from the water. The organic water filter can cleanse 30 litres within a few hours and the replaceable cartridge is priced at INR60. This technology can be used to convert sewage or unclean rainwater to clean drinking water. (Singhal, 2019)

During the Kerala floods of 2018, the company had donated around 2000 water purifiers to the Kottayam district.

In addition, the company has used the same technology to build a silicon bottle that can filter water called iBo or ‘Intelligent Bottle’. Essentially, dirty water can be collected in the bottle and pure water can be extracted using the three-layer filtration system that consists of Nano-fibre membrane. (Singhal, 2019)

  • Adopt an Island: This is an initiative started by Tarun Nanda, an engineer in Delhi which aims to transform the existing lakes and river into a water-purifying wetland ecosystem that can cope with the amount of waste dump instead of building more failing sewage treatment plants. (Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake, n.d.)

The initiative involves constructing wetlands inside existing drains and water bodies and hence, there is no additional land requirement (Karelia, 2019). This also creates an attractive recreational as well as a natural habitat for plants, birds and fish. This will help have a clean lake, full of plants and wildlife, free from odour and pollution. 

  • Taraltec Disinfection Reactor: This water purifying device was developed by Anjan Mukherjee, a marine engineer. It is technology developed using biomimicry which allows the device to kill 99% of the microbes in the water. These are fitted into pump-sets and while these pumps extract the groundwater, the device purifies the same by instantaneously killing the germs. (Gupta, 2017)
  • Wi-Fi mounted Microcontroller: This particular system developed by students of National Institute of Technology Andhra Pradesh can automate the process of water storage, reduction in water-borne disease and efficient storage. It aims to address mismanagement of water in cities by monitoring wastewater and supply systems such as rainfall recorded, water remaining in the storage tank, water quality index and water supply in a given area. (Financial Express, 2021)
  • IBM’s IoT and AI technology: Lake Sembakkam in Chennai is a wetland which has now degraded to a wasteland over the years due to sewage disposal, untreated solid waste dumping and excessive accumulation of salt. In this project IBM volunteers partnered with The Nature Conservancy India to build a technical design for an Internet of Things (IoT) system with sensors for measuring and monitoring water quality, while also enabling remote sensing capabilities and spatial datasets. The system design includes an alert when water quality reaches concerning levels. The goal of this system was to “help maintain the health of aquatic resources by preventing and minimising pollution with regular monitoring of wetlands, bringing the wetlands to a condition where wildlife and fish would thrive.” (Balachandran, 2021)
  • Mira: To keep a check on the water quality of the lakes in Bengaluru, Mira, a combination of a smartphone-based application, reagents and an online dashboard as data repository has been developed (Prashar, 2019). It was instituted by the Foundation for Environmental Monitoring, a not-for-profit company that creates open-source products for field use, and NextDrop, a startup creating mobile technology for solving water issues. Further, the entire initiative welcomed support from The Centre for Social & Environmental Innovation, ATREE, Biome Environmental and Friends of Lake funded by Oracle. The goal of the initiative is to decentralise the process of restoration of lakes by involving the public working towards revival of waterbodies in getting real-time data on pollution status of the water bodies under consideration. Though Mira is not a direct water purifying system, it aids and helps in understanding the needs of the waterbody in order to restore and revive the same.

Freshwater is a finite resource with the present rate of development. In order to overcome the challenges society would face without freshwater, these technological advancements are crucial in bridging the problem of water scarcity and in further paving the way for water conservation for a sustainable future.

References

(n.d.). Lake Monitoring Dashboard. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from http://blrlakesdashboard.org/atree/lakes/#/app/map

Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake. (n.d.). Ketto. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/adoptanisland

Balachandran, M. (2021, December 15). IOT and AI help save one of India’s most polluted lakes. IBM. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ibm.com/blogs/corporate-social-responsibility/2021/12/water-conservancy-project-india/

Fedkin, M. (n.d.). 6.2 Water conservation and protection technologies | EME 807: Technologies for Sustainability Systems. John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.e-education.psu.edu/eme807/node/642

Financial Express. (2021, June 21). Conserve water: Modern tech to help save water. The Financial Express. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/conserve-water-modern-tech-to-help-save-water/2275255/

Gupta, S. (2017, August 4). This device will kill 99% of microbes in water and end waterborne diseases. The Economic Times. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/this-device-will-kill-99-of-microbes-in-water-and-end-waterborne-diseases/articleshow/59905197.cms?from=mdr

Karelia, G. (2019, October 23). Adopt An Island – Bring Life To Hauz Khas Lake. Ketto. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/adoptanisland

Mishra, G. (2019, October 23). Wetlands, Human Hair & More: 5 Innovations By Indians That Curb Water Pollution! The Better India. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.thebetterindia.com/201010/india-water-pollution-cleaning-complaints-robot-hair-innovation-hair-technology/

Prashar, G. (2019, January 5). A new tech allows citizens to test water quality without expert help. Can it save Bengaluru’s lakes? Scroll.in. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://scroll.in/article/908086/a-new-tech-allows-citizens-to-test-water-quality-without-expert-help-can-it-save-bengalurus-lakes

Singhal, S. (2019, April 15). Kerala Students Build Low-Cost, Organic Purifier That Makes Sewage Water Drinkable! The Better India. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.thebetterindia.com/179089/kerala-student-innovation-low-cost-water-filter-organic-india/

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Circular Economy and the Indian jugaad

For the Indian jugaad, ‘doing more with the less’ is not a new concept. Be it using a cycle to generate electricity or making a multi-purpose rope with mother’s old sarees, circularity is a concept ingrained and embedded naturally in the Indian minds, mostly without the intention of environmental conservation. With the circular economy being one of the buzzwords in the Budget 2022, it is befitting to highlight the importance of a circular economy, the present development towards the same and the Indian attitude towards the global initiatives.

What is a circular economy?

A linear economy is one where we take resources from the planet, use them and throw the waste back into the environment. Contrastingly, a circular economy is one where we aim to reduce waste by reusing and recycling the resources back into the system (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, n.d.). The circular economy model aims to address climate change, pollution, ecological damage and allied challenges by working towards the protection of people, the planet and the economy.

Every system can incorporate a circular economy model – from governments to organisations to businesses since it largely aims to design a model that eliminates waste and pollution by circulating the materials within the system and regenerating nature in a cyclical fashion (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, n.d.).

Figure 1: UNCTAD’s circular economy model and the benefits from the model

Source: (Pacini & Attafuah, n.d.)

A circular economy model helps in optimising the use of natural resources and helps in achieving the goals of sustainable development. Figure 1 captures the benefits of a circular economy as given by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Circular economy is the solution

According to a recent report, humans consume 1.6 Earths annually to make room for providing the resources we need, and to absorb the consequent waste generated (MacArthur, 2022). In other words, it takes the planet 1.8 years to regenerate what we consume in one single year (MacArthur, 2022). At this rate, even if we meet the targets of the Paris Agreement – the most idealistic scenario – the global temperature rise would be inevitable.

Ellen Macarthur highlights that circular economy is the need of the hour to meet the net-zero targets of the Paris Agreement and the Conference of Parties 26. In her recent publication, she has put forth the need for various stakeholders including designers and architects to initiate the shift to a circular economy. (MacArthur, 2022)

In order to hasten and assist the entire fight against the climate crisis, a circular economy might be the tool to not only mitigate pollution, waste generation and biodiversity loss but also to create employment and other opportunities for a more resilient future.

India and circular economy

Budget 2022 included the term circular economy and this is indicative of the country’s outlook towards a circular model from a ‘take-make-waste’ model (Chauhan et al., 2022). According to studies conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the adoption of circular in India has the potential to bring an annual benefit of INR40 lakh crore in 2050 and reduce GHG emissions by 44 per cent (Chauhan et al., 2022). This reiterates the importance of the circular model in meeting the CoP 26 targets and puts India in the right direction in playing its part in climate action.

India, as per the Budget, has decided to incorporate a circular economy across ten sectors (Chauhan et al., 2022) which will further provide the impetus for a green economy. Through the initiatives of PM Gati Shakthi which aims towards “inclusive development; productivity enhancement & investment, sunrise opportunities, energy transition, and climate action” (Sharma, 2022) and battery swapping policy to make room for the electric vehicles market, it has proved to be in line with the country’s promises made at CoP26.

As mentioned above, the circular economy is not a new concept to Indian households; but what we need presently is to grow the microcosmic impact to a macrocosmic one.

References

Chauhan, S., Raghuram, S., & Aryan, I. (2022, March 10). Putting India on an accelerated path to build a circular economy. Business Today. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.businesstoday.in/opinion/columns/story/putting-india-on-an-accelerated-path-to-build-a-circular-economy-325489-2022-03-10

Chavan, R. (2022, February 1). Budget 2022: Circular economy will help transition to sustainable economic progress. Firstpost. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.firstpost.com/business/budget-2022-circular-economy-will-help-transition-to-sustainable-economic-progress-10337301.html

Ellen Macarthur Foundation. (n.d.). What is a circular economy? Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview

MacArthur, E. (2022, March 18). “The circular economy is needed to get to net-zero emissions”. Dezeen. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.dezeen.com/2022/03/18/circular-economy-ellen-mac-arthur-opinion/

Pacini, H., & Attafuah, K. (n.d.). Circular Economy. UNCTAD. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://unctad.org/topic/trade-and-environment/circular-economy Sharma, M. (2022, February 3). Budget 2022’s vision: A long-term, structured approach towards sustainability. The Financial Express. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.financialexpress.com/budget/budget-2022s-vision-a-long-term-structured-approach-towards-sustainability/2424267/

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Impetus Chennai requires in waste segregation and management

One of the biggest challenges to waste management in Chennai is the lack of separation of waste at the source. The issue that primarily arises in such a scenario is that the unsegregated waste often ends up in landfills where they are burnt away to give room for new waste, polluting the environment. Pallikarnai marshlands, a wetland within the city limits, is a victim of such waste dumping. This article aims to analyse the system of waste management in Chennai alongside the role to be played by consumers and citizens in order to holistically address waste problems.

Background

In 2017, the City Corporation made it mandatory for individuals to segregate waste at the source in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 published by the erstwhile Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017). Further, the Solid Waste Management Department has also issued by-laws to provide guidelines to segregate waste. Yet, has it changed the scene of waste disposal in Chennai?

Chennai generates around 5600 tonnes of waste every day (Prabhakar et al., 2020), and in 2014 it was recorded that Chennai had the highest per capita waste in the country (Times of India, 2014). These are infamous records the city has created for itself over the years. As of 2014, with 730 hospitals, the city generated on average 9,898kg of biomedical waste (Times of India, 2014). With the pandemic and the heavy reliance placed on masks, gloves and medical equipment, it is highly likely that the problem of waste has only increased in the recent past.

As a matter of fact, in 2021 post-Diwali, Chennai Corporation collected 40 tonnes of additional waste from the previous year (ABP News, 2021). This happened to be the highest amount of waste collected in 5 years. This is the reality despite legislative regulations that aim to address waste.

Role of the City Corporation

Confronted with the problem of waste, the City Corporation has taken various measures to tackle the same. In 2020, the Corporation collaborated with a Spanish company by the name, Urbaser Sumeet, in an 8-year contract to assist the city’s waste management department in handling waste (The New Indian Express, 2020). The initiative aimed to achieve 100 per cent waste segregation at the source. Though the target has not been achieved to its full potential, the efforts are laudable in light of the present circumstances.

In 2018, the city corporation joined hands with TERI under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) project to train ‘animators’ to monitor waste segregation at the ward level. The role of the ‘animators’ was primarily to bring accountability at each ward and distribute the role of the waste management department. Chennai took the above initiative as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan whereby it introduced 200 animators across 200 wards in the city.

Nevertheless, waste management is still a challenge in Chennai and the role of the Chennaiites is indispensable. 

Role of citizens

Among all the waste generated, 68 per cent of it comes from households and it is thus imperative for citizens to play an active role in mitigating waste. (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017)

Firstly, choosing the right alternatives. There was a time when children were taught to put trash in the trash can. But today there is a dire need to rephrase it all together – put less trash in the trash can. With the amount of waste generated, it is not just about using paper bags over plastic bags or using glass bottles over plastic bottles, but to overall reduce the waste regardless of the nature of the materials. Nevertheless, given the choice to make between paper and plastic, it is very crucial that one makes the former choice naturally.

In light of the above, consumers can never become sustainable consumers, without the supply chain becoming sustainable. In other words, a consumer becoming sustainable lies in the hands of the supplier. To fill this gap, sustainable stores can help. Sustainable stores ideally provide a platform for alternatives to all consumer products taking into account environmental sustainability. As far as Chennai is concerned, it is home to several organic stores including EcoIndian which works towards giving consumers sustainable choices in achieving their day-to-day tasks.

Apart from these supply-centric initiatives, it is equally important that citizens are educated about waste segregation at the source. As mentioned above, lack of waste segregation is one of the primary reasons why waste ends up in landfills. If waste is segregated at the source as per the guidelines given by the legislative bodies, it would provide a solid impetus to recycling of waste.

Apart from these individualistic initiatives, social entrepreneurs (or ‘waste entrepreneurs’) have also entered the market to spread awareness about waste segregation. Ventures including Paperman and Kabadiwalla Connect conduct these awareness sessions from household to household to include more citizens within the ambit of waste segregation.

In this backdrop, waste management is the need of the hour. It not only helps the city become greener and cleaner, but it also protects the ecology of the city. If waste management is executed efficiently, animals like goats, dogs and cows of the city giving company to our urban lifestyle will no longer feed on papers and plastics strewn across the city. A good waste management system will ensure the environment is healthy and protected.

