Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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? 

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

A Swamp that saves Lives— The Magic of Pichavaram

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1_bnknwdkumc-nwzmfpkrbiw.jpeg

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!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1_fqauie859_56a4g1twrp8g.jpeg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1_dxvzd7d4ngpkwuq1c3kaya.jpeg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1_hi-ref_ibdjwsnh_v341ca.jpeg

Photo credits: All images were taken by the author

Featured

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.

Featured

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

Featured

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!

Featured

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.

Image Source
Image Source
Image Source

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.

Featured

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:
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Source 4
Source 5
Source 6

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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:
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Source 4

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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:
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Source 4
Source 5

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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:
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Source 4

Featured

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.

Featured

Community Conservation

by Rahul Jayaraman

The very idea behind conserving something that is in danger, is because it has some value. But unless all of us understand that it is valuable and must be protected, conservation is a failed act. Hence, to derive maximum benefit and succeed in this act, it must be shared by those who are affected by it the most, thus involving local communities. 

What is Community Conservation?

Conservation is an activity that requires incentive, commitment, and capital. This has ensured that a significant number of people do not take the first step, and its often highly motivated non-profits, conservation groups and other communities that take up conservation practices. However, many times these groups do not tend to be from the region that they hope to work in, they often speak different languages, have different customs, and most importantly, different views about conservation itself. Community conservation is simply the act that bridges this divide between two sets of people, and the act that will sustain any conservation attempt in the long run.

Understanding affected communities

To understand this issue in a very simple way, we can have two sets of communities. Ones that support conservation practices like protecting a certain animal in that region and the communities against it. Either way, the next plan of action would be to involve them in your activities, but that begs the question, how are you going to convince people who don’t want you there. It is of prime importance that communities against conservation practices are the communities that everyone should focus on. It is really easy to succeed in an operation without challenges and ensure good results, but the conservation attempts that overlap with polarised communities are the ones that often fail miserably. Why? Simply because these operations either don’t effectively convince the locals that it is important to make those sacrifices, or this operation directly goes against what these locals desire. This could be something like man-animal conflict that is clearly on the rise. Hence, the first step would be to clearly raise awareness to these locals, try to make them understand why this would be in their benefit in the long run, and most importantly, convince them that this conservation attempt is here to stay, and should not be undone once it has been set up. All of this looks very simple on paper, but how should we execute it?

The Execution

In this stage, we will have to use the powerful tools that we clearly have control over, I have listed down a few:

1. Documentation and media – Use of visual content often helps us better persuade others to our ideas and thoughts that we cannot communicate by ourselves directly, and this forms the basis of the work done by conservation photographers, documentaries etc.

2. Mutual Benefits – A very common issue would be when farmers convert wetlands into cultivable land, and this destroys the habitats of Sarus Cranes and many other birds. The presence of these birds have often destroyed the rice produce that the farmers work for, however in many parts of north India, farmers continue to have them nearby and protect them, not because of their love for these birds but because having crane nests in the area would mean that their nocturnal alarm calls keeps intruders away and that is a big benefit to the farmers.

So such symbiotic relationships can be used to convince the locals to agree.

Importance of local participation 

Regardless, local participation is of immense importance because of the sheer amount of knowledge they can provide on the issue given that their livelihoods and occupation surround the region. This could either be information regarding the operation or even direct participation that we see happen in various animal reserves where the locals aid professionals in setting up, say, camera trap mechanisms to study and document endangered species and actively involve themselves in these efforts. This is information and aid that no money and capital can buy.

Build up of local participation also means that it is an accumulation of political capital towards the issue, meaning people can leverage this issue to get say protection status for a land or a river, ask for a compromise in man-animal conflict etc.

The heart of this issue lies in convincing more people that these issues are worth fighting for, just like how villagers in Paddapukur, West Bengal transformed from villagers who killed Fishing Cats in the region, (an endangered species and the state animal) to the animal’s protectors once conservation groups contacted them and persuaded them for the better.

References:

Media from https://sustain.round.glass/tag/community-based-conservation/
and other sources.

Featured

Need and cruelty

by Prithvi Saravanabawan

In recent times, India has been under tight scrutiny both as a country and as a democracy. Though I firmly believe that India has made herculean strides in many sectors, it still remains primitive in a few. For one thing, the Indian government has been focusing its attention on making India a haven for the people living here. But, people are not the only creatures that call India their home. In fact, we live in harmony with a wide array of flora and fauna. However, some people think that everything around them is theirs for the taking. Consequently, this hubris makes people feel empowered and entitled to think that they can tamper with nature without worrying about the ramifications of their actions. A classic yet grotesque example of this notion is animal cruelty. 

Firstly, the most notable thing about animal cruelty is that it is not a separate entity. In other words, it is a sort of a mixture of several violations against nature. Subsequently, when we ponder as to what qualifies as animal cruelty, many of us will be quick to settle on domestic brutality against animals. Contrary to popular beliefs, animal cruelty encapsulates a wide plethora of behaviors ranging from neglect to encroachment of their natural habitat. For example, while many consider malicious killing to be the epitome of animal cruelty it is not so different from human encroachment of their natural habitat. Also, the sole difference between these two has is only the  magnitude at which they were done. Nevertheless, a reprehensible act is a reprehensible act regardless of its magnitude or parameter. Ultimately, there is no refuting the fact that human need plays a huge part in this charade.

Secondly, viewing this archetype from a psychological standpoint, the human need for further improving their species and their environment is a subtle yet imminent factor. In particular, with the advent of the twenty-first century, the rate at which the human population is rising is almost exponential. In light of this fact, the growing population also demands more resources and space. Thus, even if we don’t have the desire to expand we are driven into a situation that incentivizes us to evolve. Even if it means we destroy forests and lakes. Nevertheless, this situation is not necessarily against nature because the drive to acquire the resources needed to ascertain survival is a basic instinct every species possesses. 

In conclusion, a problem like this where the very root of the problem confuses us is certainly difficult to navigate out of. However, It is also an unwavering fact that any crux can be solved with cooperation and optimism. Though this dichotomous problem stirs our minds, there is always hope for a new tomorrow.

Featured

Review of groundwater arsenic of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC)

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

Arsenic contamination of groundwater has been a daunting threat for the public in different regions of the world for the past few decades. More than 200 million populations in 105  countries are exposed to arsenic contamination. Plains of Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra  (GMB) in India and Bangladesh are heavily polluted with arsenic. More than 100 million  inhabitants in the GMB plain are at risk from groundwater arsenic contamination.  

The groundwater arsenic contamination has a long history in India, and specifically West  Bengal (Table 1). 

Table 1.

