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Is Chennai ready?

By Divya Suresh

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

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

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

Chemmenchery Aeri
Madhuranthagam Aeri 
Marakkanam Aeri

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world is moving towards Sustainability to combat Climate Change.

Rather, Sustainability begins from home.

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

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

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

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Deep-water ‘shining’

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

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

Bio-luminescent creatures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion:

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

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

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An environmental account on Rainbows

by Prithvi S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Swamp that saves Lives— The Magic of Pichavaram

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Where and what are the coordinates?

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

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

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

So, what is so special about a mangrove?

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

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

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

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

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Photo credits: All images were taken by the author

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The Cost of Leather

by Prithvi S.

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

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

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

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

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

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Antarctica – the heaven at risk?

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

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

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

So, who owns Antarctica?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assam’s Success Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The trade of zebra loaches

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

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

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

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.

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Fecal Coliform in the Yamuna

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

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

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

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

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

References:
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Beyond sand

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

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

Sand and sustainability:

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

Land reclamation:

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

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

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

What are our alternatives ?

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

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

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

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

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Limnology report on the Teesta River

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

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

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

Geography 

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

Table 1. 

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

Hydro-climatology 

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

Table 2. 

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

Slope variation 

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

Characteristics of soil 

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

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

Socio-economic and environmental characteristics 

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

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

ii. The disposed construction material degrades the water quality. 

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

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

v. The power generation increases employment and revenue.

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

Natural hazards 

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

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

Conclusion 

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

Table 3. 

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

Reference 

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

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:
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Water Quality during Festival in Kolkata, West Bengal

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location 

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

Selective heavy metals analysis

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

Results 

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

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

Discussion 

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

Table 1. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Prawn Gherries in the Chilika Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Reference:
Source 1
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Source 5

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The effect of invasive aquatic flora in Wular Lake

by Rohan Nath

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Wular Lake ecosystem

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

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

Changes in the ecosystem

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

Table 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Method to control 

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

Reference 

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

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:
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Report on the freshwater algae of Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram

by Rohan Nath

Introduction 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locations 

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

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

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

a. Seven Sister waterfall in Cherrapunjee 

b. Stream in Mawsynram 

c. Fish pond in Cherrapunjee 

d. Nohkalikai waterfall in Cherrapunjee 

e. Mawsynram waterfall

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

Conclusion 

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

Table 1.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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
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Source 5

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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,

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Indian Forest Fires – A Raging Omission

by Rahul J

Forest fires have been raging in many parts of India for some time now, and this issue has been going unnoticed. There have been 82,170 forest fire alerts over the span of two weeks ( April 1- 14th ) of this year, many of them falling to deaf ears[1]. So, in this week’s blog, let’s take a look at why these incidents occur, their impact and what can be done to prevent them.

  1. What causes forest fires?

These can occur due to a variety of natural reasons. The ones that we saw in India, especially in the states of Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh etc. have been said to be caused by human activities. This can either be adopting the use of burning croplands, or by accident. But research today points out that there is a very distinct link between climate change and forest fires, notably the fire in the Amazon Forest in Brazil and the Australian fires.

Hopefully, the Indian situation is not that serious, but nonetheless, each year the trend is getting worse. Not only were this year’s fires the highest in the last half decade, but the temperatures recorded in the month of March 2021 was the third warmest in 121 years ( according to IMD report ).[2]

Given this correlation between climate change and forest fires, the most common way they occur is when dry wood, logs and dry grass cause friction rubbing each other on the ground and initiate fires.

The lack of soil moisture has been identified to be the reason behind Uttarakhand’s fire this year ( one of the most affected states ).

It is also important to note that India’s Disaster Management Authority has not classified forest fires as a natural hazard, even though 36% of India’s forest has been prone to fires.

Even though government funding for the forest service has increased in recent years, fire services are understaffed and are not able to contain fires in the big forests that India has.

Help from local communities has often become the solution but this has also been weakened given the trust deficit between the locals and forest admins[3].

This has led to small-scale protests by the locals against alleged conservation policy violations and depriving them of forest rights[3].

(Forest fire alerts from April 1-14, 2021 in India as recorded by the Global Forest Watch, an open-source monitoring application)[1]

2. What are the major impacts?

  • Forest fires ensure that fighting climate change is much harder, as it increases the carbon levels present in the region and these forests stop playing the important role that they normally play as carbon sinks.
  • Fires often affect the wildlife present in these regions adversely and result in habitat loss or displacement, given that they reduce soil quality and moisture. E.g. Bandhavgarh forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh known for its Tiger Population was severely affected.
  • Forest cover, soil and tree growth, main components of a healthy forest will also be damaged.

3. Prevention/Treatment

  • Given that temperature control, rainfall pattern and soil moisture is beyond control, we should work on acting on forest fire alarm calls spontaneously, with maximum fighters on the ground. This should be done especially in the months of March, April and May given that fires are prone to crop up during this time of the year.
  • Better communication and dialogue between locals and forest departments would mean that there are more nuanced methods of fighting fire that the locals may be aware of, more fighters on the ground and awareness to the locals not to accidentally initiate fires.

This trend year represents one of the tipping points in the climate crisis and we must take this seriously. 

References:

1. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/forests/forest-fires-in-india-alerts-since-april-1-nearly-double-that-of-2020-76559

2. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-forest-fires-break-out-in-the-spring-and-why-they-have-been-so-frequent-this-year-72590573. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56671148

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Khecheopalri Lake, the Sacred Lake of Sikkim Himalaya of India

by Rohan Nath

Introduction

The Khecheopalri Lake of Sikkim Himalaya can easily be considered as the most sacred lake among all the 150 lakes in Sikkim. It is a highly popular site for a large population of domestic as well as international tourists due to the rich biodiversity, the landscape of the lake and many religious and cultural values and sacred beliefs associated with it. It is also known as a “wish-fulfilling lake” due to several folklores on the lake. The lake and its surrounding were intensively studied and documented. The research included the benefit of the surrounding watershed on the lake and numerous parameters like forest ecology, nutrient and sediment deposition from the neighbouring watershed into the lake and precipitation portioning pathways were taken into account. Moreover, the physio-chemical properties of the lake like pH, dissolved oxygen, alkalinity, and nitrogen, phosphate and phosphorous concentration were studied.