References

ABP News. (2021, November 6). Diwali 2021: Chennai Corpn Collects 40 Tonnes Of More Waste Than Last Year, Highest In 5 Years. ABP LIVE. https://news.abplive.com/tamil-nadu/diwali-2021-chennai-corporation-collects-40-tonnes-of-more-waste-than-last-year-highest-in-5-years-1491771

DTNext. (2019, August 20). Urgent need to shift dump yard from Pallikaranai marshland. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/08/20003735/1172397/Urgent-need-to-shift-dump-yard-from-Pallikaranai-marshland.vpf

Gopalakrishnan, S., Natarajan, A., Raju, S., & Shekhar, L. (2017, November 10). Waste segregation: The challenge Chennai must overcome. Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-waste-segregation-and-urban-flooding-2924

The New Indian Express. (2020, October 1). Spanish company to manage Chennai’s wastes from Thursday. The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2020/oct/01/spanish-company-to-manage-chennais-wastes-from-thursday-2204178.html

Prabhakar, B., Kumar, M., & Abraham, K. (2020, November 19). Where does the waste generated in your home go? Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-where-does-our-garbage-go-21148

Sujatha, P., & Janardhanam, P. (2012). Solid waste management in Chennai city. Indian Journal of Education and Information Management, 1(3), 115-125. http://ijeim.iseeadyar.org/articles/solid-waste-management-in-chennai-city

Times of India. (2014, January 2). Chennai’s per capita waste at 0.7kg highest in country | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/chennais-per-capita-waste-at-0-7kg-highest-in-country/articleshow/28256852.cms

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Kuttanad: The Rice Bowl of Kerala

by Goutham Krishna

Kuttanad is a region covering the Alappuzha, Kottayam, and Pathanamthitta Districts, in the state of Kerala, India, well known for its vast paddy fields and geographical peculiarities. The region has the lowest altitude in India and is one of the few places in the world where farming is carried on around 1.2 to 3.0 meters (4 to 10 ft) below sea level. The Kuttanad region is broadly classified into Lower, Upper, and North Kuttanad. Some of the well-known villages that form Kuttanad are Kainakary, Ramankary, Chennamkary, Nedumudi, Kumarakom, Edathua, Kavalam, Pulinkunnu, Kidangara, Muttar, Neerettupuram, Thalavadi, Champakkulam, Payippad, Karichal, Cheruthana, Karuvaatta, Narakathara, Mamkompu and Thayankary. The villages of Kuttanad are gorgeous and a photographer’s and birdwatcher’s paradise. Rice cultivation is the main source of income in this region. Locals in Kuttanad use the backwaters and canals in the region to transport goods and people.

Country boats ranging from the size of small canoes to that of huge rice barges are used for water transport. According to Census, the Kuttanad region is completely rural with 100% of the area’s population is rural. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared the Kuttanad Farming System as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). Four of Kerala’s major rivers, the Pamba, Meenachil, Achankovil, and Manimala flow into the region.  It is well known for its boat race in the Punnamada Backwaters, known in Malayalam as Vallamkali. Kuttanad in Malayalam means ‘small town‘.

According to historical notes, the Kuttanad region was formerly a forested area that was later devastated by a forest fire, earning it the name Chuttanad (burnt spot). Kuttanad is thought to have evolved into Kuttanad through time. Kuttanad was a region under the Chera dynasty, which ruled over ancient Kerala, according to history. Cheran Chenguttavan, one of the dynasty’s most prominent monarchs, is claimed to have controlled his enormous realm from Kuttanad. At the time, the location was also a well-known Buddhist center. As a result, there are arguments that suggest it’s also known as Buddhanad, which may have evolved into Kuttanad later.

The importance of Kuttanad can be numerous but the fact that Kuttanad is below sea level stands out, Kuttanad Wetland Agriculture System is unique, as it is the only system in India that favors rice cultivation below sea level in the land created by draining delta swamps in brackish waters. Kuttanad is a delta region of about 900 sq. km situated on the west coast of Kerala State, India. The area is a larger mosaic of fragmented landscape patches and varied ecosystems such as coastal backwaters, rivers, vast stretches of paddy fields, marshes, ponds, garden lands, edges, corridors, and remarkably networked waterways. The Kuttanad Below Sea-level Farming System (KBSFS) is unique, as it is the only system in India that practices rice cultivation below sea level. The major land use structure of KBSFS is flat stretches of rice fields in about 50,000 ha of mostly reclaimed delta swamps. The rice fields, which are popularly known as “Puncha Vayals” exist in three landscape elements:  Karapadam (upland rice fields), Kayal (wetland rice fields), and Kari (land buried with black coal-like materials). Farmers of Kuttanad have developed and mastered the spectacular technique of below sea level cultivation over 150 years ago. They made this system unique as it contributes remarkably well to the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services including several livelihood services for local communities.

Traveling to Kuttanad is a must for visitors who don’t want to miss the scenic beauty of this verdant backwater destination in Kerala. Kuttanad is crisscrossed with waterways that run alongside fields of cassava, banana, and yam, as well as emerald green fields of paddy. A unique feature of Kuttanad is that many of these fields where farming is done are below sea level. The fields are surrounded by earthen bunds and crops are grown on the low-lying ground. This is similar to the polder regions of the Netherlands where land is reclaimed from the sea and crops are grown. You have to see the amazing below-sea-level fields of Kuttanad to get an actual feel of the place. Kuttanad is a backwater paradise and an ideal destination for a backwater cruise in Kerala. Its innumerable streams, channels, waterways, and lakes make it possible to drift along in a houseboat and enjoy the scenic view of the Kerala countryside to take back home a memorable holiday experience.

Kuttanad is a region that has made a stamp of its own in the cultural domain of Kerala. It continues to captivate the minds of people from different walks of life. And travelers invariably find Kuttanad a land that never ceases to amaze them. Cruises on houseboats, the scenic beauty of paddy fields and coconut groves, flocks of local as well as migratory birds, paddling of domesticated ducks cruising on the backwaters, a refreshing swig of toddy, backwater delicacies, the many facets of backwater villages and their people, all make Kuttanad a unique land with never-ending vistas and experiences.

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நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி

by Aswin Sankar

சென்னை சென்ட்ரல் ரயில் நிலையத்திலிருந்து செங்கல்பட்டு நோக்கி பயணிக்கும் போது வண்டலூர் உயிரியல் பூங்காவை கடந்த ஓரிரண்டு கிலோமீட்டரில் “கூடுவாஞ்சேரி பேரூராட்சி தங்களை அன்புடன் வரவேற்கிறது” என்ற வரவேற்புப் பலகையை காண இயலும். கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என தமிழகம் முழுவதும் அழைக்கப்பட்டாலும் இன்றும் இப்பகுதி வாசிகளும், அரசு ஆவணங்களும் “நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி” என்றே குறிப்பிடுகின்றன. இப்பகுதி ஏன் அவ்வாறு குறிப்பிடப்படுகிறது என்பதை அறிய நாம் ஓர் சிறு வரலாற்று பயணம் செல்வோம்.

வரலாறு:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி இன்று பல அடையாளங்களைக் கொண்டிருந்தாலும் 1500 ஆண்டுகளாக இப்பகுதிக்கு அடையாளமாக நின்று கொண்டிருப்பது நந்தீஸ்வரர் கோயில் தான். இக்கோயில் பல்லவ காலத்தில் கட்டப்பட்டது என்றும் அக்காலத்தில் வாணிபக் கூடமாகவும் இருந்ததற்கான ஆதாரங்கள் பல கல்வெட்டுகளில் உள்ளன. இக்கோவிலின் பெயரே மறுவி இப்பகுதிக்கு “நந்திவரம்” என்று பெயர் வரக் காரணமாயிற்று.

பொருளாதார வளர்ச்சி:

நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி என்று அழைக்கப்படும் இப்பகுதி தெற்கிலிருந்து சென்னையை வந்தடையும் தேசிய நெடுஞ்சாலை 45யில் (NH45) அமைந்துள்ளதால் இப்பகுதி சென்னையின் நுழைவாயிலாகவே கருதப்படுகிறது. இக்காரணத்தினாலும் சென்னைக்கு மிக அருகில் இருப்பதினாலும் இப்பகுதி குறைந்த காலகட்டத்தில் பொருளாதார அளவில் அசுர வளர்ச்சியை அடைந்தது. கடந்த மூன்று தசாப்தத்தில் இப்பகுதி ஊராட்சியில் இருந்து ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியம், மாவட்ட ஊராட்சி ஒன்றியங்கள் போன்ற வளர்ச்சிகளைக் கண்டு தற்போது பேரூராட்சியாக உள்ளது.

நந்திவரம் ஏரி:

ஊர் பகுதி நகரத்தின் அருகாமையில் இருந்து அனைத்து வசதிகளை பெற்றிருந்தாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வளம் இல்லையேல் அப்பகுதியின் வளர்ச்சி கேள்விக்குறியாகவே இருக்கும். நந்திவரம்-கூடுவாஞ்சேரி அசுர வளர்ச்சி அடைந்ததற்கு பல காரணங்கள் இருப்பினும் அப்பகுதி பெற்றிருந்த நீர்வளம் ஒரு முக்கிய காரணமாக இருந்தது. நந்திவரம் ஏரி சுமார் 304 ஏக்கர் பரப்பளவில் கிட்டத்தட்ட 6.1 கிலோமீட்டர் சுற்றளவுடன் 10 அடி ஆழம் உடையது. இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வளத்தை சார்ந்தே நந்திவரம், கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, சீனிவாசபுரம், விஸ்வநாதபுரம், ஊரப்பாக்கம் என பல ஊர்களும் இவ்வூர்களில் இருக்கும் நீர்நிலைகளும் உள்ளன. அருகில் இருக்கும் சிறு நீர் நிலைகளின் வடிகால் நீரும் பருவமழையும் தான் இந்த ஏரியின் நீர்வரத்து காரணம். இந்த ஏரியின் நீர் ஏரிக்கு வழக்கிலிருக்கும் கால்வாய் வழியாக கூடுவாஞ்சேரி, ஊரப்பாக்கம், ஆதனூர், மண்ணிவாக்கம் போன்ற ஊர்களை கடந்து முடிச்சூரில் அடையாறுடன் கலக்கிறது.

முந்தைய காலகட்டத்தில் விவசாய நிலங்களாக இருந்த இந்த ஏரியின் வடக்குப்பகுதி இன்று மக்கள் வாழ்விடமாக மாறியிருப்பதால் இந்த ஏரியில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் நீர் பயணிக்க அமைக்கப்பட்ட கால்வாய்கள் சுருக்கப்பட்டும் ஒரு சில இடங்களில் வழி மாற்றப்படும் காணப்படுகின்றன. மக்கள் குடியிருப்பில் இருந்து வெளியேறும் கழிவுநீர் ஏரியில் கலப்பதால் ஏரியில் பல களைச்செடிகள் வளர்ந்துள்ளன. அதுமட்டுமின்றி ஏரி பலவருடங்களாக தூர் வாராமல் இருப்பதாலும் தகுந்த நீர் வெளியேற்றம் செய்ய கால்வாய்கள் இல்லாததாலும் ஏரியின் வடக்கில் அமைந்திருக்கும் குடியிருப்புகள் வெள்ளத்தால் சூழப்படுகின்றன.

இவ்வாறான வெள்ள அபாயங்களிலிருந்து மீளவும் பகுதி நிலத்தடி நீரை பாதுகாக்கவும் இந்த ஏரி தூர்வாரி சுத்திகரிப்பு படுத்துவது மட்டுமின்றி ஏரியின் நீர் வெளியேறும் கால்வாய்களும் சரி செய்யப்பட வேண்டும்.

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The Neem and the Nomad snail

by Srivatsan R

I am a nomad here. I am not sure how I came here. My ancestors traveled all across the world from our native land in Africa and somehow we ended up here. 

However, I don’t feel safe here. I have heard stories and seen my kind being trampled to death and even torture us for eating their food supply. You know, these overpopulated species of Primates call me an invasive pest! The irony!

After crawling slowly all night without getting into the sight of these humans, I came to this place. The Neem tree. I have a special relationship with this tree in Kollappanchery Lake.

This Neem tree is a loner on this place, standing tall and dancing to the rhythm of the wind, giving shelter to many birds. Spiders use this as a hunting ground, as a lot of insects are attracted to the flowers it blooms.

This is a wonderful place to be under the sun and enjoy the scenery. Here I am peaceful. I can sleep all day long and go hunt for food at night. There is no place for ego or judgment. Although I must live in fear of these humans to survive.

We, Humans, are not like this nomad snail! When threatened, we use our minds, assess the problem, and find a solution. We are capable of growing our own food, to heal ourselves and survive even deadly diseases.

The largest threat to us, the human race, is now Climate Change. Our needs and self-centered actions have disrupted the balance of the natural world.

We are no different from the Giant African snails. We have conquered foreign lands and spread in numbers, thus exploiting the available resources. Being part of a highly intelligent race, we must find solutions to reduce the exploitation of our resources for our survival. Implementing sustainable practices is the need of the hour for a safe future.

We could learn a thing or two from the Giant African snail by not causing harm to others for our own needs. It is our responsibility to conserve and protect our planet and its beings for a green future.

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Story of a Holy River that became a Sewage

by Aswin Sankar

Cooum which had several names in history like Pali River, Thames of South India, Triplicane River, etc. has got another name ‘Sewage’ in the 21st century and also it has been declared as a dead river. Tamil literature and Saivite Puranas say Cooum is a holy river. Even Cooum has its own holy book called Koova Puranam. Let’s see the journey of this holy river and how it has become sewage.

It is said that Cooum had its origin in Dharmapuri district and due to changes in earth crust its origin has been changed. Now Cooum is a tributary of Kosasthalaiyar which flows for 72km from Kesavaram Dam to the Bay of Bengal. Cooum river has a lot of historical stories to say. A song by Saiva saint, Thirugnanasambandar wrote in the 7th century has references to Cooum and villages in its bank. Being named after the village Koovam, inscriptions in a temple at koovam talk about the Battle of Takkolam (949CE) in which Chola prince Rajaditya was defeated by Rashtrakuta king Krishna III. Another inscription says a huge resource and land has been used at the time of Chola king Rajendra II (11th century) to construct a canal that brings water from the river to the Koovam water tank. Inscriptions at the same site say in 1112CE during the period of Chola king Kulothunga I funds has been allocated for maintenance of Koovam tank.

Fast-forwarding to the arrival of Europeans, Britishers are the last to visit Madras. Britishers want to build a fort in Madras and all the European forts are built only to the northern bank of a river joining ocean whether its Pulicat, Pondicherry, Santhome, or Nagapattinam, so the only option Britishers had was Cooum. British Built a fort at the bank of Cooum river mouth in the year 1639 which still stands in the name of “Fort St. George”.  In the year 1734, then British governor of Madras George Morton Pitt created a village with 230 weavers in the bank of Cooum called “Chinna Thari Pettai” which became Chintadripet now.  

Since Madras has become a city and trade hub, Nawab of Arcot, Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII wants to build a palace in Madras, that too within the limit of Fort St. George. As Muhammed Ali Wallajah VIII became an ally of the British, with the help of the British in 1768 he built a palace for 117acres in the southern bank of Cooum which is called Chepauk Palace.

In the last three decades of the 18th century, a ferocious series of wars happened which is known as Anglo-Mysore Wars. On 10th September 1780 as a part of the second Anglo-Mysore war, a battle between Tipu Sultan and the British happened at a village called Pullalur which is near the starting point of river Cooum.  Tipu Sultan made history at the Battle of Pollilur that Britishers were defeated decisively and no other Indian kingdom has ever thrashed Britishers like he did. But at the end of the Anglo-Mysore Wars Tipu Sultan was defeated and the treaty was signed called the Treaty of Srirangapatnam in 1792. As per the treaty Tipu Sultan has to pay 33million Indian rupees as indemnity. Since Tipu Sultan couldn’t pay the indemnity, two of his three sons were taken and kept as war hostages in the southern bank of Cooum. On 2nd February of 1835 one of the iconic buildings in Chennai was established at the bank of Cooum by then Governor of Madras, Sir Fredrick Adams which is the first institution in the world to allow women to pursue MBBS. It is Madras Medical College and it has a record of women students in 1875. Even women from western countries sail to Madras for pursuing MBBS.