Year Incident
1976 Arsenic contamination and its hazardous effect on human life were first reported  from Chandigarh in North India.
1984 The next arsenic contamination problem was observed in the plains of the Lower  Ganges in West Bengal.
1988 The School of Environmental Studies (SOES) began analysing the arsenic pollution  in the groundwater of West Bengal. 
1995 An international arsenic conference was held in Kolkata for 5 days with the help of  SOES.
2002 The groundwater arsenic contamination was reported in West Bengal and several  discussions were held regarding the attitude of the government and other  organizations towards this critical problem.
2009 The condition of groundwater arsenic contamination from 1988 to 2009 in West  Bengal was reported which also had an additional report on Kolkata city itself. i. 19 districts of West Bengal were analysed for 140,150 hand tube wells.  ii. The groundwater arsenic concentration exceeded the World Health  Organization (WHO) guideline value (10 µg/l) in 13 districts. iii. Arsenical skin symptoms are observed in 9 districts that had  groundwater arsenic concentration above 300 µg/l. iv. The percentage of hand tube-wells that had arsenic concentrations above  the WHO guideline value is 48.1%. v. Nine districts had tube-wells with an arsenic concentration above 300  µg/l: a. Bardhaman b. Hooghly c. Howrah d. Kolkata e. Malda f. Murshidabad g. Nadia h. North 24 Parganas i. South 24 Paraganas

Study area 

Three municipal corporations (KMC, Howrah and Chandhannagore) are situated in the  Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA). The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is the major  Municipal Corporation in West Bengal covering an area of 185 km2 with a population of  4,496,694 and forms the financial and economical focal point of eastern India.

Fig. 1. An arsenic contaminated tube-well (60 µg/l) quenches the thirst of a child inside  Kalighat Kali Temple. Image Source: Chakraborti, D., Das, B., Rahman, M. M., Nayak,  B., Pal, A., Sengupta, M. K., … & Dutta, R. N. (2017). Arsenic in groundwater of the  Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), India: Critical review and modes of  mitigation. Chemosphere, 180, 437-447.

Kolkata lies 3.5-6 m above mean sea level in the lower deltaic plains of the Ganga-Bhagirathi  River system. Deltaic plain, younger levee, paleochannels and inter-distributary marsh constitute the typical geomorphological characteristics. Younger alluvial soil with silt and  clayey loams form the dominant soil type.  

141 wards of the KMC were investigated for groundwater samples between 1993 and 2015.  Acid pre-washed 10 ml polythene bottles were used to collect the water samples without  filtration. A preservative such as dilute nitric acid-water (7M) was used in the sample.  

During the groundwater samples collection, nail, hair and, urine samples were collected from  populations of KMC. The hair and nail samples were secured in zip lock bags whereas the  urine samples were refrigerated in an icebox and all of these samples were sent to the lab for  analysis. Inorganic arsenic and its metabolites were measured in the urine samples. Total  arsenic concentration was analysed in the hair and nail samples. 

Results 

The concentration of arsenic in the groundwater of KMC 

The arsenic contamination status in all 141 wards of KMC was studied (Fig 2).

Fig. 2. Arsenic contamination in Kolkata. Image Source: Chakraborti, D., Das, B.,  Rahman, M. M., Nayak, B., Pal, A., Sengupta, M. K., … & Dutta, R. N. (2017). Arsenic in  groundwater of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), India: Critical review and  modes of mitigation. Chemosphere, 180, 437-447.

The southern part of Kolkata Municipal Corporation had a higher concentration of arsenic  contamination compared to other parts of the city.  

Biological samples arsenic content 

All of the collected samples have hair and nail arsenic greater than that population who were  unexposed to arsenic-contaminated groundwater. 71.4% of the urine samples have arsenic  content above 100 µg/l. 

Conclusion 

The hazard of arsenic concentration is in the order – Murshidabad > North 24 Parganas >  Nadia > KMA > South KMC > the KMC. The low contamination of KMC might be due to a  greater average depth of the hand tube wells than other parts of West Bengal.  

Until a full-fledged surface water scheme is implemented, groundwater cannot be a  sustainable source for drinking water in the KMC due to quantity and quality issues. The  activity mapping of groundwater for each ward should be prepared. GIS method must be used  for identifying the bore wells and continuous monitoring. Installation of new tube wells in the  arsenic-contaminated area should be banned.  

The Hooghly River can provide an ample amount of surface water and proper infrastructure  must be constructed to make this sector financially and technologically sustainable. Pressure  monitoring systems and domestic meters need to be installed at the consumer level.  

The average annual rainfall in the KMC area is 1821 mm with annual net rainwater  availability of 247 Mm3. Roof-water harvesting method should be implemented to collect this  huge rainfall. The government of West Bengal built a rooftop harvesting system for building  greater than 60,000 sq. ft. or more than 100 flats which seem to be inadequate for such a huge  population. 

Reference 

1. Chakraborti, D., Das, B., Rahman, M. M., Nayak, B., Pal, A., Sengupta, M. K., … &  Dutta, R. N. (2017). Arsenic in groundwater of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation  (KMC), India: Critical review and modes of mitigation. Chemosphere, 180, 437-447.

Featured

Axing Kerala’s mangroves

While the pandemic has brought enumerable activities to an abrupt standstill, deforestation of Kerala’s mangroves is not one of them.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that thrive on saltwater coasts and can withstand the ebb and flow of the tide. Supporting a luxuriant biodiversity, these vital components of the ecosystem are havens to threatened terrestrial and aquatic organisms and are a significant source of fodder and medicines, among other things.

Despite the many advantages offered by them, the mangroves of the Kannur district of Kerala are treated miserably. With deforestation belittling their importance and shrinking their numbers, humans are taking another step into murky waters.

45% of Kerala’s total mangrove forest cover is bountifully concentrated in the Kannur district of Kerala. However, 90% of these forests are privately owned and face the risk of getting wiped off. Paddy cultivation and shrimp farming are inducing individuals to axe privately-owned mangroves, threaten the lives of countless lifeforms and destabilise various waterbodies. Even the fact that the mangroves are protected by law cannot deter their inevitable fate with the reins being in our hands.

Over seventy-thousand hectares of mangrove forests have been reduced to a mere 1750 hectares through the annals of Kerala’s history. Replacing mangrove forests with coconut plantations or other agricultural land, real estate development, increasing populations, etc. – all these have drastically reduced the blanket of mangroves that once shrouded the southern state.

Recognizing the significance of mangroves, awareness campaigns have been launched and the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos) has proposed the establishment of an international centre on mangrove research. More of these highly appreciable measures are the need of the hour to protect the last standing mangroves of Kerala from ruin.

Featured

Risk of glacial lake outburst flood in Himachal Pradesh: current and future threats

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

Climate change is adversely affecting the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). The  disappearance of mountain glaciers and the expansion of large glacial lakes are physical  evidence of the dynamic impacts of climate changes in the environment. In addition to the  decrease instability of the ice walls and the surrounding rock, the threat from glacial lake outburst floods is increasing over the years. This is further worsened with tourism,  residential, and hydropower structure expanding into the mountain regions. Therefore,  strategies to diminish the glacial lake outburst flood risk is an urgent requirement.  