The study revealed the fact there is a severe anthropogenic influence on the lake. The values of sacred beliefs, ecotourism and folklore might contribute to the conservation of the prestigious ecosystem.

Location

The sacred Khecheopalri Lake is located 147 km west of Gangtok, Sikkim at an altitude of 1700 meters above mean sea level (Fig. 1, 2). The lake is formed more than 3500 years ago by the scooping action of an ancient hanging glacier.

A forested watershed area of 12 square kilometres called Ramam watershed surrounds Khecheopalri Lake.

Morphology

The size of the open water surface area is 3.79 hectares with 7.2 metres of mean water depth. 2 perennial and 5 seasonal inlets keep the lake well drained from the watershed. The lake morphometric data is provided below (Table 1).

Many Trans-Himalayan migratory birds halt at this lake. Numerous pilgrims from Sikkim as well as from Nepal and Bhutan are attracted to the religious events and festivals celebrated in this lake. Moreover, the rich biodiversity of the lake lures several tourists.

Table 1. Lake Morphometric Data

Fig. 1. Satellite image of the Khecheopalri Lake in Sikkim. Image Source: Google Earth
Fig. 2. Chains of prayer flags surround the Khecheopalri Lake. Image Source: C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, Chennai

Folklores associated with Khecheopalri Lake

Demazong (Land of Hidden Treasures) is a sacred valley of rice of which the lake forms a part. According to local beliefs, the rice produced from the Demazong valley can satisfy the food requirements of the people. The senior members of the local communities in Khecheopalri and Yuksam believe that the saviour of Buddhism in Tibet, Guru Padmasambhava visited Sikkim, blessed the area, and sanctified it.

Demazong has four religious sites, each considered to represent four plexuses of the human body (Table 2).

Table 2. The four religious sites of Demazong where the sites symbolise four plexuses of the human body.

Since the lake is considered sacred, the local communities forbid fishing and boating in the waterbody. It is only used for rituals and ceremonies. The Lepcha communities are dominant in that area and their belief in sacredness has led them to maintain a strong bonding with the natural environment surrounding the lake.

The Buddhists believe that the mother of Lord Buddha, Goddess Tara Jestum Dolma dwells in that lake and the shape of the lake resembles her footprint (Fig. 1).

Lake Khecheopalri is also worshipped as the Goddess Chho Pema. Numerous religious sites are surrounding the lake, such as holy caves named Dupukney, Chubukney and Yukumney, which were the incarnation site for the lamas and was used as a meditation site for rimpoches. A stone near the stupa contains the footprints of Macha Zemu Rimpoche. According to the Hindus, Dupukney Cave located just above the Khecheopalri Lake was a meditation site for Lord Shiva.

According to folklore, the north-western part of the Himalayas contains two sister lakes. The younger of the two lakes, Labding Pokhari is situated in the western part of the Sikkim in a place called Yuksam. The Goddess residing in the Labding Pokhari lake got dismayed when the people of Yuksam threw waste into her waters. She flew the lake into a place called Chhojo. She then shifted to Khecheopalri when the lake could not fit into the area of Chhojo. There is still an absence of an open water surface in the dead Chhojo Lake other than a marshy land with terrestrial vegetation (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. The dead Chhojo Lake without open water surface. Image Source: Jain, A., Singh, H. B., Rai, S. C., & Sharma, E. (2004). Folklores of sacred khecheopalri lake in the Sikkim Himalaya of India: a plea for conservation. Asian folklore studies, 291-302.

Religious and Cultural Features

Chho-Tsho and Bhumchu are the two main festivals associated with Khecheopalri Lake (Table 3). A Buddhist monk or a Hindu priest helps the communities to perform rituals and rites. Bamboo poles or small trees (Eurya acuminata and Symplocos thaefolia) are used to place prayer flags around the lake. The prayer flags contain inscriptions or prayers for the sick members, deceased relatives and, wish for peace and harmony in the family. The local communities set up numerous stalls selling clothes, food, and other items like prayer flags, holy books, photographs of Gods and Goddesses and, rosaries. Therefore, both religious and recreational purposes are satisfied by the lake.

Table 3. Main festivals associated with Khecheopalri Lake.

Conclusion

Despite the protection Khecheopalri Lake receives, it is still under the threat of anthropogenic influences like agricultural practices and watershed exploitation which includes the collection of fodder, the felling of trees for timber and firewood, and uncontrolled livestock grazing. This has resulted in the damaging of the forest structure leading to soil exposition. The longevity of the lake is affected when soil and nutrient are deposited into the lake from the neighbouring watershed during the rainy season. Moreover, the biodiversity of the lake water is negatively affected due to the offerings made by pilgrims and tourists. Therefore, the government as well as the local communities must take action to save this sacred sanctuary.

Reference

  1. Jain, A., Singh, H. B., Rai, S. C., & Sharma, E. (2004). Folklores of sacred khecheopalri lake in the Sikkim Himalaya of India: a plea for conservation. Asian folklore studies, 291-302.
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Excessive fishing in God’s own country

Kerala – the God’s own country possesses a plethora of bounties of nature, and each of it has its own beauty. The hills, tea plantations, and lakes make Kerala extremely special and resourceful.

Though it has been recently witnessed that excessive fishing in the state is exhausting its marine resources. Fishing that was once highly dependent on old tools has been replaced today by modern, technologically-advanced equipment.

On February 8, 2020, the government of Kerala had even signed an MoU with the EMCC International India Private Limited, for “fisheries research and development for the upgradation and promotion of deep-sea fishing in Kerala.” The 5000-crore large-scale project included building 400 deep-sea fishing trawlers and upgrading 14 harbors in Kerala. Such massive actions are without doubt economically beneficial for the people, but they have had a negative impact on Kerala’s aquatic ecosystem.

Source

The number of overfished stock is alarming, as it surpasses the damage done to the marine environment. Another major issue that has stirred the problem is illegal fishing. Due to this, the incomes of several registered fishermen has drastically declined.

Surveys conducted reveal that the number of fish in inland water bodies such as brackish waters, backwaters, lakes, etc. has reduced over the last decade. This can also lead to an imbalance in the Kerala’s aquatic food chain and ecosystem.