India’s first-ever zoological park was established in the bank of Cooum as Madras Zoo where today’s Egmore Museum is located. It was established in the year 1855 and it had around 300 animals which include mammals, birds, and reptiles. After several complaints from the locals on untimely roars and unpleasant smells, it was shifted to another place called People’s Park by 1863 which is also in the bank of Cooum.

Madras was on a strong empire built by the British and during the second world war, the British had a fear that the Japanese might bomb the city. They are scared that a bomb on Zoo would set all the animals free which will put all the city resident’s life in danger. So the British decided to vacate the Zoo on People’s Park which unfortunately became impossible and on 12th April 1942 at the bank of Cooum it resulted in one of the cruel acts in world history. All the carnivorous in the zoo were shot dead within one hour. There were three lions, six lionesses, four tigers, eight leopards, four bears, and a black panther. Later the Zoo was shifted to Vandalur in 1985.

In 1876-1878 India faced a great famine which also affected the Madras Province. To save people in and around Madras, then governor of Madras “The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos” came up with an idea to employ people. He decided to join the Cooum river with the Adyar river by building an 8 km-long canal. With a budget of 3million rupee, he successfully completed the canal. This 8km canal is known as the Buckingham canal which was later renamed the entire 796km long canal from Cochrane’s canal to the Buckingham canal. In the northern bank of Cooum lies Egmore Child and Women Hospital at which, on 7th March 1886 a Burmese Princess, Myat Phaya was born.

The entire world knows that The Wright Brothers invented and flew their first Aeroplane in 1903, the first-ever flight of airplanes in Asia and India was at Madras. In 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, an Italian chef named Giacomo Maria De Angelis who is a friend of Madras’s governor, built a biplane in Madras and made it take off from the island ground in Cooum which flew over Cooum. De Angelis tested it before and arranged a public viewing at island ground.

Madras which is now known as Chennai is one of India’s metropolitan cities. The headquarters of this city’s corporation is called Greater Chennai Corporation. But in history, this headquarters has another name called “Ripon Building”. Ripon Building which is also located on the bank of Cooum is one of those iconic buildings in Chennai. With a budget of 7.5lakh rupees, Ripon Building was constructed in the year 1913 and since then it functioning as headquarters of Chennai corporation. Kesavaram Dam which was built around the 1940s in the origin of Cooum is one of the major for saving Chennai from becoming day zero. This dam diverts the water to Poondi lake instead of flowing to the sea. In 1953, after several struggles and disputes, the Indian government has decided to bifurcate Madras province and create a state called Andhra. But dispute arises on drawing a border between Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

Both the states wanted Madras to be on their side and after almost a year-long debate Andhra came up with an idea to have Cooum as a border, whichever in the north belongs to Andhra and in the south belongs to Tamil Nadu which also failed for Andhra. This idea of Andhra proves how the river Cooum played a major role in history. Naduvankarai is a small village in the northern bank of Cooum where India’s first industry-oriented International Trade Fair was held in 1968. The Anna Nagar Tower Park was actually built for this trade fair.

With these many historical stories, Cooum is running through our Chennai but we have never lent our ears to hear these stories, instead, we gave the never a new name “Sewage”. Is Cooum really sewage? Is that how it runs from the origin?    Cooum which starts in Kesavaram Dam has around 66 urban and rural areas in its bank. Cooum which flows like fresh water in rural areas has been used for agriculture.

Areas in the bank of Cooum

NorthSouth
TakkolamUriyur R.F.
Uriyur R.F.
AnaikattuputhurAnaikattuputhur
KalambakkamKottur
Kalambakkam
PerambakkamPerambakkam
KavankolathurKavankolathur
SatharaiSatharai
PuthumavilangaiPuthumavilangai
Pinjivakkam
KasavanallathurThandalam
KadambathurAthigathur
EgatturEgattur
ManavalanagarManavalanagar
Periyakuppam
KakkalurDevi nagar
PuthurAronvoyal
TirurTirur
Kovil KuppamMurukancheri
PerumalpattuPerumalpattu
PonniammanmeduPuduchatram
Korattur
AgraharamelAgraharamel
KarunakaracheriKarunakaracheri
AmudurmeduAmudurmedu
ThanduraiAnaikattucherry
AvadiSorancheri
PallipattuAyalcheri
ParuthipattuKannampalayam
ThiruverkaduViraraghavapuram
Thiruverkadu
VadanoombalVelappanchavadi
MaduravoyalVanagaram
Chinna NolamburMaduravoyal
MogappairNerkundram
ThirumangalamKoyambedu
Anna NagarArumbakkam
Shenoy NagarAminjikarai
AminjikaraiChoolaimedu
ChetpetNungambakkam
EgmoreThousand lights
Anna Salai
Park TownChintadripet
Anna Salai
Fort St. GeorgeTriplicane
Chennai Port TrustMarina Beach

All these areas in the bank of Cooum had a massive development which resulted in building several bridges across it. Cooum has around 45-48 bridges out of which few are not in use. Within the city limit, there are some major bridges like Chennai ORR bridge, Maduravoyal bridge, Koyambedu bridge, Periyar bridge, and Napier bridge. Cooum also has two railway bridges, a metro bridge, and a metro track 30m below the river.

Sl.No.Bridge name
1.Uriyur R.F. bridge
2.Anaikattuputhur bridge
3.Narasingapuram road bridge
4.Perambakkam old bridge
5.Perambakkam new bridge
6.Kondanchery road bridge
7.Satharai bridge
8.Pudhumavilangai bridge
9.Kodambattur-Athigathur bridge
10.Cooum river bridge, Thiruvallur high road
11.Railway station road bridge
12.Thiruvur bridge
13.Perumalpattu-Kottamedu road bridge
14.Chennai ORR bridge
15.Poonamalle-Pattabiram road bridge
16.Kannapalayam road bridge
17.Kamaraj nagar-Kannapalayam road bridge
18.Paruthipattu bridge
19.Thiruverkadu bus depot road bridge
20.Velappanchavadi bridge
21.Vanagaram-Ambattur road bridge
22.Union road-Mumbai highway bridge
23.Maduravoyal bridge
24.Chinna Nolambur bridge
25.Golden George Rathnam salai bridge
26.Golden George Rathnam bridge
27.Rail nagar bridge
28.CMRL bridge, Koyambedu
29.Koyambedu bridge
30.Arumbakkam bridge
31.Anna nagar bridge
32.Aminjikarai bridge
33.Choolaimedu bridge
34.Choolaimedu high road bridge
35.Nungambakkam railway bridge
36.Nungambakkam bridge
37.Egmore bridge
38.Ethiraj road bridge
39.Cooum bridge, Anna salai
40.Chintadripet bridge
41.Park town railway bridge
42.Park town flyover bridge
43.Periyar Bridge
44.Anna salai-Muthuswamy road bridge
45.Napier bridge
46.Underground Metro track

Cooum has four check dams and another check dam under construction.

Dams in Cooum

Sl.No.Dam name
1.Kesavaram Dam
2.Pudhumavilangai check Dam (under construction)
3.Putlur Water havering Dam
4.Koratur check Dam
5.Viraraghavapuram check Dam

These check dams are one of the major reasons for Cooum becoming sewage. By these check dams, Cooum water has been stopped before entering the city and it has been consumed by the whole city. Since water has been stopped, the drainage and industrial waste which were released in Cooum are getting exposed. These untreated drainage and industrial waste are another major reason for Cooum being sewage. Cooum which starts its journey as a holy river takes a massive transformation as sewage when it enters the city. Cooum which used to be a boon for the city has been slowly converted into bane by the same city itself.

Source: Wikipedia, TheMadrasMinutes, The Hindu, Google Earth

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Ashtamudi Lake: The Gateway to Kerala Backwaters

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.

Google satellite map of Ashtamudi lake

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.

Mangrove species in Munroe island, Ashtamudi- source:tripadvisor

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.

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Vembanad: The Paradise

by Goutham Krishna

Vembanad lake is a backwater lake situated in central Kerala Coast, covering an area of 2033 Km square and a maximum length of 96.5 Km, which makes it the longest lake in India. The lake is fed by source water from four rivers – Meenachil, Achan kovil, Pampa, and Manimala and has an outlet to the Arabian Sea in the west. The lake is separated from the Arabian sea by a narrow reef of islands, hence making it a popular backwater stretch in the country.  It is also known as Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad area and as Kochi Lake. The lake is directly or indirectly linked to the livelihood and economy of about 1.6 million people who are living on the banks of Vembanad lake. The scenic beauty of Vembanadu lake and its backwaters are major tourist spot in the country and hence is of high economic importance.

A mix of historical and mythical records suggests that the name Vembanad is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vempoli Nadu, through which the holy river Pampa was flowing. In the 12th century AD, Vempoli Nadu, along with a part of Pampa was sunk into Earth’s interior. It is believed that Vembanad lake is formed as a result of these geomorphological changes. There is a portion beneath the lake, called “Kappal Chal” which is believed as a continuation of Pampa by many of the local residents.

The lake and associated Vembanad wetlands host a rich biodiverse ecosystem having birds, fishes, aquatic vegetation, and various other life forms. A recent study conducted by experts identified 90 different fish species in the lake and surrounding ecosystem. But comparing it with the figures of the 1980s, the disappearance of 40% of species from the ecosystem was reported. Due to their high ecological importance, the Vembanad wetlands were included in the list of wetlands of international importance, defined by the Ramsar convention. It is the second-largest Ramsar site in the country and is also recognized by the Government of India under its National Wetlands Conservation Program. The people living on the shores of Vembanad are highly dependent on the lake and its ecosystem for their lives and livelihoods. The Kumarakom bird sanctuary, situated on the east coast of Vembanad lake hosts many migratory birds on a seasonal basis and is a favorite spot for birding enthusiasts.

Kuttanad, the lowest-lying geographical region of India is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The geographical region is well known for its paddy production and geographical peculiarities. A major part of Kuttanad is situated below sea level and is one of the rare places in the world where farming is carried on below sea level. The large paddy fields in the Kuttanad area are reclaimed from the shallow parts of Vembanad lake and the agriculture in the area is highly dependent on the water availability from Vembanad lake. Water transport through Vembanad lake is a common site in Kuttanad villages and different types of boat structures ranging from snake boats to houseboats are tourist attractions. Kochi- the biggest city and economic hub of Kerala is situated on the banks of Vembanad lake. The Willington Island in the city is an artificial construction carved out in Vembanad lake during the British regime.

The famous Nehru trophy boat race is held in Vembanad lake attracts national and international sports enthusiasts to the lake every second Saturday of the month of August. This fiercely fought boat race is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who inaugurated the first edition of the annual event in 1952. The Chundan vallam (Snake boat) race is the major attraction of the event and the winners of the same is awarded a trophy named after Jawaharlal Nehru. The cultural and social significance of the Nehru trophy race for the people residing near the banks of Vembanad lake is paramount, and it is considered as a festival for the lake. Apart from the Nehru trophy, various other small and large boat races are common in the lake and their importance in the cultural context of the region is unparallel.

Image from the Nehru trophy boat race- source: Kerala Kaumudi

Thanneermukkom bund and Thottapalli spillway are some other distinct features of Vembanad lake. The former is a 1252-meter-long barrier constructed across the Vembanad lake in 1974 to prevent the entry of saltwater and tidal action into the low-lying Kuttanad areas. The bund divides the lake into two parts where one is brackish due to the presence of the sea and the other is of fresh water draining from the nearby rivers. Thanneermukkom bund is key in ensuring agricultural activities in Kuttanad but on the other side, it has created ecological disturbances in the lake and its surroundings including the increasing presence of water hyacinths and the disappearance of several fishes from the freshwater part of the lake. Thottapalli spillway is another artificial construction for enhancing agricultural activities in the Kuttanad region. The spillway drains excess fresh water in the lake into the Arabian sea and thereby helps to maintain the water levels and prevent flooding in the low-lying agricultural areas. The spillway started functioning in 1955 and has a capacity to spell out 600 cubic meters of water per second.

Even though the Vembanad lake has this much ecological and social importance, unregulated human actions have resulted in posing various threats towards the lake and its surrounding ecosystem. Land encroachments for agricultural and infrastructural processes are the primary issue present in the region and it has shrunk the area of the lake into manifolds. Various resorts that were constructed in the lakeside illegally were demolished recently but still, the practice of encroachment for human greed is still ongoing. Apart from that the entry of industrial pollutants into the water, the presence of water hyacinths and weeds in the lake, etc. have resulted in a huge decline in the water quality of the lake. A recent study constituted by Cochin University of Science and Technology found that the level of contamination in lake water in premises of Kochi area is alarming due to the disposal of pollutants and garbage. Being a Ramsar site with this much socio-ecological and economic significance, Vembanad lake deserves better. Hence sustainable conservation of Vembanad lake needs to be considered as an urgent priority and long-term actions for the same need to be taken immediately at an individual, social and institutional levels.

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Time to ‘cool’ down

The harsh reality of climate change is our Earth moving from being hot, hotter to hottest. Demand for cooling is rapidly increasing and as incomes and standards of living increase, people want to buy and use air conditioners to keep cool for health, well-being, and economic productivity.

So, why is this topic of global energy cooling demand of utmost importance? There are only two ways to achieve our temperature goals:

i) Reduce and ii) Remove Green House Gases (GHG) that deplete the protective ozone layer and allows for harmful solar radiations to impact our health. One of the biggest opportunities in reducing GHG emissions is by optimizing the energy demand for space cooling/air conditioners (ACs). Today, the electricity required to power ACs give rise to huge carbon emissions (mainly from fossil fuels like coal and gas) and leakage of refrigerants from ACs traps heat leading to extreme hot conditions.

Here are some facts to know:

  • Of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8% currently possess ACs, compared to 90% ownership in the United States and Japan.
  • Global sales of ACs have been growing steadily: since 1990, annual sales of ACs more than tripled to 135 million units. There are now about 2 billion ACs in use that consumes over 2000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity every year, which is two and a half times the total electricity usage of Africa.
  • 10 ACs to be sold every second for the next 30 years.
  • The highest demand in energy use for space cooling by 2050 comes from the emerging economies, with just three countries – India, China, and Indonesia contributing half of global cooling energy demand growth.

Sustainable ‘cooling’:

The most practical and effective methods of residential cooling are ‘Active’ cooling using household fans, packaged air-conditioners (ACs), split ACs, large chillers that need electricity from the power grid to function.