Glacial lake outburst flood is the sudden discharge of a water reservoir situated underneath,  in front, underneath, within, on the surface or at the side of a glacier, and related dam structures can be composed of moraine, ice, or bedrock. The catastrophic failure of moraine dammed lakes often leads to flooding hazard. Large impacts of ice or rock in the Himalayas  contribute to over 50% of moraine dam failures.  

The triggering potential of glacial lake outburst flood have been integrally modelled and  studies are being conducted on quantification of affected land areas, resulting flood paths,  and the investigation of the vulnerability of the society due to climate-related disasters and  also implement an assessment of glacial lake outburst flood risk across Himachal Pradesh  (Fig 1). 

Fig. 1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concept of climate-related risk. Image Source: Allen, S. K., Linsbauer, A., Randhawa, S. S., Huggel, C., Rana, P., &  Kumari, A. (2016). Glacial lake outburst flood risk in Himachal Pradesh, India: an  integrative and anticipatory approach considering current and future threats. Natural  Hazards, 84(3), 1741-1763.

The area of study 

The study is conducted in the north-western Indian Himalaya in Himachal Pradesh (Table 1). 

Characteristics
State Himachal Pradesh
Population 6 million
Land area 55,000 km2
Elevation range 450 to 7000 m above sea level
Climate variation Lower hills – Tropical Middle Himalayan region – Temperate Upper hills – Cold and dry 

Agriculture, hydropower sectors and tourism primarily contribute to the economic growth  and employment in the state. There are four hydrological basins in the glaciated area, and all  of them flow into the Indus River (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2. The distribution of glacial lake in Himachal Pradesh which comprises of glaciated  land area and four main hydrological basins. Image Source: Allen, S. K., Linsbauer, A.,  Randhawa, S. S., Huggel, C., Rana, P., & Kumari, A. (2016). Glacial lake outburst flood  risk in Himachal Pradesh, India: an integrative and anticipatory approach considering  current and future threats. Natural Hazards, 84(3), 1741-1763.

Risk Assessment and Factors 

The mass movements of rock or ice are important factors for assessing the changing potential  for glacial lake outburst flood. Parameters such as current glacial lake outburst flood hazard  and dam stability which include dam geometry and freeboard height, growth of the lake and  associated glacier retreat, the steepness of the lakefront area, permafrost conditions and the  vegetation coverage in the dam area are important for assessing the risk associated with  moraine-dammed lakes. Extreme hydrometeorological conditions can cause catastrophic  glacial lake outburst flood has been well exhibited in the 2013 Kedarnath flood disaster. For  ongoing research, the priority should be to constrain the temporal evolution of future lake  development.  

Two levels of information that can form a firm scientific basis for adaptation planning are: 

1. Areas, where communities are most exposed and vulnerable to glacier lake outburst  flood, is identified with the help of a standardized risk index. 

R = H.V.E 

where,  

R = Integrated assessment of glacial lake outburst flood risk 

H = Physical hazard 

V = Vulnerability  

E = Exposed People 

2. The early anticipation of where new threats is likely to occur over the next few  decades is assessed using classified hazard maps which focuses only on the physical  threat.  

The fluvial terraces and floodplain areas can be a prime site for assessment of loss and  damage from glacial lake outburst flood. Vital transportation links and significant agricultural  activities concentrated livelihoods and communities face high risk when the glacial lake  outburst flood paths converge with main river valleys. The potential frequency of glacial lake  outburst flood is likely to increase due to the formation of new lakes because the chances of  rock avalanches or falling ice entering into a lake increases leading to a catastrophic  overtopping wave.  

It is possible to form an improved basis for adaptation planning using the characterization of  glacial lake outburst flood exposure where mapped land cover data is available.  

Three situations are identified for opportunities for implementation of adaptation strategies: 

1. Sites currently threatened by glacial lake outburst floods but no new threats are  expected.  

2. Sites where new threats are expected. 

3. Sites that are currently threatened and new threats are expected to emerge.

Conclusion 

The climate risk perspective may be adopted to highlight the interacting social and physical  determinants that can cause glacial lake outburst flood events. The disaster can travel long  distances, throughout the district, states, as well as national boundaries. Hence, a proper  method to identify the risk and predict future challenges is required for the Himalayan region.  Few steps can be taken such as increased community awareness and preparedness, early  warning systems, and sustainable land use planning to overcome the future challenges  regarding glacial lake outburst floods.  

Reference 

1. Allen, S. K., Linsbauer, A., Randhawa, S. S., Huggel, C., Rana, P., & Kumari, A.  (2016). Glacial lake outburst flood risk in Himachal Pradesh, India: an integrative and  anticipatory approach considering current and future threats. Natural Hazards, 84(3),  1741-1763.

Featured

Mangroves in India

by Rahul J

With a coverage of almost 5000km², India is home to one of the most important ecosystems available – Mangroves. Present in tropical and subtropical areas, these are tree covers that grow along the coastlines in saline and brackish water. India is home to a significant number of them with their own unique characteristics and biodiversity.

Why are Mangroves Important? 

Being the margin between the land and the sea in these areas, mangroves are considered to be really crucial bio-resources to these coasts, providing tremendous amounts of ecological value such as regulating water quality, shoreline stability, and serving as a physical protection against storms and cyclones. So by taking this role of being in the frontlines, they protect vulnerable coastal communities from sea-level rise caused by climate change and other weather events. Similar to rainforests, they trap a lot of carbon energy and play a vital role against climate change. 

A Look at the Indian Mangrove Landscape

The first and the biggest example would be the Sundarbans mangrove region, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and house a Ramsar Wetland within. This forest is the home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, 180 species of trees, the Gangetic Dolphin and so much more. However, a huge chunk of this region has been converted to intensive agricultural lands and has been subject to intense human use – a common challenge that mangroves face, at least in India. 

Figure 2 – (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans_National_Park#/media/File:Sundarban_Tiger.jpg)

The second biggest Mangrove along the same Eastern Coastline would be the Godavari Mangrove Forest, covering an estimated 332km².Despite being the area’s biggest protection against natural calamities, and trapping carbon – these mangroves are being cut back in exchange for firewood and coastal development and for a commercial aquaculture. Inland pollution, sewage and plastic waste is also a threat to this mangrove. Similar to the Sundarbans, this forest also houses an endangered feline – being the Fishing Cat which is seriously threatened by wetland destruction and human-animal conflict, and is possibly extinct in Kerala.

Challenges Faced By Mangrove Regions

Despite being a very resilient ecological region and showing extreme adaptational skills, mangroves are being burdened by many issues. The biggest of them being sea-level rise which directly affects the temperature and growth of these regions. E.g., Sea level rise is said to be the biggest factor in mangrove area loss in the Sundarbans, which has already lost 2km² of mangrove cover between 2017-19.

The second challenge faced, would be human interference for firewood, coal and other natural resources, which has a sharp detrimental impact on the wildlife of these regions as shown above.