Owed to destructive human intervention and harmful fishing techniques, Kerala’s prominent Vembanad lake, which supports a large number of fishermen in Kerala, has seen a massive drop in fish numbers too. Indulging in methods such as explosion and electrocution is a popular practice in this region, which also houses about 150 species of fish. The use of mesh-nets to sweep the bottom bed has been devastating.

It is to be noted that the problem is multi-fold, as excessive fishing not only affects Kerala’s lake’s ecosystem, but the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen is at risk. Fishermen also tend to take out more boats in the waters aiming to get a larger catch. But this only leads to an overpopulated lake, and supplements water pollution and weed growth.

Kerala has been indubitably gifted with precious reserves, that need to be protected with better legislative action and firm implementation.

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Aging dams…

Let’s start with some statistics first : India has over 5000 dams and reservoirs that can store around 257 billion cubic meters (BCM) of surface water per year which is ~40% of its annual water consumption . Present day availability is ~694 BCM which includes stored surface water and renewable ground water and not surprisingly our growing population will have a water demand that would almost double to ~1180 BCM by year 2050 with demand exceeding supply by two times.

Dams are engineered structures that have several purposes: water storage, agricultural irrigation, flood control, hydro power generation, as a recreation site to name a few. Hydropower is the world’s most reliable and renewable source of electricity and dams store river water which, when released, powers turbines and generators to create electricity.

Aging dams and flash flooding accelerated by climate change are a looming threat to our ecosystems, questioning dam sustainability

Why are dams seeming unsustainable?

Several important dams in India were built during the 1970s and are aging, in need of repair, rehabilitation or even decommissioning (dam removal having outlived their purpose).

Siltation: Sedimentation or gradual accumulation of soil in dams and reservoirs especially downstream results in reduced storage capacity. As an example, Bhakra dam in Himachal Pradesh, has a siltation rate 140% higher than when planned in 1963. Given the excess silt formation, the dam’s expected lifespan was for 47 years instead of the original estimate of 88 years which meant that Bhakra dam would have to be decommissioned by 2010. Every year, de-silting measures and dredging of the soil sediments is a continuous, expensive, and laborious maintenance process to keep these dams operational.

Environmental and social concerns: Dams disrupt flow of rivers, block seasonal flood patterns and its negative impacts on river ecosystems have worsened over the years. Dam failures have displaced millions of people, mostly tribals and submerged entire villages and towns.

The Uttarakhand tragedy in Feb 2021 due to Himalayan glacier melt resulting in flash floods not only killed several people but washed away two power projects generating hydroelectricity, destroyed Dhauliganga dam and emptied downstream dams to stop floodwaters reaching towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh.

More recently in March 2021 , Australia’s Warragamba dam started to overflow spilling water ( around 550 gigalitres/day about twice the average daily flow of Niagara Falls) resulting in evacuation and extreme flooding . What could have possibly prevented the spillover was keeping space in the dam for flood mitigation, but the dam’s main purpose as Sydney’s drinking water supply and keeping it full resulted in escape routes for water flooding the city and suburbs.

And, how can we forget activist Medha Patkar’s courageous fight to save the Narmada river from the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat resulting in the Supreme court ruling in 2000 to stop work at the dam and cancelling World Bank’s loan to further increase the height of the dam. Sadly, displacement and rehabilitation of the tribals and villagers in the surrounding areas have been inequitable and forced relocation of thousands of people has created social unrest.

Dam safety:

Until the early 2000s, dam inspections were minimal but with extreme weather and numerous dam disasters, dam safety came back to focus. Inspections found that a third were unsafe and states began to take their dam safety responsibilities seriously. One sure way to eliminate a dam’s danger is to dismantle it but removing a dam can cost as much as building the dam in the first place.

Incorporation of climate change into dam safety practices still has several challenges as the predictive science that can quantify frequency and intensity of flooding is still not advanced. Dam safety officials typically take decisions to release water based on readings of precipitation that has already occurred and technologies for forecasting of extreme events and flash flooding is being implemented in pilots. The Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement project(DRIP) of India has its objectives focused on improving safety and performance of key dams in a sustainable manner. Take a look at this dashboard that gives a picture of India’s dams , expenditure on dam safety and upkeep guidelines.

Are there alternatives to dams?

If we are thinking about dams mainly built for hydroelectricity generation, the alternatives are many: wind, solar, nuclear, bio-mass energy, small scale hydro-projects that run on river’s natural flows.

Sub-surface dams and coastal reservoirs are built to store natural flow of water near the riverbeds of seasonal rivers. Japan’s Fukuzato underground dam is a great example that saves water being wasted into the sea. Ananganandi dam in Kerala, Bhujpur underground dam near Mundra in Gujarat are good case studies of sustainable water projects that highlight the advantages of limited evaporation loss, no siltation, less susceptibility to pollution, no big dam failure disaster, no land submergence, and resettlement associated with surface dams.

America is dismantling dams faster than ever and looking at restoring free-flowing rivers because of its environmental value.

In conclusion : for developing countries like India, the need for construction of additional large dams to support and sustain economic development will remain. We need to find better ways to plan, build, and operate dams, reservoirs, and hydropower stations in a manner that their negative impacts on environment and society can be reduced.

Dams are erected assuming they would be eternal, would not fail, never be filled with sediments and be financially viable. Yet, all dams disintegrate eventually by the power of nature. Planning water administration of large river basins, inter-basin water planning, diversified sources of water management and careful decommissioning of dams can reduce huge costs related to people displacement, environmental damages and enhance resilience against negative impacts of climate change.

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Waste Management at East Calcutta Wetland

By Rohan Nath

Introduction

Calcutta has two important water bodies. One of them is the Hooghly river on the west which acts as a drinking water source and the other is a low-lying area towards the east called East Calcutta Wetland (Fig. 1), which plays the role of a sink. The East Calcutta Wetland has been declared as a Ramsar site in 2002.