‘Passive’ cooling requires no electricity and use sustainable methods to cool. Learning from both ancient as well as modern ideas, passive cooling techniques are increasing being used to keep buildings cool. One such example is ‘cool roofs’ method that coats roofs with materials and products that strongly reflects sunlight and cools itself by efficiently emitting heat and resulting in the roof literally staying cooler thereby reducing amount of heat conducted to the building below.

In North India where temperatures become scorching in summer, in shaded courtyards, traditional Indian stepwells lead to pools of collected water that absorbs heat and circulates fresh cool air. Evaporative cooling that provides an air flow together with circulation of dripping water such as ‘bee-hive’ systems using terracotta pots have been cost effective as well as requiring low maintenance.

Wind-catcher designs: Another example is in Iran (also known as a ‘windcatcher’ city) that uses an ancient Persian method to keep houses cool. Towers on top of flat-roofed buildings catch the breeze and channels down air, with the cooler and more dense air flowing through the interiors of the building.

Left pic: Bee-hive pattern of terracotta water cooling in Delhi;                                                             Right pic: Natural wind catchers in Iran

Active Cooling using District Cooling Systems (DCS):

The latest technologies that will become the backbone of cities transition to sustainable cooling and reduce reliance on power grids and usage of more renewable power (such as solar and wind) are DCS (District Cooling Systems). A DCS can serve a wide variety of loads for commercial offices, hotels, residential, industry units, data centers, cold chain, sports arenas, malls, schools, institutional buildings, and hospitals. DCS distributes (supplies and collects back) cooling energy in the form of chilled water from a central district cooling plant to multiple buildings through a distribution network of insulated, underground pipes for space cooling.

India is taking inspiration from leading district energy cities and countries such as Dubai where 40% of all buildings (residential and commercial) will be connected to DCS by 2030 and Denmark where almost all buildings in large cities are connected to district heating systems and customers enjoy some of the lowest heat prices in Europe showing it is possible and affordable but requires strong government support to reach such levels. Look at the chart below that shows how other countries are leveraging district cooling systems (DCS) to keep their cities cool.

With India’s water scarcity, where is the water for running the cooling systems?

India is the 13th most water-stressed country globally with several of its cities, including the industrial hub Chennai, are at “extreme risk” of experiencing water shortages. Water for cooling can be sourced in multiple ways:

a) Municipal or borewell water, which is a precious commodity that could rather be used for drinking purposes

b) Ground water or treated sewage water recycled from sewage treatment plants

c) Sea water or brackish water treated using reverse osmosis (RO), forward osmosis (FO) or other technologies

Over 90% of industrial wastewater generated every day across India is untreated when discharged and flows into rivers (As an example Ganga river alone receives around 1.3 billion liters of raw sewage and 250 million liters of industrial effluents daily). There are tremendous opportunities to re-use wastewater and is a win-win for tackling extreme heat conditions with cooling systems that can use treated wastewater.

In conclusion:

India (and South Asia in general) is already seeing the dangers of extreme heat waves among other weather-related calamities and rapid migration to cities is expected in the coming decade. It is of utmost importance to improve energy efficiency in our country by providing sustainable energy/cooling and investing in the right infrastructure for smart cities to function. As we learn from developed countries : Public sector, private sector, city, and state administrations to collaborate with technology companies, financial institutions, and industries (such as real estate and utilities) to bring in change and make life in cities bearable for all.

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Chennai’s Water Paradox and the Solution

by Goutham Krishna

It’s been a few weeks since Chennai went through another November of Heavy downpour!

The average annual rainfall of Chennai city is about 10 times greater than the national average. North-East and South-West monsoons are the major contributing factors to the total rainfall of the city. The city is also blessed with 3 major rivers and numerous large and small water bodies which all point towards the high-water storage potential of the city.

But it’s ironic to find that a large section of the population in the city; mostly the underprivileged, suffers from water scarcity and drought in the summers. The major factor behind this paradox is the lack of water security and management mechanism followed in the city.

In this context, this article is a hypothetical attempt to quantify and understand the relation between annual rainfall and the annual water requirement of the city and to check whether any feasible mechanism is suitable to improve the water security of Chennai city.

The table given below visualizes annual rainfall received by Chennai city from the year 2015 to 2021 (For 2021, data till 3rd December is considered)

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Table 1 Annual rainfall statistics in Chennai Source: IMD

From definitions, any location with 1 mm rainfall recorded will receive 1 liter of rainwater per square meter.  i.e. If a geographical area of 1 square Kilometre receives a steady rainfall of 1 mm, 100,00,00 liter of rainfall is precipitated there.

The geographical area of Chennai city is 426 square kilometers; That means 426*100,00,00 liter of rainwater will be received in the city if it receives rainfall of 1 mm.

Now, the total of annual rainwater received by the city can be easily calculated with the above data.

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Table 2: Total rainwater received in Chennai

An estimate of average rainwater received in Chennai on a daily basis can be inferred from the above data (by dividing total rainwater by 365).

Year2015  201620172018201920202021
Annual Rainfall (mm)2285.06977.41447.2933.341228.9217261999.1
Total rainwater In Litre97343,55,60,00041637,24,00,00061650,72,00,00039764,28,84,00053089,34,40,00074,63,20,00,00086361,12,00,000
Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Table 3 Average rainwater received per day in Chennai

Considering 150 litres as the average water requirement per head per day, we can derive into the following findings. (Population of Chennai is approximated to 1,00,00,000)

Average rainwater per day in Litre266,69,46,739.7114,07,46,301.4168,90,60,821.9108,94,32,558.9145,45,02,575.3204,28,27,397.3236,60,58,082.2
Maximum number of people can be benefited1,77,79,644.976,04,975.31,12,60,405.572,62,883.796,96,683.81,36,18,849.31,57,73,720.5
% Of Chennai population178761137397136158

From the above findings, it is crystal clear that proper conservation of rainwater alone can account for a good share of the water requirement of Chennai city. Hence actions to store and harvest maximum rainwater is an optimal solution to address the water scarcity faced by the city. Chennai is blessed with numerous water bodies, major canal systems, and three lakes which all can be managed properly for sustainable water conservation and management.

Hence an integrated framework, encompassing maximum storage of rainwater, proper conservation of water bodies, and sustainable consumption of water should be implemented which will definitely improve the water security statistics of the city for the long term.

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Gem in the River – Ganges River Dolphins

by Arun M.

What comes to our mind when we say dolphin? A bunch of dolphins chase a fast-moving boat in an ocean, isn’t it?

Are you heard about a Dolphin in a river, this article is about one such.

Ganges River Dolphins are not the average everyone known dolphin. These are found only in freshwater-like rivers that too in South Asia. These were once seen in many countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. But it has become extinct in many places. Now it can only be seen in the river Ganges.

Curious about how it looks, they are chocolate brown at birth, and then as an adult, they have hairless skin and grey-brown smooth. They won’t travel in groups you can see at a maximum of a mother and a calf together. They prefer to travel single. Male look smaller than the female. Such Female dolphins only give birth to a calf once every two to three years.

Ganges river dolphins are now on the endangered list. Can you guess what made it so? You were right if you thought of pollution. Yes, pollution is one of the major contributors to the decrease in the population of such dolphins. Human, industrial and agricultural wastes are directed to rivers causes pollution, and destroys the habitat of species and dolphins. These made river dolphins have high toxic chemicals in the bodies

Construction of dams and irrigation-related projects along the river is also a reason for the decrease in population. How? Such constructions divided the dolphins into groups, these affected their inbreeding process and the food chain.

The main threat is hunting. Dolphins are hunted for meat and oil which are said to have medical benefits. But many dolphins are accidentally got into fishing nets cause a higher number of dolphin deaths.

Such activities for a long time pushed Ganges river dolphins on the endangered list. In 1991, a protected area for endangered Gangetic dolphins of Asia was created in Bihar and named as Vikramshila Gangetic dolphin sanctuary which stretches 60 km. At present, there are only 41 Ganges river dolphins.

Let’s join our hands to save such Gems. Volunteer for India and her Environment with E.F.I!

Fun Fact Ganges River dolphin is our national aquatic animal and also the official animal of Guwahati city

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Inter-linking of rivers

Why do countries embark on mega water projects that interlink river basins? The answer is simple: address the dual problem of droughts and floods. Interlinking involves the process of diverting surplus river water through a network of canals to relatively drier areas either within a state or among two or more states.

Conceptualized in the 1980s, the interlinking of rivers program was designed with the following benefits: improving irrigation potential for famers in India, generation of hydropower from the dams constructed and additional benefits of flood control, water supply, fisheries, pollution control etc.

So, why is progress dead-slow on these projects? The environmental risks that impact the surrounding ecosystems, the economic risks due to huge cost overruns in such mega projects, the social risks associated with dislocation of people plus an important thought: the very idea of surplus water flowing into the sea is not a loss but an essential part of the hydrological cycle.

Ken-Betwa project:

India’s major river-linking project ‘Ken-Betwa’ connecting Ken river in Madhya Pradesh with Betwa in Uttar Pradesh(see map above) is facing all sorts of challenges. The meandering Ken river flows through the Panna Tiger Reserve. The river is the lifeline of the reserve and sustains an elaborate ecosystem with the tiger as focus. In 2009 due to years of systemic poaching, the Panna reserve had almost no tigers left. But ten years later, the best conservation efforts have paid off and today Panna is a thriving habitat with a growing density of around 50 tigers , several elusive species such as leopards, jungle cats, sloth bears, hyenas and wolves, around 300 migratory bird species to name a few. The river-interlinking project proposes a 77-meter high (250 feet), 2-km long dam on the Ken River and this is expected to submerge 9,000 hectares of mostly forest land in the Panna Tiger Reserve, near the UNESCO world heritage site of Khajuraho Temple in Madhya Pradesh. There is a huge disagreement in getting ahead with this project with political as well as social overtones.

International comparisons:

Interlinking of rivers projects have been rolled out in several parts of the world, but are most rivers in India fit to be linked? If we compare our rivers with North American or European rivers, the average precipitation of Indian rivers is only for around 60-70 days in a year and being a tropical country that is very thirsty, water is never enough. Several countries tackle drought management instead to secure their water resources. Let us look at China, Israel, and Australia as drought management in these countries are based on the principles of self-reliance, proactive risk management, and an understanding that drought is an inherent feature of their environment.

China has made significant improvement in water management practices in the past few decades. Both India and China share many similarities, for instance—large population size to feed, huge share of drought prone areas, small landholding size in agriculture, etc. But besides these resemblances, China’s agriculture system has done well for themselves leveraging the PPP (Public Private Partnership) model where the private sector can bring in latest technologies and construct, operate water facilities more efficiently that the public sector. The table below highlights key lessons that India can learn and adapt from.

Sustainable alternatives?

Environmentalists and the scientific community recommend improving water efficiency, conservation and better drought management over large infrastructure/ interlinking projects that disrupt a river’s flow, damage ecosystems and flood vast areas.

Also, majority of India’s groundwater, around 90%, is consumed by water-guzzling wheat, rice, and sugarcane crops. By crop rotation towards pulses, oilseeds, diverse farming and regenerative agriculture methods, such decentralized solutions could help rather than building large-scale new dams and reservoirs.

Local solutions such as usage of bio-pesticides and microbial, organic fertilizers to reduce excess nitrogen and phosphorous that makes the soil toxic; employing drip-irrigation to reduce water usage ; using biochar as a soil amendment; and intermingling existing reservoir areas with check dams and filtration ponds with rainwater harvesting and recharging of groundwater aquifers are examples of small scale proposals that benefit local communities and when rolled-out to drought prone areas are shown to improve the water table.

In conclusion:

India’s water problem is massive, and faces multiple deaths due to droughts, famines, and water shortages every single year. Are local solutions effective enough and can they tackle the global scale of this issue? Environmentalists are looking at the huge social, environmental, and economic impacts as a whole and are questioning the viability of the large-scale river interlinking projects.

Is there a right answer? a very tough call for countries, governments trying to mitigate water crisis because what seems like a workable plan today might be impractical tomorrow as the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss are most acutely expressed though WATER impacting the most vulnerable sections of our population. Looking at the potential risks that need to be mitigated, drastic infrastructure projects seem to best avoided due to the unprecedented scale of the nature crisis.

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வெள்ளம் ஏற்படுவதற்கு இந்த செடிகளும் காரணமா?

by Aswin S

தாவரம் என்று அழைக்கப்படும் ஒரு பெரும் உயிரின பிரிவிற்குள் மரம், செடி, கொடி, புற்கள் பேன்ற நிலைத்திணைகள் அனைத்தும் அடங்கும். ஒர் குறிப்பிட்ட இடத்தில் வளரும் தேவையற்ற தாவரங்கள் “களை” அல்லது “களை செடிகள்” என்று அழைக்கப்படும். இவ்வாறு அழைக்கப்படும் களைகள் நாம் பராமரிக்கும் நிலத்தில் மட்டும் அல்ல, நீரிலும் வளரும். நீர் நிலைகளில் வளரும் இவ்வகை தாவரத்தால் சூரியனின் ஒளி அந்நீர் நிளைகளின் உள் நுழைய முடியாமல் தடுக்கப்படுகின்றன. இவ்வாறு ஆபத்து விளைவிக்கும் களை செடிகள் நம் நாட்டில் உள்ளனவா? பல உள்ளன. இந்தியாவில் ஏறக்குறைய 160 வகையான நீர் களைகள் உள்ளன.‌ அவற்றில் வெங்காயத்தாமரை, வள்ளக்கீரை, சம்பு, ஹார்ன்வார்ட், சால்வினியா, தாமரை, முதலை களை, வேலம்பாசி, வழுக்குப்பாசி, காரா, நிட்டல்லா, நிலை நீர்ப் பூண்டு முதலியன இந்தியாவில் காணப்படும் முதன்மையான நீர் களைகளாகும்.

வெங்காயத்தாமரை ( from : Wikipedia)

நீர் களைகளின் வகைகள்

நீர் களைகள் அவை வாழும் இடத்தையும் வளரும் தன்மையையும் வைத்து வகைப்படுத்தப் படுகின்றன. இந்த இரு விதிகளை வைத்து நீர் களைகள்

  • நீருக்கடியில் வளரும் களைகள்,
  • நீரில் வெளிப்படும் களைகள்,
  • கடற்கரை களைகள்,
  • ஆற்றங்கரை களைகள் மற்றும்
  • சதுப்புநில களைகள் என‌ வகைப்படுத்தப் படுகின்றன.