Conservation and Conclusion

The successes that India has seen from attempts at Mangrove restoration should largely be attributed to the efforts of local communities, NGOs, and the local governments. A very good example would be the creation of a village level Forest Conservation Council responsible for the planting of 6000 saplings in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. The objective of any mangrove restoration project should be in the balanced use of coastal areas such as limits on harvesting and logging activities and holding a proper record of human involvement in these areas – both for human and ecological benefit.

Figure 4 – (Krishna Delta – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godavari%E2%80%93Krishna_mangroves#/media/File:Mangroves_W_IMG_6896.jpg)

References :

  1. Facts relating to Climate Change, mangrove importance and ecological issues:

https://maritimeindia.org/climate-change-impact-on-mangrove-ecosystems-in-indias-coastal-regions/#_ftn5

Featured

Mining in Odisha – A Necessary Evil

Orissa’s lungs are gradually shrinking as extensive mining continues in different parts of the state. A report published in June 2021 revealed that nearly 57000 hectares of forest land was diverted in Orissa for non-forestry purposes, and 18,500,000 trees were cut down between 2010 and 2020.

Mining involves extracting of useful materials from the earth through primarily two processes – underground mining and surface mining. If done properly and safely while keeping the environmental impact in mind, mining can irrefutably help to boost a region’s economy.

Orissa’s mines have a direct impact on India’s economy and global trade. Steel output in India is expected to increase by a huge amount before 2031, contributing roughly 2.1 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and it is expected to exceed three percent in the next decade, thanks to Orissa mines. Other minerals from Orissa’s mines, aside from iron and steel, have the potential to completely reshape India’s economy.

But the other side of the coin cannot be neglected. Mining destroys the surrounding landscape, forestry, and pollutes rivers and lakes.

It also leads to a type of pollution known as ‘acid mine drainage’, which occurs when the sulphides formed due to mining dissolve in rainwater to produce acids, that drastically affects the aquatic plants and animals. Along with acid mine drainage, the disposal of mine waste can also cause severe water pollution from toxic metals. The toxic metals commonly found in mine waste, such as arsenic and mercury, are harmful to the health of people and wildlife if they are released into nearby streams. Excessive mining results in sinkholes, erosion, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of groundwater, streams, lakes, etc. Mining in Orissa has significantly affected the health of hundreds of people with a surge in air pollution levels.

The Times of India had published a report stating that the “state government had earned a record revenue of more than 13,200 crore during the 2020-21 financial year, largely owed to the mining revenue. When the lockdown was implemented, the government had also named mining as one of the critical services, recognizing the sector’s importance.

Thus, in a place where mining holds immense significance, responsible mining is the only viable solution. Adhering to environmental norms could save the remaining, precious biodiversity of Orissa.

Reference:
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Source 4
Source 5

Featured

The plight of Ganga

India’s longest river – the Ganges – has been a reluctant name in the list of the world’s most polluted rivers. Originating from the western Himalayas, this astounding work of nature gushes downward, turns right, and begins its eastbound journey for the Bay of Bengal. Several tributaries like the Yamuna, the Gandak and the Ghaghara join the Ganga in its 2500-kilometer journey across northern India.

Image Source

Imagine a river with water as clear as water can be; with flourishing biodiversity and pollution a forgotten phenomenon. Sadly, the Ganga River is a painful contrast of this picture.

As noted by Mr. Y. Sharma in his case study published on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council and the World Health Organization, the Ganga’s river basin spanning over 1 million square kilometers is home to 37 percent of India’s population. Significant for activities such as navigation, transportation and irrigation, the National River is a boon that we have misused.

Besides 37% of India’s population, several wildlife species (including India’s national aquatic animal, the Ganges River Dolphin) identify the Ganga River as their home. But with their home being destroyed precariously, survival has become a threatening challenge.

On a daily basis, nearly 3 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources is dumped directly into the river. Among other things, the river has become a carrier of animal carcasses, human corpses and religious waste. Furthermore, the discharge of industrial effluents from tanneries in Kanpur or sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga and Kali river catchments into the Ganges has polluted it severely. The runoff of fertilizers and other chemicals into the river, defecation along its banks and large-scale bathing in the river have all contaminated the river. Massive deforestation along the banks of the river has also contributed to alarming decrease in rainfall.

Image Source

The irony is that our actions are harming us. With the quality of Ganga’s water being deteriorated adversely, a grave threat has been inflicted over human health with increased chances of contracting diseases like cholera, hepatitis or even diarrhea. In fact, the Ganges’ pollution kills more people than bomb blasts.

Make no mistake, however. The list of the victims of Ganga’s pollution includes thousands of animals too. Take the Ganga River Dolphin, India’s National Aquatic Animal, for instance. A collapsing species, these dolphins are one of the few freshwater dolphins in the world. And our activities are thrusting the already endangered species towards the brink of extinction.

The Ganges River Dolphin (Image Source)
Thousands of dead fish turn up on the banks of the Ganga (Image Source)

Numerous measures have been undertaken to right wrongs, but the Ganga River has not been restored to what it used to be earlier. The fact is that if we are responsible for pushing the Ganges to its miserable status quo, we can also be responsible for reversing this situation. There is always a sliver of hope for restoring the Ganges which the Environmentalist Foundation of India seeks to foster.

Featured

Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River in Assam: Origin and alteration in geomorphological features

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

The mighty Brahmaputra River in Assam is home to the largest river island of the world,  Majuli Island which spans an area of 1255 km2(Fig 1, 2). The island is a subdivision of the  Jorhat district of Assam and is inhabited by around 153,000 people. “Vaisnavite” shrines,  popularly known as “Sattras” is present on this island which led it to become a principal  pilgrimage site for the last 400 years. However, flooding and severe bank erosion harm the  island at this current time. 

Fig. 1. Location of Majuli Island. (1917).  

Image Source: Sarma, J. N., & Phukan, M. K. (2004). Origin and some geomorphological  changes of Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River in Assam,  India. Geomorphology, 60(1-2), 1-19.

Three important rivers bound the island, namely, the Subansiri River, Kherkutia Suti in the  north, and the Brahmaputra River in the south.  

The Majuli island is characterized by a spindle shape lying in NE-SW direction with an  altitude of 85.9m above sea level. Numerous lowlands and swamps of various shapes and  sizes occupy the plain topography with low relief. Few big rivers and several small streams  flow through the island. Alluvial fine loamy soils dominate the Majuli. The subtropical  monsoon climate brings an annual rainfall between 1494 to 2552 mm.

Fig. 2. Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River. 

Image Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/travel/destinations/majulithe-worlds largest-river-island-might-just-disappear-in-the-future/as64012861.cms

There is a high mean annual flow and suspended sediment load of the Brahmaputra and  Subansiri (Table 1). 

Table 1. The mean annual flow and suspended sediment load of the Brahmaputra and  Subansiri. 

Year River Mean Annual Flow Annual Suspended Sediment Load
1975-1990 Brahmaputra 8829.5 m3/s 402 million metric tons during 1955- 1979
1956-1982 Subansiri 1671 m3/s 35.48 million tons annually

The mighty Brahmaputra leads to s severe bank erosion, which threatens the existence of  Majuli. 