Fig. 1. A satellite image of the East Calcutta Wetland. Image Source: Google Earth

Waste can be defined as an economically useless material or energy that cannot be recovered or recycled at a particular place and time. Consumption of resources by cities produces both solid and liquid waste. 20,000 farmers and fishermen of East Calcutta Wetland have devised a method to utilize these wastes as a resource rather than a hazard.

The East Calcutta Wetland acts as a resource recovery system where the city sewage is used for practices of agriculture and fisheries. Four principal resource recovery practices are involved in the recycling of waste:

i. Garbage vegetable farms.
ii. Fish ponds holding wastewater.
iii. Fishpond effluents used for paddy fields.
iv. Aquaculture with sewage-fed brackish water.

About 600 million litres of daily sewage and wastewater and more than 2500 tons of garbage is generated by the Municipal Corporation. Several underground sewers carry the wastewater to the eastern border of the city where the pumping stations are located. The pumping stations then pumps the wastewater into open channels. The wastewater is then distributed to sewagefed fisheries, solid waste and agricultural farms.

The bio-remedial activities are conducted in Bheri

Shallow flat-bottomed ponds with wastewater are locally called Bheris (Fig. 2). They have a depth and size of about 50-150 cm and 40-50 ha, respectively. The bio-remedial activities are primarily due to a high rate of photosynthesis in the basin. The shallow nature of the basin allows a high photosynthetic rate due to a better pond volume and pond surface ratio than ponds that have a deeper depth. The high amount of oxygenation in the pond leads to efficient BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) and population reduction of pathogen or faecal coliform. The schematic of the sewage treatment is as follows:

The factors important for the purifying process are:
i. Shallow ponds – It plays a role of a stabilizing tank
ii. An abundance of water hyacinth – It helps in the accumulation of metals.
iii. The sunlight reaching the bottom of the pond.
iv. The wind.
v. Multiple types of algae, plankton and bacteria.

Fig. 2. Bheris located in the East Calcutta Wetland. Image Source: Telegraph India

The East Calcutta Wetland is a rich source of 12 different bacterial phyla. This heavily indicates the high amount of bio remedial activity undergoing in the wetland. They play a varying role in the bio remedial activity (Table 1).

Table 1. Bacteria in the East Calcutta Wetland and their functions

The multiple types of bacterial phyla in the wetland indicate the probable presence of bacteria which can be useful commercially such as metal accumulating, antimicrobial compound producing, oil-degrading, and enzyme-producing bacteria.

Reason for water purification

The possible factors responsible for the water purification phenomenon of the East Calcutta Wetland are:

i. Cumulative efficiency of above 80% in reducing the BOD of the sewage water.
ii. Efficient photosynthesis due to solar radiation of 250 langlays a day.
iii. Algae can use solar radiation and accumulate nutrients from the dilute concentration of water.
iv. Commensal association between the algae and waste-oxidizing bacteria results in the release of oxygen and bacterial degradation products synthesis which is used as protein-rich plant material.

The algae-bacteria symbiosis is highly beneficial since it can reduce the BOD at a rate of 237 kg of BOD per day.

The fishes thriving in the wetland also plays a huge ecological role:

i. They maintain the population of planktons in a proper balance.
ii. They convert the available pond nutrients into an edible form (fish).

Removal of faecal coliform bacteria

Pond algae play a major role in the removal of faecal bacteria. The photosynthesizing algae have a high demand for CO2 which cannot be fulfilled by bacterial metabolism. This leads to the dissociation of carbonate and bicarbonate ions. The CO2 formed is fixed by the algae and the hydroxyl ions are accumulated which raises the pH of the water, killing the faecal bacteria. The algal photosynthesis also results in a high amount of O2 in the water, as well as the high light intensities from the sun is fatal to faecal bacteria.

However, there are certain limitations in this method:

i. The solar energy of the ambience must be greater than 200 cal/cm2/day for waste utilization process and algal growth, which is primarily possible in tropical countries.
ii. The photosynthetic oxygen production should be high enough which requires great algal growth potential of the wastewater.

Importance of aquatic weeds

The process by which green plants such as aquatic weeds remove, contain or convert environmental contaminants is known as phytoremediation. Water hyacinth is an important plant that accumulates and removes heavy metal ions from the waterbody (Fig. 3). It is a case of rhizofiltration where the roots of the plant act as a biological filter and absorb heavy metals present in the wastewater. It also prevents pond bank erosion and provides shade to the aquatic organisms during summer.

Fig. 3. The water hyacinth growth in the East Calcutta Wetland. Image Source: Ghosh, S., 2018. East Kolkata Wetlands lock down over 60 percent carbon from sewage: Study. [online] Mongabay-India.

Conclusion

A developing country like India is in a dire need of proper environmental protection and management planning. The case study of the East Calcutta Wetland is of prime importance due to the sustainability of the ecosystem using inexpensive resource and the least possibility of side effects. Bioremediation is the main process that aids to sustain the environment. The city of Calcutta with 12 million citizens has no sewage treatment plant currently. The East Calcutta Wetland has been a boon for the people of Calcutta and has saved the city from building and maintaining wastewater treatment plant. The wastewater fed lagoons help the city to produce around 8000 tons of fishes annually. Moreover, 150 tons of vegetables daily and 16,000 tons of winter paddy annually is being produced by the garbage farms. The wetland is also a biodiversity-rich site forming a habitat to about 100 plant species, above 40 bird species (both indigenous and migratory), and 20 rare mammal species. However, the wetland is currently under threat with a reduction of 2/3rd of its area within the last 40 years. Hence, we must take immediate action considering the innumerable benefits the people of Calcutta receive from it.

Reference

  1. Raychaudhuri, S., Mishra, M., Nandy, P., & Thakur, A. R. (2008). Waste management: a case study of ongoing traditional practices at East Calcutta Wetland. American Journal of Agricultural and Biological Sciences, 3(1), 315-320.
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The Three Rivers of Chennai

Cooum River

Once designated as the “Thames of South India”, the 64-kilometer long Cooum River, like many other water bodies of Chennai, is dying a slow death.   This river that frolicked with life not so long ago has a sad story to share today. Excessive use of the river’s water for irrigation, direct discharge of industrial effluents, encroachment along its banks, and drainage of untreated sewage into it have turned the once-beautiful Cooum River into a narrow, slow, meandering dump yard.