நம் நாட்டில் வெங்காயத்தாமரை என்று அழைக்கப்படும் நீரில் வெளிப்படும் ‌களை செடியால் 20-25% வரை பயன்பாட்டு நீர் பாதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. அசாம், மேற்கு வங்காளம், ஒரிசா மற்றும் பீகார் பேன்ற மாநிலங்களில் வெங்காயத்தாமரையால் மட்டுமே 40% வரை பயன்பாட்டு நீர் பாதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

நீர் களைகளின் வளர்ச்சிக்கான காரணம்

    நீர் களைகள் விரைவில் ஊட்டச்சத்துக்களை உட்கொள்ளும் தன்மை உடையது. நாம் வீட்டில் சுத்தப்படுத்த பயன்படுத்தும் இரசாயனத்தாலும் கழிவுநீர்களாலும் வேறு சில காரணங்களாலும் நீர் நிலைகளில் பாஸ்பரஸ் மற்றும் நைட்ரசன் என்னும் தாதுப்பொருட்கள் அதிகரிப்பதால் அவற்றை வேகமாக உட்கொண்டு களைச் செடிகள் அளவிற்கு அதிகமாக வளர்கின்றன.

நீர் களைகளின் பாதிப்பு

    நீர் களைகள் நீருக்கு மேலும் கீழும் படர்ந்து வளர்ந்தும் நீரில் உள்ள ஊட்டச்சத்துக்களை விரைந்து உட்கொண்டும் நீரின் தன்மையை கெடுப்பது மட்டுமின்றி அந்நீரில் பிற உயிரினங்கள் வாழ முடியாதவாறு மாற்றிவிடுகின்றன. அதுமட்டுமின்றி அந்நீர் நிளையின் கொள்ளளவை குறைத்து வெள்ளம் ஏற்படுவதற்கு காரணமாக இருக்கின்றன. நீர் களைகளால் நிலத்தடி நீரின் அளவும் பாதிக்கப்படுகின்றன. ஓடும் நீர் நிலைகளில் நீரின் வேகமும் நீரின் பாதைகளும் பாதிக்கப்படுகின்றன.

நீர் களைகளால் மூடப்பட்ட ஏரி

நீர் களைகளை தடுக்கும் வழிமுறைகள்

  • மனிதர்கள் மற்றும் இயந்திரங்களால் அகற்றுதல்
  • சூழலியல் மாற்றத்தால் அகற்றுதல்
  • இரசாயன பொருட்களால் அகற்றுதல்
  • உயிரியல் உதவியால் அகற்றுதல்

 ஆகிய வழிகள் மூலம் நீர் களைகளை அகற்றலாம்.

    குஜராத் மாநிலத்தில் புஜ் என்று அழைக்கப்படும் பகுதியில் தீசல்சார் என்று ஓர் ஏரி உள்ளது. E.F.I. கடந்த ஒரு சில நாட்களாக இந்த ஏரியில் உள்ள களை செடிகளை அகற்ற செயல்படுகிறது. தீசல்சார் ஏரியில் களை அகற்றும் பணி

 இதை போலவே E.F.I. நம் திருநெல்வேலி நகரத்தின் பேட்டை சுற்றுப்புறத்தில் அமைந்துள்ள பேட்டை முள்ளிகுளம் என்று அழைக்கப்படும் ஏரியில் முறையான அனுமதிகளைப் பெற்று,  இயந்திரங்களின் உதவியுடன் படர்ந்து கிடந்த ஆகாய தாமரையை அகற்றி ஏரியின் கரைகளையும் சரிசெய்தது.

   அதே திருநெல்வேலியில் ரயில் நிலையத்திற்கு அருகில் உள்ள உடையார்பட்டி ஏரியில் கழிவுநீர் கலப்பதன் காரணத்தால் ஆகாய தாமரை ஏரியை ஆக்ரமித்திருந்தது. தகுந்த நெறிமுறைகளுடன் E.F.I. அவைகளை அகற்றி உடையார்பட்டி ஏரிக்கு புத்துயிர் அளித்தது.

அளவிற்கு அதிகமாக வளர்கின்ற நீர் களைகளை தடுப்பதற்கு அவற்றை அகற்றும் வழிகளை விட அவைகளை வளரும் முன் கட்டுப்படுத்துவதே சிறந்த செயலாகும். அவ்வாறு கட்டுப்படுத்த நாம் அனைவரும் வீட்டில் ஒரு சில மாற்றங்களை செய்தாலே போதுமானது. இந்த மாற்றங்கள் நீர் நிலைகளை பாதுகாத்து அந்நீர் நிளைகளை உங்கள் வருங்கால சந்ததியினருக்கு நீங்கள் விட்டுச் செல்லும் பரிசாக அளிக்கும்.

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Is Chennai ready?

By Divya Suresh

I took a candid trip to Sadhana Forest, Auroville on 9th November 2021, the Tuesday.

Orange alert for floods in Chennai was all over the news.

Once I reached Pondicherry, the alert turned Red that rang an alarm to just be back soon. On the way, approaching Chennai, my sight caught the attention of Chemmenchery, Madhurandhagam and Marakkanam Aeri (Aeri is lake in Tamil) filling up from its quantity early in the morning.

Chemmenchery Aeri
Madhuranthagam Aeri 
Marakkanam Aeri

The lakes were till the brim with minimal visibility of what’s ahead.

The question is, Is Chennai ready to face this challenge?

Since the 2015 episode, rains in November have been a warning sign.

What have the citizens and netizens done about it in the last 5 years?

As much as the news is all over the place, preventive and mitigative measures need to rise as well.

We have the tendency, to buy something new for our well-wishers on our first salary, why can’t the scenario change to planting a seed to create a garden on the maiden salary. 

The world is moving towards Sustainability to combat Climate Change.

Rather, Sustainability begins from home.

It’s very crucial to work on reforestation, water conservation, afforestation and water preservation for rains to be appreciative by 2025.

Civic negligence has to change to civic responsibility, to do a part for combating Climate Change together.

Are you ready to make the change and be the change? 

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Deep-water ‘shining’

Ever wondered why a sense of calmness surrounds us when in midst of large water bodies, especially oceans? The deepness of the ocean conjures up images of stillness in our brain and one wonders what the deep water really holds. Truth be told, an enthralling ecosystem of around 2 million marine species thrive in these cold conditions.

With about 97% of the world’s water in the ocean, the deep ocean (lowest layers of the ocean at depth below 656 feet) is key to keeping our planet healthy. The deep waters detoxify our Earth by removing heat and carbon di-oxide from the air, dissolving them in its waters and releasing clean air back.

Bio-luminescent creatures:

Land animals have hiding places such as trees or bushes or bury themselves underground when under attack from predators. But the ocean is very different with no place to hide. Several animals produce bioluminescence (chemical light) from their bellies that exactly matches the color and intensity of sunlight above them. Among the most iconic are deep-sea fishes like the anglerfish, whose females have glowing flesh that attracts prey. Deep-sea shrimps spew bioluminescence from its mouth like a fire-breathing dragon and then there’s the world’s smallest 6-inch velvet-belly lantern shark, with light-producing organs to camouflage against predators.

The study of bioluminescence has applications in biotechnology with several scientific breakthroughs in commercial areas such as detecting proteins, antibodies to COVID-19 in blood samples, vaccine research and monitoring water systems to ensure high quality drinking water.

Below are a few pictures of eye-catching bio-luminescent creatures that light up the deep ocean:

Effects of trawling, over-fishing, and ocean-warming:

In the last 50 years, our eating habits have led to oceans being stripped of its fish, shellfish, and many other forms of marine life. Trawling nets across the ocean floor has turned upside down spectacular undersea gardens full of living beings that won’t sustain life again for hundreds of years. Deep-sea mining for oil and gas extraction has been occurring for over a decade with sea-bed mineral deposits being the latest temptation. Rising ocean temperatures and decreased oxygen concentrations, unregulated ocean dumping and pollution from plastics and industrial chemicals have impacted deep-ocean ecosystems wiping out several species from our Earth.

Internal cooperation combined with scientific research plus innovative technologies are the need of the hour to support the United Nations ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ from 2021-2030. Protecting the oceans and reversing its declining health and investing in marine science is required for a clean, resilient, and safe ocean that inspires society to understand and value the ocean.

A few notable journeys to bottom of the ocean have been the “Deepsea challenger” funded by James Cameron that explored the Mariana trench in 2012 and the ‘Five Deeps expedition’ in 2018 to the deepest point of the Earth’s top five oceans. It has revealed incredible data, pictures and facts about marine life including bio-luminescent creatures deep down.

India’s deep ocean mission supporting its blue economy has been kicked off this year with a focus on sustainable conservation of deep-sea bio-resources and manned submersibles that will carry three people to the depth of the ocean equipped with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. But these exploration studies are also planned to make way for commercial exploitation of the ocean floor in the central Indian Ocean, albeit regulated by the UN laws of sea treaty.

In conclusion:

These amazing natural wonders are fast disappearing as we strip the oceans and seas of all its bounty, and we need to invest in sustainable solutions such as marine protected areas where human activities are kept minimal. As the world’s most travelled naturalist Sir David Attenborough says ” The ocean’s power of regeneration is remarkable – if we just offer it the chance”.

Deep water bioluminescent creatures throw open some simple truths: In the vast darkness of the oceans, these tiny creatures make life brilliantly observable and helps view life as never before. Exploring the deep oceans fuels our imagination, triggers deep curiosity, helps appreciate the evolution of nature and makes us optimistic environmentalists.

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An environmental account on Rainbows

by Prithvi S.

People say, “ Rainbows are the eyes of nature”. When it comes to rainbows, this statement cannot be more accurate. When viewing rainbows from an aesthetic perspective, there is nothing purer and prettier. Nevertheless, rainbows have shaken their roots as a natural phenomenon and are now considered a symbol or a trope. For instance, the rainbow is the principal symbol of many noteworthy movements like the LGBT. Additionally, they are used in several flags representing various communities ranging from small tribal communities in the Andes to the national flags. Apart from this, rainbows also play a significant role in multiple mythologies in different cultures. Furthermore, there is no doubt that rainbows embody a part of nature that possesses substantial environmental importance. This article aims to explain the ecological significance of rainbows and elaborate on it to achieve a more profound understanding of what makes the “rainbow trope” that significant. 

Firstly, when pondering the reason for the popularity of rainbows as a trope, the answer is simple and obvious. The reason is that rainbows simply hold an aesthetic value so high that people do not regard them as a natural phenomenon but as a symbol. We can find evidence of this paradigm across history in the form of myths and folklores. Not to mention, rainbows are used as celestial objects are ubiquitous in each story. Rainbows have such extensive ecological proof that they are regarded as “pure” and “benevolent” things in these stories. For example, in Norse mythology, a rainbow was considered a bridge that connects the heavens and the earth. Also, in Hindu culture, for instance, the god Indra uses his rainbow bow to shoot arrows of lightning. 

Secondly, when looking from an ecological perspective, a rainbow is always at a place filled with moisture content. A rainbow can be scientifically defined as a multicoloured arc made by light striking water droplets. So, the main prerequisites for rainbows are water and light. Nonetheless, it is far more complicated than it seems. For example, the water droplets that diffract the light into seven colours must be pure to a certain degree. The purity of the water is the reason why ocean water cannot diffract light effectively. Kauai is a stormy island and home to Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots. So, people can spot rainbows frequently in Kauai. Hence, it is safe to assume that a rainbow manifests at a place filled with natural resources. In other words, rainbows are a by-product or a symbol of an abundance of natural resources in an ecological space.

Thirdly, there are also variations to consider when it comes to rainbows. These so-called variations of rainbows manifest due to the anomalies in the causative factors of rainbows. Some of the most significant variations of rainbows are the glow, the double rainbow, twinned rainbow, red rainbow, fogbow, moonbow, etc. Alternatively, the variations of the rainbows can also depend on environmental factors and individual aspects such as perspective and geography. The glow is a type of rainbow where the atmosphere opposite a rainbow facing the sun is often glowing. These glow rainbows appear when rain or drizzle is falling between the viewer and the sun. The glow is formed by light passing through raindrops, not reflected by them. Some scientists call this glow a zero-order glow. 

In conclusion, with the advent of the 21st-century, people have become more aesthetic oriented. As a result, people have an inclination towards rainbows. However, it is worth noting that aesthetic aside, rainbows held an immense ecological and cultural significance to our ancestors. Thus, our responsibility as the next generation is to preserve these extraordinary phenomena called rainbows by afforestation and promoting natural awareness.

Society, National. “Rainbow”. National Geographic Society, 2013, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/rainbow/. Accessed 21 Aug 2021.

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A Swamp that saves Lives— The Magic of Pichavaram

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Where and what are the coordinates?

Located in the Cuddalore dist., about 4–5 hours driving distance from Chennai (https://goo.gl/maps/eJWW3U64RjeK4dUu5)the Pichavaram mangrove forest is located between two prominent estuaries, the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south. The Vellar-Coleroon estuarine complex forms the Killai backwater and Pichavaram mangroves.

Lesser known fact is that the Pichavaram mangrove forest is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world! Covering about 1100 hectare of area, it is separated from the Bay of Bengal only by a sand bar.

Other than the flora, the mangroves attract migrant and local birds including snipes, cormorants, egrets, storks, herons, spoonbills, and pelicans. About 177 species of birds belonging to 15 orders and 41 families have been recorded here.

So, what is so special about a mangrove?

A mangrove is a shrub or small tree that grows in coastal saline or brackish water. All of these trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving waters allow fine sediments to accumulate. Mangrove forests only grow at tropical and subtropical latitudes near the equator because they cannot withstand freezing temperatures.

Many mangrove forests can be recognized by their dense tangle of prop roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. This tangle of roots allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides, which means that most mangroves get flooded at least twice per day. The roots also slow the movement of tidal waters, causing sediments to settle out of the water and build up the muddy bottom.

Mangrove forests stabilize the coastline, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves, and tides. The intricate root system of mangroves also makes these forests attractive to fish and other organisms seeking food and shelter from predators.

And, here’s the most amazing fact that we came to know through the ferryman.
The strong roots of these peaceful looking yet powerful mangroves were a big reason for the area not getting destroyed in the Y2006 Tsunami and other cyclones which have hit the area. They have saved many huts and villages along the forest!

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Photo credits: All images were taken by the author

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The Cost of Leather

by Prithvi S.

With the advent of the twenty-first century, it is evident that the population has reached a new peak. Consequently, the demand for products has almost doubled or even tripled in the past decade. Furthermore, it is not even an exaggeration to speculate that the rate at which the demand for various products is raising is exponential. Although this might be fodder for industries to expand and escalate their productions and their workspace, this accelerated growth we have been experiencing for the past decade has many detrimental factors viewing from both an economic and an environmental angle. A prime example of the above archetype is the leather industry of India. This article aims at enumerating three subtle yet vital factors which best exhibits the ramifications of the leathering sector.