The origin of Majuli 

According to historical surveys and reports, Majuli stretched between a location named  Banfang or Lakhu in the west and Bengmora in the east. In ancient histories of Assam, it had  been referred to as ‘Majali’ or a piece of land located in between two adjacent and parallel  rivers because the land was situated between the Luhit (Brahmaputra) in the north and its  tributary, the Dihing (Burhi Dihing) in the south.

The Brahmaputra River (formerly known as the Luhit or Luit) flowed to the north of the land  area of Majuli. The Dihing (one of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra) flowed south of Majuli  and met the Brahmaputra at Lakhu (Fig. 3). The land area of Majuli was converted into an  island when the Brahmaputra shifted its course southward and united with the Dihing near the  confluence point at Dihingmukh which is located around 190 km east of Lakhu, the former  confluence point. The southward shift of the Brahmaputra is believed to occur between 1661- 1696 due to a series of frequent floods and earthquakes.  

Fig. 3. The flow course of the Brahmaputra and the Dihing rivers before the  formation of Majuli. Image Source: Sarma, J. N., & Phukan, M. K. (2004). Origin and  some geomorphological changes of Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River in Assam,  India. Geomorphology, 60(1-2), 1-19.

Following the formation of the Majuli island, the Brahmaputra was divided into two separate  branches. 

i. Luhit Suti or Kherkutia Suti – Brahmaputra (Luhit) flow to the north of Majuli. ii. Burhi Suti – The flow of Brahmaputra was directed to the south of Majuli through  the channel of the Dihing tributary. 

There was a natural event of channel shift when the major flow of the Brahmaputra was  diverted from the Kherkutia Suti into the Dihing leading to the enlargement of the channel (Fig. 4). 

Fig. 4. The flow course of the Brahmaputra and the Dihing rivers during the  formation of Majuli. Image Source: Sarma, J. N., & Phukan, M. K. (2004). Origin and  some geomorphological changes of Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River in Assam,  India. Geomorphology, 60(1-2), 1-19.

Current scenario 

Currently, the Brahmaputra River resulted in an erosion in the southern boundary of the  Majuli island with a faster erosion in the southwestern part of the island. There has been a  noticeable increase in erosion during 1917-2001. The channel of Brahmaputra has widened  due to the erosion of both of its banks. The great Assam earthquake of 1950, further leads to  landslides in the eastern Himalayas which resulted in an increased flow of sediments into the  river. The high amount of sediment descended the plains, choked the channel of the river  which caused channel widening due to bank erosion. It has been reported that the width of the  Brahmaputra channel has increased up to 300% since 1917.  

The thick sand layer beneath the topsoil is undermined by the water which caused an increase  in erosion. The erosion is slower in locations where there is a presence of cohesive silty-clay  beds at the base of the banks.  

The Government of Assam is actively involved in assessing damage to agricultural land due  to sand deposition, the loss of property and life due to floods, and land area depletion due to  erosion, leading to the displacement of settlements and families from their location.  Therefore, it is an urgent need for the government to look upon it due to socioeconomic  issues associated with it. 

Reference 

1. Sarma, J. N., & Phukan, M. K. (2004). Origin and some geomorphological changes of  Majuli Island of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, India. Geomorphology, 60(1-2), 1- 19. 

Featured

Dying a Slow Death – Lakes of Tamil Nadu

Lakes form an important part of an ecosystem. They help sustain the aqua-life as well as their surrounding habitat, and provide us with water for both domestic and industrial purposes. Lakes also help in regulating the flow of rivers.

In Tamil Nadu, lakes are one of the most important pillars required for agriculture and irrigation. They supply most of the water for the growth of common crops. But our underestimation of the vitality of these rich water resources has led to a dreadful result – a revelation made by a news article published in February 2021 informed the public of the disappearance of thousand lakes and tanks in the last five decades. This is just an estimate. There may be a plethora of reasons behind this, though one major and often unheeded one is the excessive irrigational pressure put on Tamil Nadu’s lakes.

Farmers tend to use surplus water for cultivation than the standard requirements. In addition to these, they heavily depend on pesticides and insecticides to maximize production and increase their profits each agricultural year. The chemicals used either seep into the soil and contaminate the groundwater reserves, or flow down into the lakes, causing water pollution.

The Pulicat lake, situated about 50 kilometers north of Chennai, is gradually choking to extinction, as water-intensive cultivation and industrial expansion continue to push the lake to the brink of its existence. Extensive irrigation also makes room for silting, that drastically supplements the danger faced by the aquatic life.

An article published a few years ago had reported that the silting process diminishes the depth of the lake. Many fish species that survive in the water body usually prefer deeper waters, any due to this, the population of twelve to fifteen species of fish declined at an alarming rate.

We need to implement expeditious measures to protect the precious lakes of Tamil Nadu. Laws and regulations aren’t enough, we need to act on them and work towards our goal. Lets save Tamil Nadu’s lakes!

Featured

An acidic threat to aquatic organisms

Acid rain is the one of the quintessential phenomena that portrays the negative outcomes of human activity and can occur in the form of rain, snow, sleet or fog. Though some rain can be naturally acidic, our activities are making it worse.

What causes acid rain?

When compounds like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere, they travel upwards and react with water, oxygen and other chemicals to form sulfuric and nitric acids. These acids then mix with water and other materials and fall down as ‘acid rain’.

Acid rain may be caused by natural sources. For instance, small proportions of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere by volcanoes. The resultant rain from these compounds is mildly acidic in nature. When such rain falls to the ground, alkaline materials present in streams, lakes, soils, etc. neutralize it and prevent it from causing any harm.

What happens when the rain becomes more acidic? Will nature be able to neutralize strongly acidic rains? Sadly, the answer is no. Natural neutralization sources can’t handle acidity levels beyond their capacity. Thus, these sources may even be washed away by acid rain, thereby perilously breaking the fine balance in nature.

What makes mildly acidic rain more acidic?

Though acid rain can be caused naturally, humans are the main reason behind it. Our activities release enormous quantities of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the air. The rain formed by these compounds is too acidic for it to be neutralized naturally.

What are the human sources that release dangerous quantities of pollutants?

There are enumerable ways by which humans have become causative agents of acid precipitation. Generation of electricity using fossil fuels like coal, for instance, emits the majority of sulfur dioxide and a quarter of nitrogen oxides present in the atmosphere. Factories, industries and refineries that use fossil fuels for combustion are also to blame. Vehicles like cars, buses and trucks are responsible for over half of nitrogen oxides present in the air.

Do water bodies get affected by acid rain?

The short answer is yes, they do. The adverse effects of acid rain are seen clearly in aquatic habitats such as lakes, ponds or rivers. Organisms in these water bodies survive within a specific pH range. When acidic rainwater drains into these water bodies, their pH levels reduce and they become more acidic. What does this mean for aquatic organisms?  

Some organisms may tolerate lower pH levels; some may not. But the more acidic these water bodies get, the greater is the imbalance in various food chains as certain animals start disappearing. Moreover, if acidity levels rise, fish eggs will not be able to hatch and populations of species may plummet dangerously.