Cooum River (Image by: D. Sampathkumar)

The Cooum River originates from a village of the same name in Tiruvalluvar district, almost bisects Chennai while passing through the city, and ends its journey by draining into the Bay of Bengal. Presently, with the government’s and civic bodies’ measures to restore it, the river’s future might not be so forlorn after all. Yet, the onus of responsibility falls equally on residents of Chennai as well. What are the steps that can be taken on an individual basis to save the “Thames of South India”? Click this link to read Lakes Of India’s article.

Adyar River

After years of government investments, the Adyar River is showing a slow recovery. The toxicity and pollution levels of this 42-kilometer long water body have come down after continuous revamp measures by the Chennai River Restoration Trust (CRRT) and other civic bodies. However, the amounts of raw sewage and wastes being dumped into the river is still a cause of concern.

Two of the most noted specialities that make this river unique are the Adyar Estuary and the Adyar Creek. The estuary region stretches from the Thiru Vi Ka Bridge (that spans over a section of the Adyar River in R.A Puram) to the river mouth, while the creek runs from the Santhome Causeway to the mouth of the river, both covering an area of about 358 acres in total. Today, one only hopes that this river springs back to life and be the source of inspiration and joy that it once used to be.

Kosasthalaiyar River

The lesser known, lesser polluted and largest of the three rivers of Chennai, Kosasthalaiyar River originates near Pallipattu in Tiruvalluvar district, flows in the northern parts of the city, and drains into the Bay of Bengal at the Ennore Creek. Having a length of around 136 kilometres, this river too has fallen prey to human encroachment and discharge of effluents.

Chennai’s three rivers are a sore reminder of the despairing future we are headed towards. Polluted and almost lifeless, the dire condition of these water bodies is exigent. Greater effort is required – both by governmental bodies and the general masses – to revamp them.

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The ‘E’Rase: E-Waste Campaign

by Dakshina Kannan

With great innovation in electronics, comes a surge of electronic waste. With cheap and smart mobile phones, and easy E.M.I options, it has become easy to own and dispose electronics. For every new phone upgradation, one is discarded. Electronics are being produced at an exponential rate without a consideration of how much waste is being produced.

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To address this issue, E.F.I conducted an e-waste drive. A year after its successful campaign, the ERASE e-waste campaign is back again! This initiative is led by E.F.I to keep electronic waste out of land and water bodies. Since last year, we have increased our goal on e-waste collection from 280 kgs to 800 kgs.

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Electronic items contain hazardous substances including, lead, mercury, and cadmium. When they are improperly disposed, pregnant women and children are the most vulnerable to its pollution. Without personal protective equipment, children who are employed in informal labor are also exposed directly to these hazardous chemicals. Besides, e-waste also our contaminates groundwater system.

Here are some stories on why our volunteers participated in this campaign:

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This year, we were able to collect over 1200 kg of e-waste! Check out these images:

We thank all our volunteers and support from YPO Chennai Gateway for making this event a true success.

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Pandemic Protection: Tradeoff at a cost of Future Threat

Case Study: Lake in Golf Club Road

by Srijita Chakrabarti

The pandemic since the year 2020 has turned the world upside down especially concerning the natural resources at large which have majorly suffered. The tradeoff highlighted in this situation is at a cost of great future threat. The case highlighted in this article talks about the situation of a pond located in the posh locality of Kolkata, Tollygunge- Golfclub Road. In India due to the lockdown, the natural resources have witnessed deterioration due to the influx of infectious waste, and massive consumption and hoarding have further worsened the situation, The problem also encompasses the issue of migration and influx of extra population which resulted in and financial crisis among the vulnerable community. The pond located in the middle of a suburban area is a place of great significance, owned and managed by the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, sharing its borders with the locality slum and places of great religious significance (Masjid on one side and a Temple on the other). The presence of the residential buildings and hospitals makes the location of the lake a matter of great strategic importance. However, there has been an interplay of multiple factors playing on this piece of the water body.

The issue of Pollution has been entrenched for the longest time. The lake is used for all kinds of purposes and due to the lack of authority and proper management, the lake has been exploited to its fullest. Pre Covid the lake was used for dumping domestic waste from the residential areas and the slum due to which the area has always established itself to be prone to obnoxious odor, dengue, and malaria. However, the 2020 Pandemic made situations persons, due to the presence of Hospitals in the vicinity the Lake vicinity was rampantly used for dumping of Infectious wastes (masks, gloves, PPE kits)- healthcare waste – estimated face mask (as per the population) use. When we consider Asian countries’ scenario in waste disposal, there is improper management of waste persisting for ages. But the pandemic has worsened the situation with a kind of medical waste such as masks, gloves, and PPE suits. Institutional assistance plays a major role in waste disposal and collection especially at the urban water bodies which lack boundaries and waste dynamics at the local level. In this we will look at the possible threats (Anthropogenic activity), the medical waste can cause to the lakhs of common-pool resources (which have minimal or no monitoring by the local bodies). It has been noticed that the deteriorating condition of the lake is primarily due to the issue of Governance and Lack of community awareness.

Encompassing the issue of migration and lack of proper management the reverse migration has taken a toll on the water body, Rapid increase in the population of the slum area has contributed greatly to the increasing pollution levels of the lake. This situation thus highlights the fact that the pandemic has not created an ambiance for nature to breathe. Based upon the primary data collected- lack of awareness and the issue of governance has aggravated the covid cases in the neighborhood. The condition of the water is brackish therefore not only the health of the water body- but the health of the residents are also at risk. The intertwining relationship of the humans and the water body is thus being highlighted. The majority prone to risk are the slum dwellers who are majorly dependent on the water body for various resources.

The solution to the above-mentioned problems appears in ways like- Instead of various types of masks, gloves, and PPE, a unique type(in material and reusable) must be utilized- a proper system of waste management thus needs to be established. This situation calls for the application of Ostrom’s principles of management of common-pool resources. The resource area must be clearly defined- The private body along with the Local municipality must join hands to provide a proper boundary to the CPR. There has to be a proper rule mechanism- which shall include the local members as decision-makers- who are dependent on the resource for various essential purposes. There should be Usage of graduated sanctions for rule violators, There should be a provision for accessibility of, low-cost means for dispute resolution. Lastly -Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior on the CPR. SES FRAMEWORK needs to be applied – Coordination between Governance unit, and users unit must be in relation with resource system and resource unit interaction. Socio-Ecological Resilience principles such as Learning and Experimentation, Participation of users at all levels of governance is crucial. Resilience in this case can be related to Waterbodies being complex and Adaptive systems. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 11 AND 12, should be equally focused upon enhancing existing waste treatment facilities, to reduce pandemic-induced waste generated.