Firstly, the most integral part of a thriving industry is the resource it consumes. Especially, when it comes to the leather industry, it requires enormous amounts of resources. Furthermore, resources like feed, pastureland, water, and fossil fuels are the ideal requirements for starting a leather factory. At first look, these prerequisites might look trivial and easily met. Nevertheless, take into consideration that these are the main requirements for “starting” a leather factory and are not ideal for “building” or “expanding” it. Moreover, for expanding the industry the demand for the resources triples or quadruples. Additionally, the increasing demand for leather products also creates a situation that calls for more animal slaughter to meet the demand. Thus, even though leather products are euphemized as “eco-friendly”, it is wise to consider knowing the facts about a product before buying it.

Secondly, the waste disposal system in an industry also plays a vital role in determining the efficiency at which the industry functions. Additionally, this factor also ensures that the environment that the factory is present is not polluted. In the leather industry’s case, the poor waste disposal systems employed by the subsequent industries make it unfavorable to effectively purify the water that is released out. Apart from this, livestock plays a vital role in causing pollution since it is the main resource used in this industry. It was reported by PETA that animals on factory farms produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population. Also, EPA has acknowledged that livestock pollution poses a great threat to waterways. Furthermore, this fact combined with the inefficient waste management processes in the industries has a wide magnitude of ramifications ranging from diseases to severe ecological impacts.

Finally, the proper use of chemicals also dictates the efficiency of an industry. From this perspective, the leathering industry uses chemicals to an extensive degree. Some of the most prevalently used chemicals are mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, Dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. When not treated properly these chemicals may have a carcinogenic impact on a wide array of people of different age groups. Other than that, this expedited growth of the leathering industry also has an enormous ecological impact in the form of deforestation. For instance, in the last half-century, almost 70 percent of the amazon rainforest cover has been cleared for meeting the demand for pastures or growing feed crops. Ergo, deforestation and chemicals can cause the loss of the ecological balance.

In summary, though the growth of the leather industry is a matter to rejoice in, the disadvantages of this expansion heavily outweigh the advantages. The alternative that I could come up with for this crux is to look for smart and innovative ways to substitute traditional leather. For example, in recent times vegan leather is quite popular since it is cost-efficient, more sustainable, and requires comparatively fewer resources. Moreover, the principal advantage it offers is the total nullification of the animal slaughter involved in the conventional methods. Hence, it is appropriate to conclude that innovation is the key to the future of the leather industry.

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Antarctica – the heaven at risk?

Antarctica is the southern-most continent – cold, dry, windy, and contains 90% of all ice on earth. Its size varies through seasons and in winter, the expanding sea ice along its coast doubles the continent’s size. Interestingly Antarctica is classified as a desert as it only receives an average of 2 inches of snow each year (in comparison Sahara Desert in Africa gets twice as much rain each year) but what makes it an icebox is that Antarctica gets massive blizzards that pick-up snow and blows white blankets across it with temperatures reaching as low as minus 89.6 degrees Celsius.

How does life below zero look like? Plant life is limited to algae, moss, and lichen but animal life is in abundance. Home to marine wildlife and birds , penguins including Emperor penguin colonies ( the largest of the penguins that weighs around 23kg as an adult) are found dotted across its coastline. Krill (small shrimp-like creatures as shown in picture below) are a critical part of the food chain and a vital food source for whales, seals, sea-lions, and penguins. It is estimated that the total weight of Antarctic krill is more than the weight of all humans on Earth. But despite krill abundance, they are a keystone species serving as a backbone of the Antarctic ecosystem and if they disappear, all marine life that feeds on them would also become extinct.

The long-term health of this tiny crustacean(krill) is key to sustaining Antarctica

So, who owns Antarctica?

No single country owns Antarctica. This continent is shared by all of humankind and governed by the Antarctic Treaty that reserves the continent for peace and scientific research. There are around 70 permanent research stations led by 32 countries that focus on several critical issues such as climate change, global sea-level rise, conservation of wildlife, sustainable management of fisheries in the face of increasing demands for fish and krill, ozone concentrations, astronomical observations etc.

India has two research stations — Maitri and Bharati that are operated under the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Union Ministry of Earth Sciences. The 40th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica departed for the South Pole from Mormugao Port, Goa with 43 members on board on January 5, 2021 with a key goal of continuing global research as well as relieving the earlier 48-member winter crew from their 15-month tenure, resupplying the research station bases with food, fuel, provisions and spares for operations and maintenance of life support systems.

What makes Antarctica so unique for research and important to sustain?

Ice dynamics: Disappearing ice is making Antarctica more accessible but melting icesheets and ice-shelves are profoundly contributing to global sea-level rise with the runaway ice emptying into the sea triggering unstable icebergs and abrupt loss to Antarctic ice. Being one of the cleanest places on Earth, it is also one of the first places where effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide are seen making it an ideal location to measure spread of global pollutants. Antarctica has a central role in the study of global climate change research, ozone depletion and sustainable management of its marine life.

  • Astronomical observations: This is the best place to look at the cosmos as it is very clear, very dry and being so far from the equator, polar nights of 24 hours or more of darkness in mid-winter open a much wider window to view stars. Space satellites like the Hubble are very expensive and Antarctic ground-based telescopes can observe conditions on the surface of Mars and to the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn at a fraction of the cost.
  • Mining, fishing, and oil drilling: The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared Antarctica too. Countries have slowed down their funding for research programs resulting in decreased operational capacity, delays in new and major projects and limited abilities to train and recruit new talent for research. Antarctica is in the middle of geo-political tensions as few countries have expanded fishing and mining in the surrounding waters.
    • Dangers of Krill fishing: Antarctic Krill catches have increased exponentially, and these are used as oil and feed in various applications like fortified food (infant milk formula) & beverages, feed for animals, dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals etc. for its high Omega 3 and fatty acids content. Krill Oil industry is growing steadily around 10% every year and projected to be valued over $500M in the next few years with China racing to complete the largest krill-fishing ship that can operate in the krill fishing grounds of Antarctica for extended periods of time.
    • Oil drilling: Mineral extraction would be extremely expensive due to the extreme weather , ice and distance from other industrialized nations, but in the last one year , Russia has stepped up geological survey in the Antarctic region to assess oil, gas and hydrocarbon potential using latest technologies and this has fueled diplomatic tensions with other Antarctic member countries for environmental and political reasons.

In conclusion: Antarctica is indeed a heaven on earth, pristine and appears magical. But as the horrors of global warming unfold and the battle for land supremacy flares up, countries need to be watchful on not getting into territorial disputes but rather focus on scientific research. The need of the hour is an absolute regard for international agreements, commitment to adhere to base station inspections, enforcing lawful orders such as preventing illegal fishing, mining and more importantly share research intelligence in a collaborative manner as the healthy future of the Antarctic means a sustainable future for us all.

Seals are playful and curious in the Antarctic waters. Pic courtesy RoundGlass

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Assam’s Success Story

It was not many years ago when multiple news agencies had reported an alarming decline in the tiger population all across Assam. Today, a 250% growth has been recorded in the number of tigers in Assam!

Kaziranga, Manas, and Orang have witnessed a boom in the number of tigers. The population of tigers in Kaziranga increased to 200 in 2021, as compared to 159 in 2018. Amal Chandra Sarmah, Field Director of the Manas Tiger Project, highlighted the big cat’s conservation success story with a three-fold increase in population while commemorating the international day in the Bansbari area of Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve (MNP &TR). It is also noteworthy that this goal has been achieved by Assam four years ahead of the schedule of the St.Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation. He further stated that “From nil to 48 tigers in 20 years, the MNP & TR has come a long way as conservation of the big cat is concerned.”

The surge in the number of tigers in Assam should motivate us to improve our efforts towards conservation. It should encourage us to preserve our habitat with firm commitment. The Forest Department has been on a large planting push across the state with an emphasis on degraded forest regions, as increasing green cover is critical for providing habitat for tigers and other wildlife. The Environment and Forest Department has set a goal of doubling tree planting in the next five years to increase green cover. The state has gained around 222 square kilometres of new forestland.

Assam’s efforts to restore the tiger-population in India and conserve the flora and fauna indubitably needs to be lauded, but we must not celebrate too soon. We are still far from reaching the ideal goal, the conservation journey shouldn’t stop here.

According to a 2014 research by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), intense agricultural development in the north of the Brahmaputra River has nearly wiped out the ecological link between Kaziranga NP and Pakke NP.

Until the NH-37 (national highway) was built on the Park’s southern edge, along with human habitations, tea estates, and other commercial facilities, the Kaziranga National Park and Karbi Anglong hills were continuous and used to function as a single ecological unit. The terrain has been fragmented as a result of this. The NH-37 and its massive traffic flow already create significant disruption to animal movement. During floods, the NH-37 turns into a deathlane for animals as well. Authorities are not only asked to ensure the safety of vehicles, but also the animals.

It is truly a milestone that Assam has accomplished. Every state in India should strive to replicate the same in order to protect the tigers!

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The trade of zebra loaches

Zebra loaches, a fish species endemic to the freshwater regions of Western Ghats, are far from safe today. Magnificent stripes gracing their small bodies of around 7cm have become a burden to possess rather than a natural boon. And the reason behind this is us.

In order to embellish our aquariums, these tiny creatures are being fished out of their homes, forcing them to get labelled as an “endangered” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Between April 2012 to March 2017, as many as 265,610 zebra loaches had been exported from five Indian cities (Chennai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata) to nations such as Singapore, Netherlands, Germany and Thailand, contributing alarmingly to their declining numbers. While the trade of these endangered fish is not banned in India, its unregulated nature makes them increasingly susceptible to extinction.

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According to a recent study, 60% of the exports of zebra loaches takes place during their breeding season. This reduces their numbers even before they increase to some extent, calling for the need for sustainable fishing and trade practices, and better legal protection of threatened species.

Throughout the course of history, mankind has made disappear several kinds of animals from the face of the Earth. And we appear to do the same in the case of zebra loaches. With over 150 fish being exported on a daily basis as ornaments for global fish tanks, the pressure on their small numbers continues to rise. Small steps this species will go a long way towards the conservation of several other animals.

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Fecal Coliform in the Yamuna

One of the biggest rivers to flow through the world’s largest river basin, the Yamuna river is the pride of our country. Also referred to as the “Jumna” river, it is of immense economic significance in India. It drains really fertile soil that supplements agricultural growth, irrigation and thus helps support the livelihood of thousands of farmers. Approximately 57 million people rely on the Yamuna’s waters for their daily nutrition, and the Yamuna provides roughly 70% of Delhi’s drinkable water supply. The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years at the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad, with about 120 million Hindu pilgrims taking a sacred bath at the most venerated Sangam.

In July 2021, a report produced by the Delhi government revealed that levels of fecal coliform (microbes from human and animal excreta) is above the desirable level at almost all points of the Yamuna. The report further identified the reason behind the increased levels of pollution is the “absence of a minimal environmental flow” of the water, hence posing an impediment to even achieving bathing quality standards of the river. An environmental flow is water provided within a river, wetland, or coastal zone to preserve ecosystems and their benefits where there are competing water uses and flows are restricted, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The high levels of fecal coliform in the river may cause a large number of skin infections and water-borne diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, jaundice, etc. It also results in an increase in the organic matter level of the river. The decay of this organic material can easily deplete the amount of dissolved oxygen, which threatens the aquatic life that resides in the river.

The level of fecal coliform in the Yamuna was as high as 1,40,000 MPN/100 ml — 280 times the desired level (500 MPN/100 ml or lesser) — at Okhla Barrage, a point along the river in Delhi, as per the report. There exist a plethora of reasons behind the rapid escalation in the pollution of the river, but certain pertinent ones include untreated waste and sewage discharge, unchecked dumping of farm wastes and faulty or inefficient septic systems.

More expeditious steps need to be implemented in order to restore the river’s beauty. Let’s work together to ensure that our actions, big or small, contribute towards our country’s environment!

References:
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Beyond sand

If we thought the world running out of consumable water is the worst thing that could happen in the coming decades, think again… there is one more natural resource that is universal, vital and at the heart of our daily lives that we risk running out of ……. SAND.

It may be hard to estimate the actual consumption of sand and gravel because they primarily go into making of cement and thus concrete with the construction industry gobbling up huge amounts of this raw material. But demand from other industries such as glass, electronics, aeronautics and more importantly land reclamation, beach nourishment are causing a huge imbalance in the sustainability of sand.

Sand and sustainability:

Riverbed sand mining and coastal area sand excavation operations have a crippling impact on the environment and society at large by disturbing and damaging the existing ecology, aggravating erosion, collapse of coastal slopes, flooding, lowering water tables and exacerbating drought occurrence. Most large rivers of the world have lost between half and 95% of their natural sand and gravel delivery to oceans and an estimated 40-50 billion metric tons is extracted from quarries, pits, rivers, coastlines and the marine environment each year.

Land reclamation:

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, unprecedented urban growth has resulted in mind boggling requirements of sand. In the past decade, China and India’s cities have used more cement than America did in the entire 20th century. Singapore has increased its land area by reclaiming watery areas by reportedly buying 517 million tons of sand from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia over the last 20 years. Dubai exports most of its sand with its architectural marvels like Palm Jumeriah consuming ~187 million tons of marine sand , and to build the Burj Khalifa  sourced sand for its concrete skeleton from Australia.

Sun and Sand’ tourism is one of the most popular travel activities ensuring economic development for seaside destinations, but studies show that the environmental side of sustainability are often not met resulting in degradation of coastal ecosystems and reduced tourist satisfaction. Sand mining makes the problem worse. Huge coastal developments of ports, jetties, river dams cut off flow of sand to feed beaches. Instead of spending millions on re-shoring beaches and artificially bulking up sand from elsewhere for tourism revenue and environmental impacts, some countries are relocating their cities inland. Indonesia is planning on moving their capital from Jakarta to Borneo to save its sinking city.

Sand mafias : India is infamous for sand mafias and illegal mining of sand to sell to the construction sector. Though sustainable sand management guidelines have been released with alternatives to sand tapping, rules are violated and private players and sand contractors continue to plunder river beds resulting in barren farms and huge economic losses.

What are our alternatives ?

Recycled and alternative materials : Waste by-products of other processes, for example, fly ash left over after waste incineration such as in municipal waste, waste foundry sand, stainless steel slag ,oil palm kernels, coconut shells, sawdust, waste plastic, waste rubber etc. are found as effective replacements for natural sand in construction.

Manufactured Sand + V7 Sand: Manufactured sand(M-sand) is sand produced by crushing quarry stones such as granite, sandstone, limestone etc. in a multi-step crushing process. Japanese equipment manufacturers innovated a technique called V7 dry sand making system that produces high quality sand product from crushed rock sand for ready-mix concrete. Reliability of V7 sand has made it a go-to substitute in infrastructure projects such as bridges, flyovers, and underground metro tunnels.