Aquatic plants also suffer due to acidic habitats. Unable to withstand declining pH levels, many of these plants succumb to acid rain. 

Acid rain is one of the many consequences of rising pollution in the cities of India. Humans are harmed by it on the one hand. On the other hand, unfortunately, various other members of the environment have to suffer because of us. Recognizing this, the government has taken several measures to curb emissions. Yet, a promising future cannot be seen if each of us doesn’t start correcting fallacious actions and working towards a better environment.

Featured

Lake restoration through ‘Bioremediation’

71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water but less than 2% is portable fresh water. Yet, the contamination of essential freshwater sources like lakes and rivers has elevated over the years.

A wetland can be considered polluted or eutrophic when its ability to metabolize and convert nutrients is failing under the weight of nutrient overloading. Weeds and algae take over, lake-bottom muck builds and the body is filled with untreated harmful toxins.

Water Pollution Stock Photos and Images - 123RF
Source – https://emerging-europe.com/

Now the question is how do we bring a eutrophic body back to life? The answer is- Restoration and Rejuvenation. This method includes structural and land treatment measures, interception of nutrients and sediments, lake deepening or dredging, Dilution/Flushing, Aeration of Water, and much more

Photo showing the contrast of the lake basin before and after restoration.  | Download Scientific Diagram
Source – https://vertexaquaticsolutions.com/

Among the many restoration techniques is Bioremediation. It is a branch of biotechnology that employs the use of living organisms, like microbes and bacteria, in detoxifying contaminants, pollutants and toxins from water, soil and other environments. In simpler terms, certain microbes convert pollutants into small amounts of water or harmless gases like CO2.

In the process of Bioremediation, mainly aerobic bacteria like Pseudomonas , Alcaligenes and mycobacterium are used. They are known to degrade pesticides and hydrocarbons. Methanotrophs, which are also a type of aerobic bacteria, help utilize methane for carbon and energy. The bacteria combined with ideal environmental conditions like temperature and oxygen content are responsible for an effective decontamination of water.

Mycobacterium fortuitum - Wikipedia
Mycobacterium fortuitum , Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/

Some major advantages of ‘Bioremediation’ are:

  1. No side effects as the process is completely natural
  2. Minimal equipment required and time saving
  3. Cost effective/Economical
  4. Little energy required compared to other processes
Download Recycling Symbol - The Original Recycle Logo | Recycle logo, Recycle  symbol, Recycle sign
Source – pinterest.com

This natural rejuvenation technique is used all around the world to disinfect ground water, cleanse the area around oil spills and nourish the soil. The Indian government should use Bioremediation for detoxifying our contaminated wetlands and borewells,

Featured

Chennai – A Haven for Migratory Birds

by Rahul J

Our seasonal guests, from over 29 countries, come to India every year during the winter. [1] For most of us, a day’s long flight is enough to tire and bore us down. But for these birds, taking flight paths that can go over 1000kms long is not a choice, it is an act of survival. And as ecologists, we have all wondered how, and in particular, why- birds choose specific locations to migrate to, and that is what I’ll cover in this blog.

Why do they migrate?

Firstly, it is important to recognize that certain bird species can live and prosper only in certain conditions that their species consider ideal (similar to most wildlife). For instance, an arctic tern travels over 30,000 kilometers in its round-trip journey and moves from the arctic circle to the Antarctic circle. It is not a bird that resides in the equatorial region. [2] And when a certain region becomes unfavorable due to a season, it migrates to another more favorable region for breeding, food, and shelter. Hence it is an adaptation mechanism that we identify in them and the health of ecosystems can also be judged based on this metric.

Arctic Tern Source- Ebird

Why are they important?

Migrant birds play an especially important role in enriching the ecosystems that they cross and settle in. For starters, they act as pest controls in the areas they reside in, by eating insects that might harm crops and even prevent locust attacks which have been known to occur in seasons with reduced migration.

Bird droppings on the other hand are rich in nitrogen and act as fertilizers. Finally, they have a deep-rooted ecological impact and the absence of any one of the species can negatively disturb the food chain in multiple areas.

Why are the wetlands in Chennai especially important?

If we look at where Chennai is located, we can see that it is a coastal city, and the proximity to sea is very important for birds and gives security over lake conditions ( alkalinity/acidity )and food.

Moreover, Chennai being a metro-city, one of the advantages is the lack of poaching, compared to rural areas where awareness over ecological issues is very less and to top it all off certain wetland regions such as Pallikaranai are given the status of protected hotspots.

In the absence of the above reasons, the biggest deciding factor for birds to migrate to Chennai is simply the fact that they have multiple wetlands to choose from. Having been a large wetland city, even with considerable urbanization, Chennai has multiple pockets of areas where birds can settle down, such as — Pallikaranai, Adyar estuary, Muttukadu, Pulicat lake, Kelambakkam backwaters, etc.

Flamingoes Source- livechennai.com

But why is this choice very important? 

Birdwatchers and naturalists will know that birds love to come back to the same regions every year at a certain point in time, so even in the worst scenario when water levels seem to be too low in one wetland, having a choice to move somewhere close by is essential when you are travelling across continents to come to one specific area.

Birds also like to stop in multiple regions that are favourable to them in their round-trip for rest, and Chennai is a favourable location before they take off again to cross a longer flight path without other rest locations.

Wetlands here are also favourable in terms of weather conditions. Compared to severe winters abroad, and the western ghats which do not share the same climate as their neighbours, Chennai wetlands are milder and better for shelter and mating activities. 

Having said all of this, the focus then turns to sustaining these habitats so that our visitors have a nice stay.

Preservation of wetlands

To begin with, the bare minimum should be maintaining a clean environment for these species. This can be done by clearly demarcating waste areas, disposal sites and wetlands ( which are often used as dump yards, unfortunately ).

Then would be rejuvenating water bodies themselves, and increasing the green cover in them. For instance, croton plants are said to be an ideal plant for this activity.

At the end of the day, we need society to understand the importance of wetlands and be mindful, if not this burden rests disproportionately on the few who volunteer and take interest.

References
[1] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/wildlife-biodiversity/how-important-are-migratory-birds-in-an-era-of-climate-change-75588
[2] https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/blog/22-enchanting-arctic-birds-and-their-most-fascinating-facts
[3] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/graphics/bird-migration-interactive-maps

Featured

Partitions and water

by Prithvi Saravanabawan

People say, “ If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water”. Nevertheless, people being who they are, constantly think that they stand at the pinnacle of nature’s creation and naturally think that they are entitled to everything around us. This is an archetype that we have constructed for ourselves. This article does not aim at talking about how humans pollute or taint the water bodies. Instead, I aim at scrupulously yet briefly talking about different ways by which people strike water for its purpose. 