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The Case for Chennai’s Ramsar Site

by Rahul Jayaraman

It was still dark as I set my tripod on the ground, absorbing the view around me. A few minutes in and I saw a silhouette of what looked like a Grey Heron just staring back at me, until it took off to search for food on the other side.

It was my first birding session to Pallikaranai, I clearly remember preparing two days before hand and ensuring no lockdowns were going to be announced because I knew that this was something I would hate to miss. I am quite sure that anyone who lives in Chennai would have crossed the marshland multiple times, or may even live nearby, given how it is a “developing residential area”. But what they may not be aware of is the fact that Madras used to be a low plain, intersected by three rivers many years ago, and marshlands like Pallikaranai are the remnants of what used to be Madras.

Figure 1 – Grey Heron in Flight.

Even though I could easily spot numerous birds that I would not be able to spot near home, even with this excitement, I knew that this wasn’t a balanced ecosystem, and it was facing grave challenges.

Waste Management
From being classified as a wasteland until not very long ago, Pallikaranai is now in a real battle against becoming an actual wasteland. Even after legal segregation allowing for separate dumping sites, cases of illegal dumping, encroachment and development are rampant.

Figure 3 – The garbage dump at Pallikaranai in 2014 – Photo: V.Ganesan [1]

Out of the 5000 metric tonnes of solid waste generated in a day in Chennai, Pallikaranai marsh overlaps one of the two dump yard grounds in Chennai – the Perungudi wasteland. Even with protected status, day by day it is being intoxicated by man-made waste and sewage. Hence, ground-birds such as Egrets and Wagtails are forced to perch elsewhere or continue to live in grounds that are often shoveled and dug for reuse.

And this issue gets even worse with urbanization taking place right.

Ecological Damage –
This marshland houses more than 100 species of birds right now, where previously more than 150 species could be spotted including threatened species such as the Spot-billed Pelican and Black Headed Ibis. It has also been identified as a very important breeding and resting ground for several migratory birds using research including radio tagging [2] and one such important migratory flight path is the Central Asian Flyway.

Out of the very few resting grounds in a long flight path for these birds, it is critical that our avian visitors get the natural hospitality that they need for about a third of an entire year. Birds such as the greater flamingoes – which have become quite rare to spot, the black tailed godwit, glossy ibis are all critical species that should be taken more seriously.

In the little attention that birds of the marsh do get, sometimes the other residents – freshwater fish, reptiles and other organisms which are equally important and at risk don’t get as much attention. Changes that frequently take place, like construction of small stands and construction of temporary sewage pipes that I witnessed during my visit affect all these organisms in the long run.

Apart from regular encroachment activities and dumping of waste, what’s even more shocking was the plan to dredge the marshland by the state government. This does more harm than good to both the city and the wetland. [3]

Recognize that this marshland continues to work as a stormwater drain Chennai is a flood-prone city because of abysmal planning with regards to water.

Over the years the wetland has shrunk drastically in size leading to groundwater depletion because of massive construction projects and dumping. But even in this situation, many migratory birds do visit the marshland such as the Painted Stork, but if the marsh is dredged then these birds most certainly are not likely to visit.

Encouragingly for us, the Madras HC has given a notice against the plan to dredge the marsh recently. [4] But this is not enough, the way forward would be to include Pallikaranai as a Ramsar Wetland part of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

Checking all the boxes to become one of these sites, Pallikaranai needs the international focus that is needed to keep a check on the activities that cause it harm. [5] Apart from the regular benefits firstly, this could generate the awareness that our marshland needs from local communities and citizens ; secondly, it makes all activities undertaken by the government a lot more accountable, and finally gives a chance for both native and foreign birds to continue making the marshland their home for many more years to come.

References:
[1] – https://sites.google.com/a/aisch.org/friends-of-pallikaranai-wetland/?tmpl=%2Fsystem%2Fapp%2Ftemplates%2Fprint%2F&showPrintDialog=1
[2] – https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-pallaikaranai-marshland-birds-threatened-by-dumping-of-waste-24229
[3] – https://science.thewire.in/environment/chennai-pallikaranai-marsh-dredging-ecologicall-bad-idea/
[4] – https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2021/feb/11/hc-notice-to-tn-on-dredging-at-pallikaranai-marshland-2262458.html
[5] – https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/how-international-tag-can-help-save-pallikarnai-marshland-14057

Featured

Lakes in diversity!

Indian geography is diverse! 

So, are the water bodies in different regions.  

The different types of Lakes found in India creates a unique story behind each aqua. 

Lakes are surrounded by land terrains. Rivers are source, inlet or outlet of lakes which strive to join the sea together as a mainstream. 

In India, the following types are found with the distinguishing factor of surrounding terrain – plateau, mountains, glaciers, desert with a close view of the specific Indian Lake stories that make them unique and important : 

Natural Lakes

Natural Lakes are the waters naturally formed from glaciation mostly formed and flown from rift and mountainous regions to land. Natural Lakes are found in the forms of : 

  • Freshwater Lakes

The unsalted Lake, freshly found and formed by a river, stream as surface runoff surrounded by land. 