Green Concrete: Usage of natural resources such as coal bottom ash (CBA) which is a by-product of the coal fired thermal powered plants reduces temperature swings in buildings and conserves energy. Permeable pavements (sometimes called porous pavement) is one example of green infrastructure that replaces traditional concrete and asphalt and allows rainwater to be absorbed and infiltrated into soil rapidly, helping reduce urban flooding. Ever-expanding paved surfaces accompany ever-growing cities and with heavy rains, urban flooding is more severe as we saw in the Hyderabad floods in 2020 where clogged stormwater drains and land encroachments resulted in a deluge despite the city having around 2800 natural lakes for water discharge.

In conclusion: We cannot avoid the usage of sand and the sustainable alternatives outlined above cannot yet substitute the demand for sand in the world. While we look at sustainable sourcing and responsible mining, it is also important to reduce consumption such as avoiding surplus construction projects and demand in parallel. And not to forget, implementing strict marine, freshwater, and coastal zone management policies to preserve our vulnerable and endangered species such as sea turtles and pristine mangrove forests.

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Limnology report on the Teesta River

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

In India, Teesta is one of the major rivers that originate from Himalayan glaciers along with  Brahmaputra, Ganga, Jhelum, and Sutlej (Fig. 1). More than 1.3 billion people living  downstream depends upon the major rivers system of the Himalayan glaciers for water. The  Teesta River originates at an elevation of 5033-m from the Tso Lhamo Lake in North Sikkim. Khangse glacier, Pahunri glacier and Chho Lhamo Lake are also considered as the source of  the Teesta River.

Fig. 1. Teesta Basin and its streams with local points. Image Source: Goyal, M. K., &  Goswami, U. P. (2018). Teesta river and its ecosystem. In The Indian Rivers (pp. 537- 551). Springer, Singapore.

Geography 

Snow and glaciers cover the upper portion of the catchment area of Teesta River and the  lower portion is covered with forest. Canyons and narrow valley in Sikkim and highlands of  Kalimpong is a result of the Teesta River flow. The vegetation cover changes with elevation,  from tropical deciduous vegetation in the lower elevation zone to alpine vegetation in the  high elevation zone. The Teesta basin in Sikkim is divided into five geo-eco-climatic zones  based upon the geo-morphological ecological and climatic regimes (Table 1). 

Table 1. 

Sl. No. Zone Elevation
1. Sub-tropic zone Up to a 1000-m elevation
2. Warm temperate zone Between 1000 and 2000 m
3. Cold temperate zone Between 2000 and 2500 m
4. Cold zone Between 2500 and 4000 m 
5. Frigid zone Above 4000 m 

Hydro-climatology 

Heavy rainfall and floods dominate the Teesta River basin in the monsoon season. It can lead  to landslides, slope transformation, and erosion which deposits suspended sediment in the  river channel. The huge variation in the elevation from 8598 to 213 m within 100 km is the  primary reason for an abrupt change in the climate. The Teesta River basin has an average  annual rainfall ranging from 2000 to 5000 mm. The rainfall varies throughout the seasons  (Table 2). 

Table 2. 

Season Rainfall
Winter 0.7%
Summer 13.6%
Monsoon 80.2%
Post-monsoon 5.5%

Slope variation 

The Teesta Basin slope profile varies from 8598 m to 213 m (Fig. 2). 

Characteristics of soil 

The diversity of soil type is large in the Teesta basin (Fig. 3). In the hilly terrain, random  construction, extensive deforestation, random use of land, slope cultivation and improper  drainage system are the common issues. To save the natural resources in mountainous  regions, it is crucial to practice water and soil conservation. 

Fig. 2. The variation in slope in the Teesta Basin. Image Source: Goyal, M. K., &  Goswami, U. P. (2018). Teesta river and its ecosystem. In The Indian Rivers (pp. 537- 551). Springer, Singapore.

Socio-economic and environmental characteristics 

Large infrastructure projects like a dam and/or hydro-power projects help in the economic  development but affect the environment and the socio-economic values for downstream  communities. Few favourable/unfavourable effects are: 

i. The construction changes land use and increases soil erosion.

ii. The disposed construction material degrades the water quality. 

iii. The hydrologic regime, siltation and sedimentation are disturbed.

iv. Indiscriminate fishing and migrant fish species increase the pressure on aquatic  ecology. 

v. The power generation increases employment and revenue.

Fig. 3. The soil characteristics of Teesta Basin. Image Source: Goyal, M. K., & Goswami,  U. P. (2018). Teesta river and its ecosystem. In The Indian Rivers (pp. 537-551). Springer,  Singapore.

Natural hazards 

Natural hazards like landslides, floods, glacial lake outburst floods, and drought are most  likely due to climate change and global warming. Sikkim is prone to earthquakes and  landslides and hence is the most vulnerable zone for natural hazards. Numerous landslides in  Sikkim Himalaya affect the river morphology and hydrology.  

Many waterbodies and glacial lakes in the Sikkim Himalayas are vulnerable to outburst. This  can change the hydrology and geomorphology of the river system. 

Conclusion 

The Teesta River originates with a high altitude of 5033m and forms the right-bank tributary  of the Brahmaputra River. Due to the high altitude, it has a high hydroelectric power  production potential. Six hydroelectric projects are proposed in the Teesta River with the  Teesta stage II hydropower project being the largest power generation project in Sikkim (Table 3). Hence, understanding the hydrological process and water resources management  and planning are important. 

Table 3. 

S. No. Name of project Capacity (MW)
1. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-I 280
2. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-II 480
3. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-III 1200
4. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-IV 495
5. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-V 510
6. Teesta Hydro-electric Project Stage-VI 440

Reference 

1. Goyal, M. K., & Goswami, U. P. (2018). Teesta river and its ecosystem. In The Indian  Rivers (pp. 537-551). Springer, Singapore.

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Poovar’s Dying Beauty

One of Kerala’s most beautiful places is dying, and very little is being done. Poovar- a ethereal tourist attractor located in Thiruvananthapuram, abodes beautiful lakes, hills, and flowering trees.

Since 2018, huge quantities of plastic and electronic-waste (e-waste) has washed ashore in Poovar. Heavy metals from e-waste, such as mercury, lithium, lead, and barium, leach even further into the earth after soil contamination, eventually reaching groundwater. These heavy metals eventually find their way into ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes after reaching groundwater. Even if they are miles distant from a recycling site, these channels cause acidification and toxification in the water, which is harmful to animals, plants, and communities. It becomes difficult to find safe drinking water. Acidification has the potential to kill marine and freshwater creatures, as well as disrupt biodiversity and destroy ecosystems. Such a level of toxicity produced is extremely harmful for human beings too!

A report by Mathrubhumi revealed that “Animal wastes and food wastes from meat shops and hotels are discretely dumped into the sea. Wastes brought in by vehicles are dumped in the uninhabited area near Poovar. Natives of coastal area also dump plastic waste and unusable electronic equipment into the sea. All drainages in these areas are channelled to the sea. The waste washed ashore brings strong odour, and attracts flies and worms.” Several tourists have complained online that excessive motorboats and ferries occupy a major portion of Poovar’swater bodies, that causes severe pollution. Though cleaning drives were launched in Poovar in 2017, the pollutions levels remain stagnant.

The Neyyar river that flows through Poovar is on the brink of its survival. The Indian Express had reported that the river is dotted with huge pits at several places due to sand mining. It would take years for the river to recover from this. And unlike most rivers, industrial pollution is  not the main cause here – most damage to the river has been caused due to the dumping of untreated sewage by local bodies.

More efforts have to be taken to restore Poovar’s exotic water bodies. Let’s work towards preserving Kerala’s beauty!

References:
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Water Quality during Festival in Kolkata, West Bengal

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

West Bengal and particularly Kolkata is renowned for the festival called ‘Durga Puja’ during  the period of Navaratri (Fig. 1). The city is decorated with colours, lights and joy for at least  10 days. From the beginning of the sixth day until the ninth day, the ‘pandals’ (the structure  where the Goddesses idol are kept) are open for the visitors. The Visarjan or (idol immersion  in water) occurs on the tenth day also known as Dashami (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. The grand, bright and colourful Durga Puja in Kolkata. Image Source:  https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/explore/story/69132/a-beginners-guide-to durga-puja-in-kolkata

Based on the Hindu Mythology, the collective energy of all Gods/Goddesses resulted in the  emergence of Goddess Durga as an embodiment of Shakti or divine feminine power, to  abolish the demon Mahishasura, who possessed the power of immortality against any man or  God.  

The ceremony of Visarjan is attended by enthusiastic devotees that gather in huge numbers to  carry the Goddess Durga to the ‘ghats’ (the banks of the Ganga where numerous religious  ceremonies are held) to be immersed in the River Ganga.  

The water quality was assessed by researchers, checking for three toxic heavy metals:  cadmium, lead and chromium in six major ghats along the Ganga stretch in Kolkata during  the pre-festival period and post-festival period.

Fig. 2. Idol immersion of Goddess Durga in Kolkata. Image Source:  
https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/explore/story/69132/a-beginners-guide-to durga-puja-in-kolkata

Location 

Six major zones for immersion were studied (Fig. 3). 

Selective heavy metals analysis

Fig. 3. Six major immersion zones during Durga Puja in Kolkata. Image Source: Zaman,  S., Gobato, R., Pramanick, P., Biswas, P., Chatterjee, U., Mitra, S., & Mitra, A. (2018).  Water quality of the River Ganga in and around the city of Kolkata during and after  Goddess Durga immersion. Parana Journal of Science and Education, 4(9), 1-7.

Results 

The concentration of lead, chromium and cadmium during the pre-festival period and post festival period was analysed (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. The concentration of heavy metals during pre-festival and post-festival period. A – Lead; B – Chromium; C- Cadmium. Image Source: Zaman, S., Gobato, R., Pramanick, P.,  Biswas, P., Chatterjee, U., Mitra, S., & Mitra, A. (2018). Water quality of the River  Ganga in and around the city of Kolkata during and after Goddess Durga  immersion. Parana Journal of Science and Education, 4(9), 1-7.

Discussion 

The immersion of idols has led to a considerable increase in the dissolved heavy metals  concentrations in all the six study sites (Table 1). 

Table 1. 

The tradition of idol immersion has been practised for years in India. Recent water pollution  surges have been a matter of concern for the citizens of Kolkata. Several steps can be taken to  mitigate the water pollution due to idol immersion: 

i. Traditional clay idols should be recommended instead of baked clay idols.

ii. Toxic chemicals and inorganic paints should be banned for painting idols.

iii. Materials used for worship like clothes, flowers, decorating materials like plastics  and papers should be disintegrated and collected for recycling or composting. 

The government can implement these measures to reduce the level of water contamination  and ensure a period of health and festive joy for the people of Kolkata.  

Reference 1. Zaman, S., Gobato, R., Pramanick, P., Biswas, P., Chatterjee, U., Mitra, S., & Mitra,  A. (2018). Water quality of the River Ganga in and around the city of Kolkata during  and after Goddess Durga immersion. Parana Journal of Science and Education, 4(9),  1-7.

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Xanthophyll – an underrated pigment

by Prithvi Saravanabawan

The exponential increase in deforestation rate in the past decade has resulted in the loss of many flora in India. Though many people are addressing the loss of various exotic trees and the extinction of various insects and animals, it is also integral to assess damage taken by the environment due to the loss of many natural pigments such as xanthophyll, carotenoid, anthocyanin, etc. caused by deforestation. At first, these pigments might seem insignificant but they, like everything, also play an important role in maintaining balance in the environment. Furthermore, people have constituted a paradigm that dictates that less known things are less important. Consequently, leading other people to think that pigments that are less known such as xanthophyll and carotenoid are of less significance. Hence this article aims at providing empirical evidence that the less known pigments hold equal ecological value as the well known pigments like chlorophyll.

Firstly, the Xanthophylls are a part of a plethora of oxygen-containing carotenoid pigments. Also, Xanthophyll encapsulates colours from the red, yellow and orange spectrum. In addition, these pigments are present and responsible for the colouration in a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Apart from this, these pigments are also responsible for the colouration in various other animal products like meat, egg yolk, feathers, shells, etc. Xanthophyll functions by absorbing the blue light to protect the plants and microorganisms from photodamage. Also, it helps the plants accumulate light energy intended for photosynthesis. Hence, the less known natural pigments play a vital yet subtle role in maintaining ecological balance 

Secondly, from a psychological perspective, the colours orange, yellow and red which are encapsulated in the xanthophyll pigment represents feeling of excitement, warmth and enthusiasm. Moreover, the colour orange is originally considered as an energetic colour. Furthermore, the color orange is used in several types of psychotherapy and art therapy to help alleviate psychological trauma. Furthermore, there is no refusing the fact that the orange in the xanthophyll pigment developed naturally is a gift for us from nature. Nevertheless, just because xanthophyll is less known it does not give equal ecological stature as ubiquitous pigments such as chlorophyll.

In conclusion, because of the inadequate awareness of the people, deforestation is escalating on a daily basis. Consequently, nature is stripped of exotic trees, animals and rare yet essential pigments. Also, the root cause of this problem is the existence of people with inadequate awareness about the ecosystem. Consequently, raising awareness is an obvious but the most effective way to solve this problem. In order to solve this crux in our hands we have to think not just about ourselves but as a species.

Reference:

Tripathi, Shibu. “India Lost 14% Tree Cover Amid Covid, Rainforest Destruction Up 12% In 2020”. Business-Standard.Com, 2021, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-lost-14-tree-cover-amid-covid-rainforest-destruction-up-12-in-2020-121040200371_1.html. Accessed 25 July 2021.

“Xanthophyll – An Overview | Sciencedirect Topics”. Sciencedirect.Com, 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/xanthophyll. Accessed 25 July 2021.

“How Does Orange Influence Your Moods?”. Verywell Mind, 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/the-color-psychology-of-orange-2795818. Accessed 25 July 2021.

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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.

Reference:
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The effect of invasive aquatic flora in Wular Lake

by Rohan Nath

Introduction

Invasive or alien species are notorious for disturbing ecosystems across the world. Invasive species are capable of having large ecological and financial impacts. This can affect the ecological services provided by the nature and also local economic systems which involve the practice of subsistence agriculture and harvest of biological resources.

Shackleton et al. (2007) suggested that the impact of invasive species depends on factors like the density and rate of spread of the invasive species, how the local economies incorporate them as beneficial elements as firewood or food, and the vulnerability of the local communities. Invasive species can hamper the environment affecting the livelihoods which in turn determines the vulnerability of the community. Dependency upon subsistence agriculture, lack of household savings and reliance upon products obtained from the ecosystems. Invasive species greatly alter the local ecosystems and human communities with little resilience to ecological changes.

Intensive studies have been performed on floating aquatic plants as an invasive species and their impact on human communities. In freshwater systems, other factors like altered flow regimes, increased nutrient levels and the extinction of top predators due to overharvesting can enhance the spread, growth and impacts of invasive species. The removal of invasive species can vastly improve the ecosystem.