Firstly, the primary notion that aids this archetype exists in “ borders”. Though borders between different countries play an integral role in social and economic causes, they ostracize the very concept of human existence, sharing. Nonetheless, the concept of borders is not necessarily wicked or sinful. Therefore, I simply wish to enumerate that though the idea of borders is paramount in the domain of politics and economics, but nonexistent for rivers, lakes, or oceans.

Secondly, when we view this “borders” paradigm from an emotional perspective, we can observe that the root of this problem lies in a peculiar emotion. This emotion is greed. However, make no mistake, by greed I do not mean corporate greed, industrial greed, or economical greed. I mean the greed for improvement. This mortal emotion drives people to improve everything within a particular border of confined land we call countries, states, etc. Furthermore, in the process of making borders, people hoard water bodies like lakes and rivers in an attempt to improve their land or even deteriorate others. Thus creating a situation that produces an unbalanced environmental and ecological state within the same country. For example, altering the natural passage of a river may cause irreversible environmental damages like the extinction of indigenous marine life, endangerment of the various array of terrestrial animals that use that particular river as their primary source of water, and the plausible destruction of local flora.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that water breathes life into everything it touches. Though we are aware of this fact, our hubris shields us from attaining perfect harmony with the environment that surrounds us. I believe that our hubris as humans is the very source that instigates us to conceptualize improvement which makes way for borders. However, regardless of the veracity of the previous statement, it is an irrefutable fact that we cannot live without boundaries. Ergo, the best possible solution I could come up with for the topic “borders and water” is to establish good relationships with ourselves, our neighbors, and most importantly, our environment. 

Featured

Sustainable Living

by Nakshatra Balachander

Living Alone and Bored weekends?

Why don’t we move around our house and make it a zero-waste home without disposing anything?

A little background of zero-waste house concept: 

Zero Waste is a movement to reduce the amount one consumes and consequently  throws away. Adopting a Zero Waste lifestyle is one of the most sustainable ways of  living

Zero waste house is an idea to reuse those already existing bottles, old CDs and  various other household products into a décor item or to any other useful material.

How to shift to zero waste? (3 tips)

1.Monitor your everyday trash collection.

– Think about how you can cut them down or reuse them. Go around the house  and see if you can organise an area with the help of your inorganic solid waste  items. 

– Think of ways to regenerate greenery with the organic waste of your trash. If it  becomes impossible to use for regenerative purpose use them for  decomposition. Organic manures are in high demand because of its purity. So  why waste such a pure nature’s blessing?

2.When “Reusing” met “Creativity”. 

– When you find an object lying in the house and you’re already quite bored of it,  give it a new life by transforming it into another object. 

– This transformation can be of any form- colour, shape, feature or even usage. – One good example- We all have that one pen stand with a branding of any  company lying in the dust. Also, we all have some used gift wraps neatly folded  at home in the hope of using it again. Let’s give the stand that hopeless cover  to cover itself. With such good cover and shape it deserves to be on the dining  table as a spoon stand.

3.Converting villains to heroes. 

– We all have just started to adapt to zero waste. Which means there are some  plastic containers or bottles lying around. They’ve been a real villain and now  it’s time to transform them. 

– Let them be of a small help in helping an emerging life. With little holes in the  bottom, they can be an excellent plant holder or even bird feeder. – Usually, plants initially require a nursery sometimes to give out shoots. They  can be of help. 

– Well, sometimes those dried out paints can also be used again to decorate  these containers to give them a cute outlook.

With lockdowns we very often get bored to even watch series or movies. Why don’t  we spend our time just like we did in our school days in art classes?  

This one move can help lighten our mood and at the same time address the issue of  waste management. 

At this point of time, let’s not punish our environment anymore instead help them. 

Living a sustainable life is the need of the hour. Choosing to live sustainably can help  the environment become cleaner. If we don’t start bringing sustainability into our  daily lives, the future generations have to comprise their needs.  

All this can start with a little waste managing step.The pandemic is a great example to  know the damages that we’ve done to the environment and hence let’s be kind to  them by being waste free.

Featured

Ganges River Dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica): Effect of Dams and their Conservation

by Rohan Nath

Introduction

Considering the rate with which many landscapes, including freshwater ecosystems, around the world is being converted by humans; it is important to understand the evolutionary  potential of endangered species. The race between the surrounding countries to harness water  extraction and hydropower propels the South Asian Rivers into a threat. The most endangered  freshwater river dolphin in the world- the Ganges River dolphin (Fig. 1) is found in the  Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli River Basin (Fig. 2) in India, Nepal and  Bangladesh. However, several human development projects and activities like dams and  barrages as well as natural factors hamper the ecology of the Ganges dolphin and alter their  habitat. Numerous factors are likely to put the population of Ganges dolphin at risk of  destabilization and extinction.  

Dams and water-related projects in the main branch and the tributaries of the Ganges Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli River Basin create a flow-regulating barrier that obstructs the movements of the dolphin population. This results in small, local  subpopulations that disrupt the potential of the dolphin population for evolution. 

Fig. 1. The Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica).  Image Source: Mansur / WCS Bangladesh / Braulik et al., doi: 10.1111/mms.12801.

Fig. 2. The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli River Basin in South Asia and  the location of the major dams that isolate the dolphin population into several small  groups. Image Source: Paudel, S., & Koprowski, J. L. (2020). Factors affecting the  persistence of endangered Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica). Ecology and evolution, 10(6), 3138-3148.

Why is evolution important for the Ganges dolphin? 

Under the serious threats of extinction, the dolphin population needs to adapt to changing  environmental conditions which may threaten their existence. Therefore, evolution is the  mean by which the population can cope up with environmental stresses. 

Effects of Dams on the Population of Dolphins 

i. Modification of Physical Habitat  

The dams lead to habitat loss and fragmentation resulting in the isolation of small groups of  Ganges dolphin with limited geographic range. Disturbances in any hydrophysical habitats  like required depth can potentially reduce or eliminate the reproductive success of the Ganges  dolphin. Further research is necessary to identify the other hydrophysical habitats to increase  the conservation and survival of the dolphin population. The rate of local extinction has  increased in the upstream range of the Ganges River. Considering the high risk in these small  isolated populations, it is important to develop a plan to work on the conservation of these  endangered species. 

The government of India declared the Ganges dolphin as the national aquatic animal and  developed the Conservation Action Plan for the Ganges dolphin. However, the government  also constructed dams and structures at international borders leading to an alteration in the  Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli River Basin, risking the population of the  species they declared as the national aquatic animal.  