Name StateUniqueness
Wular LakeJammu and KashmirIndia’s Largest Freshwater Lake 
Chandra TaalHimachal PradeshSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
Suraj Tal Himachal PradeshThird highest Lake of India and 21st Highest Lake in the world  High Altitude Lake, inflow of Bhaga River 
Maharana Pratap Sagar Himachal PradeshSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
Blue Bird Lake Haryana Habitat for Migratory birds 
Brahma SarovarHaryana Ancient and spiritual Lake
KarnalHaryanaRouted to Epic Mahabharatha
Tilyar HaryanaCanal inflow, Located inside Tilyar Zoo
HarikePunjabSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
KanjliPunjabSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
BelasagarUttar PradeshLake used for irrigation purposes
Bhimtal UttarakhandLake of Medium Altitude
RajsamandRajasthan Vast Catchment Area
VastrapurGujaratA part of Narmada River 
Cholamo (Tso Lhamo Lake )Sikkim (East)Lake of Highest Altitude Lake in India 
KhecheoplariSikkim (West)Sacred Lake for Hindus and Bhuddhists. 
Son BeelAssamLargest Tectonically formed Wetland in the state
Deepor BeelAssamUnder Ramsar Convention 
Haflong LakeAssamOne of the highest Altitude Lakes
UmiamMeghalayaFamous for cycling and boating
Tam DilMizoramStory of uprooted mustard plant hole becoming a lake known at Lake of Mustard.  
Kanjiya LakeOrissaSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
Salim AliMaharashtraBird Watching Site
ShivsagarMaharashtraKoyna Dam oulet
Pampa SarovarKarnatakaOutlet of Tungabhadra River 
HonnamanaKarnatakaHoly Lake visited during festive seasons
AgaraKarnatakaMigratory Birds habitat of southeastern Bengaluru
BellandurKarnatakaLanding strip turned Lake, largest in the city of  Bengaluru.
KaranjiKarnatakaSurrounded by Butterfly park
Kolleru LakeAndhra PradeshHome to Migratory Birds.
ShashtamkottaKeralaSite of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
PanchadikulamTamil NaduPoint Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
  • Salt Water Lakes

The Lakes high on salinity (at least 3 grams per litre) with higher salt concentration and dissolved mineral contents. 

Name StateUniqueness
Chilika LakaOrissaLargest Saltwater Lake in India 
Pangong TsoJammu and KashmirEndorheic Lake (That do not flow into the sea) bordering Indo-China 
Tso MoririJammu and KashmirHigh Altitude Saltwater Lake 
Ulsoor LakeKarnatakaSaltWater Lake that is stale in nature
Sambhar Lake RajasthanLargest Inland lake and Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance
  • Brackish Lakes

A blend of freshwater and salt water Lakes low in salinity.   

Name StateUniqueness
Pulicat Lake Andhra Pradesh A part of Pulicat Bird Sanctuary 
Ashtamudi KayalKerala Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance
VembanadKerala Longest Lake of India and Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance, Famous for Boat Race
East Calcutta WetlandsWest Bengal Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance
  • Oxbow Lakes 

Longer Lake course in a curvy flow, formed when the river finds a shorter route.  

Name StateUniqueness
Kanwar LakeBiharAsia’s largest freshwater oxbow Lake 
Vyanthala LakeKerala South India’s naturally formed Oxbow Lake, inlet of Chalakudy River 
  • Crater Lakes

Lake born in eruptive regions, mostly volcanic.

Name StateUniqueness
Lonar Lake MaharashtraNational Geographical Heritage (that turned pink in 2020 named Soda Lake since then)
Chandubi LakeAssamFormed by 1897 earthquake 
  • Lentic Lakes

Seasonal Standing Pool of Lake waters. 

Name StateUniqueness
Thol LakeGujaratIrrigation Purposive Lake
Loktak LakeManipurFloating Island waters, Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance
  • Artificial Lakes 

Man-made Lakes that act as water reservoirs for public use and consumption. 

Name StateUniqueness
Govind Ballabh Pant SagarUttar Pradesh Largest Artificial Lake in India
Hussain SagarTelanganaRock Island Waters
Badrakali LakeTelanganaArtificial Freshwaters
Ooty LakeTamil NaduFamous for kayaking, boating
Chembarambakkam LakeTamil NaduLarge reservoir for state public water supply
RuparPunjabMan-made riverine Lake
BhojtalMadhya Pradesh One of the largest Artificial Lake in India and Site of Ramsar, Wetland of National Importance 
Damdama Lake 


HaryanaDam built during Colonial era by Britishers for rainwater harvesting
Hamirsar LakeGujaratSituated in Bhuj town’s centre
Kankaria LakeGujaratAncient Lake of 14th century creation by Muhmmmad Shah II
Narayan SarovarGujaratSite for Hindu Pilgrims
Nagarjuna SagarAndhra PradeshConstructed along Krishna River 

Lakes in diversity and Lake biodiversity embodies the beauty and strength of a nation.

Let’s commit to do our part to conserve the diverse and beautiful aqua by understanding their importance and geography for the country’s richness of Unity In Diversity.

Featured

Chambal – The Vanishing Elixir of Life

Slithering its way through Rajasthan, the Chambal river is a tributary of the Yamuna and forms a major part of the Gangetic channels. In India’s largest and driest state, the Chambal river plays a crucial role in agriculture, manufacturing, etc. It is also known for its extensive ravine system, and holds significant historical and cultural value.

The river holds the largest population of the critically endangered gharial and red-crowned roof turtle. Over the years, the size of this once-mighty tributary has shrunk down. This is owed to the excessive sand-mining and fishing carried out in the highly populated areas surrounding the Chambal river. Due to this, female gharials are forced to migrate and lay their eggs fifteen kilometers away. Sand mining destroys precious natural sand banks that are required by gharials to breed by occupying them with heavy machinery, etc. Hence, gharials no longer have a safe habitat near their homes and have to migrate in search of a better place.

The population boom in Rajasthan has also aided to the problem of Chambal’s deterioration. The urgent demand of fresh water for both domestic requirements as well as industrial activities has put to threat the river’s life.

Keeping in mind the low-flow rate of Chambal during the dry seasons, several hydroelectric and irrigation projects such as the Rana Pratap Sagar dam have been launched. These sure do help to meet the water requirements of the people, but have add an adverse impact on the flora and fauna around them. Even though one may argue that the scale of such projects is small, to provide the benefits to the people at the grassroots level, the collective impact and pressure of these small projects is large, and it is choking the Chambal river.

The reduction in water levels is a matter of serious concern, because the population of migratory birds that nest exclusively on sand bars, like the Indian skimmer, is at risk too.