Floating plant species like Azolla cristata and Alternanthera philoxeroides (alligator weed) have severely invaded Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir (Fig. 1, 2). Regardless of a long history of environmental changes, many of these problems can be solved at a reasonable price.

Fig. 1. The Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir infested with invasive species. Image Source: https://www.dailyexcelsior.com/the-dying-wular/
Fig. 2. Human settlements and willow (Salix spp.) plantations along the shoreline of Wular Lake. Image Source: Keller, R. P., Masoodi, A., & Shackleton, R. T. (2018). The impact of invasive aquatic plants on ecosystem services and human well-being in Wular Lake, India. Regional environmental change, 18(3), 847-857.

The Wular Lake ecosystem

Wular Lake is the largest freshwater lake in India with a maximum surface area of 61.7 km2 and an elevation of 1580 m in the Kashmir Valley. Jhelum River brings an inflow of water from the neighbouring Himalayan and Pir Panjal mountain ranges. The season determines the flow of water with the highest flow during late spring and early summer due to high rainfall and snowmelt.

Bandipora and Baramulla are two administrative districts that border the lake with an increase of population by 4 and 3.5 times, respectively. These districts have a low education level as well as high poverty rates. 11,000 households belonging to 31 villages along the shoreline are highly dependent upon fishing, extraction of water and aquatic plants from the lake. Nelumbo (Nelumbo nucifera) and water chestnut (Trapa natans) are mainly harvested and used as human food and wetland grasses like Nymphoides peltata, Phragmites sp. as fodder.

Changes in the ecosystem

The increase in human population affects the land-use changes across the Kashmir valley (Table 1). Anthropogenic activities include increased quarrying activity, decreased forest area as trees are cut for fuel and to make way for settlement and agriculture, and encroachment of willow plantations and agricultural fields into wetlands

Table 1.

Changes Effect
Erosion risk in the Kashmir valley 48.3%
Dense forest decrease 26% to 16%
Bare land area 5.1% to 8.9%
Agricultural area 12.3% to 15.8%
Horticulture area 1.6% to 5.9%

An increase in nutrient levels have been reported from the lake possibly due to increased  agricultural fertilizer use and decreased filtering by wetlands. The lake is now classified as  eutrophic due to an increase in the concentration of phosphorous and nitrogen. The seasonal  phosphorous concentrations in the lake increased between 1992 to 2011 from 0.0-103 µg/L to  102-297 µg/L. 

The emergence, growth and effect of two new floating aquatic plants as  invasive species 

The first report of Azolla cristata in Wular Lake was between 2002 and 2004 when it already  started spreading, outcompeting other aquatic plants, and hindering navigation. It has formed  a mat of 10 cm in thickness. The fishermen have to hire additional labour to help remove the mat from the water surface for proper navigation and casting of their nets. 

The first report of Alligator weed in Wular Lake was in 2008. The dense floating patches of  the plant hampers oxygen and light penetration and promote flooding and sedimentation. Six alligator weed patches have grown between 2008 to 2011 from an area of 41.3 m2 to 82  patches with an area of 831 m2. It is expected that 90% of the Wular Lake would be covered  with alligator weed by 2027.  

Interviews were conducted with the local population to gain an insight into the situation: 

i. An 80-year-old fisherman stated that “Life was better before the weeds were here,  there was more fish and people were happier. I now lament the current state of  affairs of this lake. We don’t get help from the government and we cannot manage  these weeds as we have to make a living and the returns are too low for hard  work.” 

ii. Another fisherman describes “In the last couple of years 600-700 fisherman have  migrated from these villages to Srinagar (the capital city) because weeds reduce  fishing, water quality, and increase water-borne disease. The lake has silted up and

fishing is worse, and there has also been a loss of water surface area and the  ability to harvest Trapa (water chestnuts) so some fishermen now harvest sand for  a living.” 

Method to control 

It is possible to control the spread of alligator weed which is still at an early stage of invasion  in Wular Lake. Both A. cristata and alligator weed can be manually controlled since patches  are easy to locate and the entire plant can be removed. 

The manual control of invasive species can have the following benefits: 

i. The provisioning of the ecosystem services would be safeguarded. ii. It would lead to the employment of the locals for removing the weeds, leading to  an economical gain for the population. 

iii. The other neighbouring ecosystems would be safe from the rapidly spreading  invasive species. 

iv. The establishment of invasive species removal program would allow the locals to  be ready for future threats.  

Conclusion 

There should be more intensive studies to understand the impacts of invasive species on  human well-being as well as ecological and economic impacts. 

Reference 

1. Keller, R. P., Masoodi, A., & Shackleton, R. T. (2018). The impact of invasive  aquatic plants on ecosystem services and human well-being in Wular Lake,  India. Regional environmental change, 18(3), 847-857.

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The Significance of the Color Green in Nature

by Prithvi Saravanabawan

The famous Spanish poet, playwright, and writer Pedro Calderon de la Barca said “ Green is the prime color of the world”. This encapsulates the love which we should hold in our hearts and our minds for nature, especially forests. But, with the advent of the 21st century, the color green has lost its natural stand in this world because of deforestation and encroachment. And, above its remains now stand the man-made towers of concrete and mortar. Although we might seem impervious to the penetrating fact that we don’t have anything to do with this current situation, we can’t escape the tenuous grip of reality in which people are the primary reason for this. So, this article aims to provide two reasons which might instigate people to open their eyes to the significance of the color green in the way nature intended it to be.

Firstly, viewing this from a scientific perspective, the color green holds a large portion of the visual spectrum. Furthermore, it enhances vision, stability, and endurance. Also, chlorophyll, the green pigment in leaves of trees and plants act as food repositories by converting and conflating the natural resources. Additionally, forests happen to be the largest food repositories. Nevertheless, they seem to be the aspect of the environment that takes the most ecological damage. Consequently, when forests are decimated, the animals and the insects which depend on the forests to an extensive magnitude lose their primary source of food. Thus, the color green in its natural state holds ecological and scientific significance of immense magnitude. 

Secondly, from a psychological perspective, experts associate the color green of plants with energy. Regardless of it being cleansing or soothing energy, there is no refuting the fact that it is an energy of positive circumstance. Furthermore, this color aids in alleviating major psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, etc. Also, speaking from an economical point of view, when a country or a nation of any size is in possession of a rich ecological background, it is often revered. Furthermore, it is placed in a “leveraging” position whereas other countries become dependent on it for various resources. Consequently, boosting the economic wealth and the social status of the country. Therefore, the possession of green forests and other resources has a wide plethora of advantages both psychologically and economically. 

In conclusion, there is empirical proof that green forests, meadows, gardens, and everything “green” which was given to us from nature not only have psychological and economical importance but also ecological and scientific significance. Nevertheless, wasting gifts that are given to us by the universe in an attempt to further our lifestyles and our civilization as a whole is gruesome yet a necessary notion. But, that does not mean that there is no hope for the future. If we start acting now with a goal to make our future better, we will succeed eventually.

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Lessons Learnt from the Uttarakhand Flash Floods

On 7th February 2021, an ordinary day just like any other in Uttarakhand, little did people know that their lives were going to change on that particular day. A sudden flood in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers caused widespread destruction in the mountainous areas.

More than 200 people were missing, and 60 bodies were recovered. The Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project of NTPC and the Rishi Ganga hydel project of the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project were both severely damaged, with scores of workers trapped in tunnels as the waters rushed in.  Scientists are debating the actual source of the flash floods that wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7. However, these incidents are likely to become more common in the near future, owed to the repercussions of human activity, such as the climate-problem, and recent developments like the construction of dams in the alpine terrain to generate energy.

But the impact of the floods is not limited to a region or a state – the calamity’s impact exceeds domestic borders. This rise in temperature in Uttarakhand is thought to have accelerated the melting of glaciers in the area. According to HT on February 8, scientists believe that glaciers in the Himalayas have been melting faster since the turn of the century. The Uttarakhand flash floods are not simply a “natural” disaster, but also a man-made tragedy to a large extent.

Many experts pointed out that the area of rampant neglect is the poor drainage system. At certain places, the local bodies have constructed small culverts when 1-2 meter spans are necessary. When drains are installed, they are frequently clogged with debris. The damage of the storm was compounded by infrastructure along the flood path, particularly hydropower projects. In fragile alpine areas, infrastructure development should be guided by a sustainability framework that includes environmental sustainability.

Infrastructure planning should take into account the likelihood of Uttarakhand-like events, according to Arun B. Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager for River Basins and Cryosphere at the intergovernmental International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), who was not involved in the review. According to him, the likelihood of such occurrences occurring in the future increases as the rate of climate change and socioeconomic changes continues to rise. Shrestha, who agreed with the review on in-situ measurements and monitoring, explained that a remote sensing-based study can provide a wide picture of the status of a glacier lake across a large area. This can be used to find lakes that are potentially dangerous (PD).

With innumerable lives lost, families bereaved, children orphaned, and massive destruction to the environment and property, the Chamoli floods have clearly shown us what our mistakes and negligence can cost us. None of us can be idle after this, we need to take responsibility for our actions and their impact on our environment.

Reference:
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Report on the freshwater algae of Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

The Meghalayan plateau region adjacent to the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot is known for  Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram. With the second-highest annual average rainfall of 11,820 to  11,872 mm, these regions are hosting a bountiful of perennial water bodies (Fig 1).

Fig. 1. Overview map of Mawsynram and Cherrapunji. Image Source: qGIS.

The algal diversity of these water bodies remains unexplored. Algae belonging to  Cyanophyta (Cyanoprokaryota/Cyanobacteria) have been reported on the moist soil surfaces  and rice fields of the region. Several other species of algae have been reported from these  locations: 

i. Two species of Lyngbya and one species each of Schizothrix, SpirulinaStigonema and Scytonema have been reported by Biswas (1934) from moist soils  of the Khasi and Jaintia hills of the location. 

ii. Oscillatoria variabilis C.B. Rao has been reported from the field soil surface.

iii. One species of Cylindrospermum and two species of Nostoc from the rice  cultivation fields and Stigonema dendroideum Frémy have been reported from the  moist soils of Cherrapunjee. 

iv. Oinam et al. (2010) and Devi et al. (2010) reported five cyanophytes, namely, Phormidium tenue (Menegh.) Gomont, Anabaena doliolum Bharadwaja,  Plectonema nostocorum Bornet ex Gomont, Oscillatoria laevittae Buell and  Calothrix marchica Lemmerm. from the soil surfaces of the area

Locations 

The small town of Cherrapunjee is located in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya at a  distance of 59 km from Shillong and an altitude of 1484 m above mean sea level. It is known  as the wettest place on earth since it receives an average annual rainfall of 11,820 mm along  with the neighbouring village Mawsynram with an average annual rainfall of 11,872 mm. 

Severe deforestation has led to the loss of subtropical forest canopy resulting in soil erosion  due to the heavy rainfall. Grasslands now dominate this area with large trees only present in  protected sacred forests. 

Algal samples were collected from five different fresh waterbodies study sites (Fig 2). 

a. Seven Sister waterfall in Cherrapunjee 

b. Stream in Mawsynram 

c. Fish pond in Cherrapunjee 

d. Nohkalikai waterfall in Cherrapunjee 

e. Mawsynram waterfall

Fig. 2. Five different fresh waterbodies. A. Nohkalikai waterfall, B. Seven Sister  waterfall, C and D. Stream near Mawsynram, E. Fish Pond in Cherrapunjee, F.  Mawsynram waterfall. Image source: Das, S. K., & Adhikary, S. P. (2012). Freshwater  algae of Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram, the wettest places on earth. Phykos, 44(2),

Conclusion 

Forty-eight algal taxa were reported in total from the five different freshwater bodies of  Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram belonging to Chlorophyta (26), Cyanophyta (6), Euglenophyta  (1) and class Bacillariophyceae under Heterokontophyta (15) (Table 1). Most of these algae  occur as planktonic or inside the water as epilithic of the submerged stones.

Table 1.

Phylum Species Characteristics
CyanobacteriaPhormidium chlorinum No sheath, filaments solitary, cells almost  isodiametric and trichomes straight. 
Oscillatoria jenensis Trichomes without sheath, thallus dark  bluish-green, filament not constricted and  trichomes shortly attenuated at the ends.
Oscillatoria limosa  Filamentous, thallus bluish-green,  unsheathed, unbranched.
Scytonema ocellatum  Short false branches present and thallus  blackish to blackish-green in colour.
Calothrix marchica  The sheath is very thin, almost invisible and filaments yellowish in colour.
Stigonema minutum  Yellowish-brown in colour, filaments with  2 – 3 rows of cells and sheath thick.
ChlorophytaSpirogyra sp. Chloroplasts spirally arranged and  filaments are straight.
Cylindrocystis  subpyramidataCell apices sub pyramidal with rounded  ends and cells cylindrical.
Closterium calosporum Cells gradually attenuated to subacute  apices and cells small.
Closterium kuetzingii Cell median part fusiform, single and  attenuated towards each extremity into  long processes.
Closterium libellula Cells much longer than broad, single,  large and gradually attenuated from the  middle towards the apices.
Closterium navicula Cells are straight, solitary and gradually  narrowed towards both ends.
Euastrum ansatum Cells are deeply constricted, small and  sinus narrowly linear with dilated  extremity.
Euastrum dubium Cell green, solitary, basal angles broadly  rounded, upper and lower lateral margins  equally rounded.
Cosmarium awadhense Cells slightly longer than broad, small and  sinus narrowly linear towards the apex and  slightly open outwards.
Cosmarium decoratum Cells deeply constricted, slightly longer  than broad, semi cells semi-elliptic and  sinus narrowly linear.
EuglenophytaPhacus pleuronectes Cells posteriorly a stout caudus which is  obliquely turned to the right anterior end and ovoid to suborbicular in outline.
Aulacoseira granulata Frustules attached continuously to form  chain-like structures and cylindrical  structures.
Cyclotella meneghiniana Frustules rectangular and undulated in  girdle view and discoid in valve view.
Synedra cyclopum Frustules slightly bent, linear, the apical  area is attenuated to an obtuse end and the  middle portion is slightly wide.
Navicula tripunctata Frustules slightly constricted to form  rostrate apices and are elliptical – lanceolate in shape.

The low algal diversity can be attributed to the temperature at the study site which was  congenial with a range of 20 to 25°C and the pH which was acidic from 5.5 to 6.5. The  surrounding water bodies showed excessive algal growth due to the loading of anthropogenic  wastes. The habitat wise distribution pattern of algal diversity is as follows: waterfall> streams> ponds.  

Reference 1. Das, S. K., & Adhikary, S. P. (2012). Freshwater algae of Cherrapunjee and  Mawsynram, the wettest places on earth. Phykos, 44(2), 29-43.