WCS dolphin conservation project in Bangladesh and Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin  Sanctuary, Bhagalpur District of Bihar in India are some of the river dolphin-based  conservation projects.

ii. Genetic 

The Farakka Barrage in West Bengal divides the Ganges dolphin global population into  several local subpopulations. The geographical limitation of the subpopulation of the Ganges  dolphin puts them at a higher risk of extinction. This usually occurs through phenomena like  reduction of genetic variability and inbreeding depression that decreases the genetic diversity  and fitness of the population. The number of small local subpopulations is further increased  with an addition of a new dam. Considering that the extinction of species occurs quicker in  freshwater than in terrestrial ecosystem, the increase in inbreeding and decrease in genetic  heterozygosity makes the local extinctions of Ganges dolphin seem inevitable.  

iii. Behavioural ecology of the Ganges dolphin 

Anthropological influences are likely to affect the specialized circadian rhythm of the Ganges  dolphin concerning habitat selection like depth profile selection for foraging and  reproduction. This in turn can affect the life-history stages and functional ecology of these  species. The Ganges dolphin uses the cyclic range of water levels and seasonally moves  between the mainstream and tributaries. For example, the Ganges dolphin is stimulated to  migrate to other tributaries when there is a high-water flow in the mainstream. Anthropogenic  structures like hydropower dams or development structures can regulate the water level and  present as a false environmental cue, leading to a dysfunction of the functional ecological  behaviour of the dolphin.  

iv. Human-dolphin conflicts 

The primary cause of endangerment and extinction of the Ganges dolphins is due to their  interactions between artisanal fisheries in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli  River Basin. The endangerment of the Ganges dolphin can be attributed to the dietary and  diel activity and spatial and temporal overlap with the fisheries. The factors leading to the  fisheries and Ganges dolphin interaction needs to be assessed for effective management.  Therefore, the driving factors like spatial overlap, dietary competition and behavioural  distractions need to be further researched both qualitatively and quantitatively to manage the  coexistence between the river dolphin and fisheries.

v. Implications for future management 

Genetic tools cannot be applied to explore the viability of the Ganges dolphin population in  the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli River Basin because of the limitation of  resources and conservative policies. It is essential to develop a regional intergovernmental  project that promotes the investigation of genetic viability and factors associated with the risk  of extinction using genetic-based research. For genetic monitoring, it is important to consider  the use of non-invasive tools, like environmental DNA. It is suggested to integrate census  data with genetic data for the accurate prediction in the population trend of the Ganges  dolphin. Proper capture and handling techniques might make it possible to improve the  genetic stability by translocation of individuals among subpopulations.  

It is tremendously difficult to predict the extinction using a single ecological factor due to the  synergistic effect of several other factors. A better understanding of management purposes  and conservation could be reached if we integrate demographics, genetics, and environmental  factors in future studies. Restoration and preservation of essential surfacing and foraging  habitats and maintenance of minimum stream flow can prevent the further decline in the  population of the Ganges dolphin.

Reference 

1. Paudel, S., & Koprowski, J. L. (2020). Factors affecting the persistence of endangered  Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica). Ecology and evolution, 10(6),  3138-3148.

Featured

Kanakan Lake – Puducherry

The Kanakan lake in Puducherry is well-renowned for its magnificent beauty and significance in the lives of the city’s inhabitants, as it also serves as one of the largest sources of freshwater in the union territory.

Today, the lake is battling for its survival as it continues to be choked by untreated sewage and industrial effluents. These not only pollute the water, but also supplement the growth of water hyacinths in huge numbers, that hinder the movement of boats and vessels.

The Kanakan lake has been neglected, and it is on the verge of dying. Even though many residents approached concerned authorities (Lt. Governor Dr. Kiran Bedi) to highlight this issue, and several departments were requested to effect change and help in the lake’s revival, the lake’s situation remains pitiful.

In June 2019, it was reported that the Kanakan lake had become a “depository” of pollution as untreated pollutants were frequently discharged from Indira Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, as well as industries in Mettupalayam.

Since then, the water body has been regularly visited by volunteers and government offcials, who have been taking numerous measures to conserve the lake. Governor Kiran Bedi also led an initiative to plant tree saplings along the lake, with the help of school students. These steps have helped transform the Kanakan lake phenomenally, but the zero-pollution goal has not been achieved yet.

The condition of the lake improved to some extent when the tourism department of Puducherry introduced reformative measures to protect the lake. By allowing boating and a variety of other activities to promote eco-tourism, the government was able to divert people’s attention from the Kanakan lake’s deplorable state.

Kanakan lake is plays a crucial role in Puducherry’s ecology, economy and helps meet the domestic water requirements of hundreds residing in the area. Temporary measures are not sufficient; additional laws and stringent conservation measures are needed to save the precious water body.

Reference:
Source 1
Source 2

Featured

Damaged Kidneys of the Earth

Known as “kidneys of the Earth”, wetlands are of immense significance in the ecosystem. Havens for migratory birds, hotspots of flourishing flora and fauna, sources of clean water, etc. – wetlands are jackpots for us serendipitous humans.

Or at least, they were jackpots. Our actions have inflicted calamitous damage on the world’s “kidneys”. Wetlands are vanishing three times faster than forests, and only a ruinous future can be foreseen in their absence.

Amidst rising development, wetlands struggle to live in Chennai, much like any other water body of the southern city.

Take the Pulicat Lake for instance. Despite it being the second largest brackish water lagoon in India after Orissa’s Chilika Lake, sewage, chemicals, industrial effluents, pesticides, etc. menace its beauty. Birds flocking the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary and fish thriving in the water body have been severely affected by this. Those days when dense mangrove trees flanked the lake have long gone by. What remain today are scattered mangroves dotting the wetland. It is, however, hopeful that initiatives are being taken to protect the Pulicat Lake.

Pulicat Lake (Image Source)

The lesser known Kattupalli Island (also called Ennore Island) is at crossroads. Lying south of the Pulicat Lake, the island is flanked by the Ennore Creek on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. This narrow island has been identified as a “no development zone” by the Coastal Zone Management Plan. Yet, ironically, it finds itself with two ports (the Kamarajar Port and the Adani Kattupalli Port Private Limited), a thermal power plant (the North Chennai Thermal Power Station) and a desalination plant (ABENGOA Seawater Desalination Plant).

Kattupalli Island
Shrinking shoreline of Kattupalli Island (Image Source)

The recent proposal of expansion of the Adani Port from 330 acres to 6111 acres has sparked protests among local fishermen, environmentalist and residents of the island to conserve the biodiversity of the region.

The Madhavaram and Manali Jheels too have a similar story to share. These twin lakes in north Chennai are home to several bird species. However, once stretching over 150 acres, these lakes today have been reduced to half their size. Garbage, sewage, illegal constructions and encroachments have victimized the wetlands and have affected their habitants adversely.

It’s hard to believe what has become of the well-known Pallikaranai marshland today. Less than half a century ago, the marshland sprawled across an area of 50 sq. kilometres. But today, over 90% of the wetland has been lost to IT corridors, urban settlements, garbage dumps and sewage treatment plants. With renewed efforts of the government and several local organizations to revive this booming water body, the Pallikaranai marshland can once again become what it used to be not so long ago.

Pallikaranai marshland shrinks by 93% (Image Source)

Several smaller wetlands of Chennai such as the Adambakkam Lake or Mangal Lake have fallen prey to pollution and contamination, and have shrunk miserably.

Presently, human urbanisation and development at the cost of environmental damage seems like a short-term developmental victory. In the long run, however, humans are racing ahead for a devastating fiasco.