Industrial activity along the Chambal basin in Rajasthan has increased the pollution levels of the water by many folds. Unchecked dumping of industrial effluents, chemicals, pesticides, has made the river extremely toxic. Over the years, many environmentalists and reporters have discovered metals and plastic in the stomachs of gharials and fish. But the problem does not stop here. The highly-degraded water continues its journey through Rajasthan and eventually ends as a confluence of five rivers – Kwari, Yamuna, Sind, Chambal and Pahuj; thus, further degrading the quality of other rivers.

As people in Rajasthan continue to indulge in intensive agriculture, and tend to flatten or level ravines along the Chambal basin to try and improve productivity, it only results in the destruction of the ecology which makes it prone to erosion. This further threatens the river.

The Chambal river forms an integral part of our culture, and it has even been mentioned in the Mahabharata as ‘Charmanyavati’. It is not only important to protect the river for the survival of the aquatic life that thrives in it, but also the human lives and livelihoods that depend on it.

References:

  1. https://www.conservationindia.org/articles/bleeding-the-chambal-dry
  2. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/chambal-river-s-gharials-migrate-to-kuno-as-sand-mining-disturbs-habitat/story-dnjvmN6DnAzggKRXNFQISL.html
  3. https://india.mongabay.com/2019/10/chambal-river-water-supply-demand-madhya-pradesh/
  4. https://www.hindustantimes.com/jaipur/rajasthan-pollution-takes-toll-on-aquatic-creatures-in-chambal-river/story-XD5r8bGgRNawNDOlm96FaJ.html
  5. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/chambal-without-ravines-58655
Featured

Chennai’s Inland Waters, Worth a Countless Words

The capital city of Tamil Nadu has a rich and diverse natural waters architecture. The natural amenities, flora and fauna, bio-diversity and beauty gives a significant standing that anyone should never miss visiting them.

Lakes (in tamil “Aeri”) of Chennai act as a reservoir of rainfall. Inter-connection with other water bodies and the passage enables them in flowing seamlessly to join the sea.

Bigger lakes act as a source of water for the city. With increasing demand for water and environmental significance of lakes, conservation can gauge the gulf.

To witness and photograph the beauty queens flow onto the ocean, never miss visiting the following lake view points:

  1. Chembarambakkam Lake

Chembarabakkam Lake is a widespread aqua with a span of 15 square kilometres. The waters lie in the outskirts of Chennai, a part of the Kanchipuram district. The lake is an extensive reservoir, a rain fed water body. She facilitates outflows being the origination of Adyar river and furthermore a crucial waterbody drawn for supplying water to the city.The Lake is also known by localists as Puliyar Kottam since the Chola period with kottam being the one amonst the 24 kottams (villages).

2. Puzhal Lake

Puzhal Aeri located in the Red Hills area, has a full capacity of volume of 93 cubic metres. The reservoir was fabricated during the colonial period as Puzhal town in the late 19th century. It is a rainfed water body, with a geographic significance of origination of outflows and major water supplying bank for the city.

3. Porur Lake

The south-west frontiers of Chennai begin with the massive waterbody – the Porur Aeri. The vast space derived the name from its area, Porur. For its volume of 46 million cubic metres a capacity and the spread over 200 acres, the lake serves as 24 x 7 water drawn bank. The lake’s panorama, is the best to be viewed for a scenic view from the Chennai Expressway.

4. Sholavaram Lake

Chola – varam, a Chola dynasty’s blessing is a suburb lake spread over 24 kilometres. Cholavaram Aeri, is now recognized as Sholavaram lake which was an airstrip during the world war – II. Now, the aqua is connected with Puzhal Aeri via canal. The lake adjoints the T shaped air strip of the Air Force. The canal is a prime utility for people inhabiting Thiruvallur.

5. Naryanapuram Lake

Narayanapuram Aeri is one of the finest wetlands in the suburbs of Pallikarani (Chennai’s only marshland till date). Erstwhile, the lake served for irrigation purposes, for the local farmers at the locales of Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Pallavakkam pathway. It has a strategic importance of acting as a reservoir of water holding and water absorption of the marshland originally spread over 64 acres.  

6. Velachery Lake

Velachery Aeri (chery meaning muds), is a marshy and lake(y) terrain of waters in the heart of the area. It is a primary source of water in the locale since the bank is subtly vast of approximately 24 lakh square feet. It has a spiritual and a watery history making it a prime distribution reservoir for the people who inherit the area.

7. Perumbakkam Lake

Perum-bakkam (vast – area) has a picturesque view any time at the day of the summer seasons. It havens for migratory birds such as storks, flamingos, pelicans are such a scintillating sight that can grab a day wide attention. It is a rich waterbody with a higher bank of fresh waters making it one of the few lakes with good quality of aqua. The marine biodiversity and the bird’s ecosystem, this the best place to watch the beauty, photograph the mesmerism which could be your therapy.

8. Pulicat Lake

The Pulicat Lake is a significant landmark with its origination of 60 kilometers away from Chennai. Hence, the vast aqua has a seasonal access of a period between October – March. Pulicat Aeri is a home to a rich bio-diversity with low inhabitations around the water scape. The sight of the lake at any point of the day, can drag the attention to witness school of fishes lingering, migratory birds sprawling, kingfishers hunting and course of an astounding sight. The history of lake roots to the 10th century of the Chola Dynasty.

The Bottom-line

The birds congregate and chirrup when any of their species is in danger.

The lakes breach and sea waves sprawl when the pressure on land rises.

Likewise,

When are going to flock together to bring a tsunami of change to conserve the aqua?

The 2015’s Chennai floods and 2019’s massive water crisis has taught the lesson; has it been learnt?

The graphic below shows the effect agglomerations in Chennai (Source – Scroll.in) :

Actor Lionardo Di Caprio’s post on Instagram: “Only rain can save Chennai from this situation.” A well completely empty, and a city without water. The southern Indian city of Chennai is in crisis, after the four main water reservoirs ran completely dry. The acute water shortage has forced the city to scramble for urgent solutions and residents have to stand in line for hours to get water from government tanks. As the water levels depleted, hotels and restaurants started to shut down temporarily, and the air con was turned off in the city’s metro. Officials in the city continue to try and find alternative sources of water – but the community continue to pray for rain.