The challenged coasts of India: A report

The report highlights how degradation of the coastal environment has reached alarming proportions, closely reflecting the urban population explosion and rapid and unplanned urbanisation.
Fishing, an important coastal activity Fishing, an important coastal activity

Aims of the report:

  • To build a comprehensive database of the extent of coastal development activities that have taken place on the coast of India. This has been achieved by collecting geo-spatial information from a “virtual” survey, using “Google Earth” maps, as well as available literature to map the entire coastline of mainland India.
  • To make a preliminary assessment of the extent of coastal development activities along the coast of India as well as to estimate the overall impacts of these developments on coastal biodiversity and livelihoods.

The coastal developments looked at in this report include coastal structures (seawalls, groynes, piers, jetties, breakwaters, docks, bridges, elevated roads, etc), ports & harbours, power plants, human settlements (fishing villages and hamlets, towns, cities), commercial activities (salt extraction, aquaculture, tourism activities - resorts and hotels, sand mining, institutional, industrial), and water bodies (estuaries, rivers, storage/irrigation tanks).

Methodology and Process

  • To use geo-spatial data to identify, enumerate and map coastal structures like seawalls, groynes and jetties to view the physical impact of these structures on the coast;
  • To identify, enumerate and map current and proposed ports, power-plants and commercial activities and developments such as special economic zones along the coast;
  • To identify, enumerate and map coastal settlements;
  • To enumerate and map water bodies situated along the coast;
  • To assess the likely impacts of infrastructure projects on biodiversity along the coast;
  • To assess the likely possible impacts of infrastructure projects on livelihoods of communities dependent on coastal and maritime ecosystems;
  • To outline a framework that can ensure the minimization of biodiversity and livelihood losses along the coast of India;
  • To implement methodologies that can be replicated with low budgets and minimal skills so that the maximum number of people can adopt them.

 Areas of study:

    1. Coastal Biodiversity : Major ecosystems include mangroves, mudflats, salt marshes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and lagoons, which are highly productive and support fisheries and other livelihoods. 
    2. Coastal settlements: India has a large number of coastal cities, including the two megacities of Mumbai and Kolkata. Other large cities on the coast include Chennai, Tuticorin, Cuddalore, Visakhapatnam and Puducherry on the east coast, and Kochi, Mangalore and Surat on the west coast. Many of the port cities are also becoming industrial hubs and experiencing rapid urbanization. Marine fishing communities live close to the shoreline and form a sizeable population. Coastal activities: Fishing is an important activity, with 1,511 marine fish landing centres and dedicated fishing ports. About 38% of the marine fisherfolk are engaged in active fishing and 85% of them work full time. 

    3. Coastal structures: Almost a third of the Indian coast is undergoing erosion. Sand mining is suspected to be a major cause for coastal erosion. An earlier study by the Ministry of Earth Sciences has indicated that ports (specifically port related structures such as breakwaters) are crucial in coastal erosion, especially along the east coast.

The report explores the following:

  • Coastal ecosystems and processes
  • Coastal communities - Explores settlements, livelihoods, spaces, tourism
  • Coastal structures and their impacts – Ecological impacts of coastal structures, specific threats to coastal biodiversity, impact on livelihood, Case studies
  • Coastal development and impacts – Large projects, ports and harbours, power plants, SEZ, Case studies
  • Legislation for coastal protection – the CRZ, etc
  • Overview of the current state of development along the coast
  • State-wise analysis    

Findings and Conclusions:

This study conclusively shows that India’s coastal areas, along with the biodiversities, are gravely challenged, due to aggressive development and the extensive and unplanned construction of coastal structures. Settlements, commercial areas, ports and water bodies currently occupy over 43% of the coast.

Apart from biodiversity, the livelihoods of millions are compromised as they depend on primary resources from coastal areas, especially the coastal wetlands. These people suffer displacement due to land acquisition and alienation from their traditional livelihoods. Unfortunately, in spite of all the laws and guidelines, coastal degradation has reached an alarming magnitude.

There is an urgent need to critically rethink development if there is a serious plan to conserve the coastal ecosystems and biodiversity and ensure the well-being of coastal communities.

 

 

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