The Palk Bay is a 15,000 sq km biodiversity conglomeration nestled between the island nation of Sri Lanka and South East Peninsula India with a coastal length of 250 km on the Indian side.
The bay is landlocked with three openings--one big eastern opening into the Bay of Bengal and two narrow openings into the Gulf of Mannar. It borders five coastal districts of Tamil Nadu between Kodiyakarai or Point Calimere in Nagapattinam district to Dhanushkodi in Ramanathapuram district. The width of the bay ranges from 64-137 km. The Palk Bay is also among India's major sediment sects. The longshore currents from the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar transport sediments into the Palk Bay adding silt and clay to the shallow sea floor. The bay is a highly productive ecosystem. it has 302 species of marine algae, 580 species of fishes, five marine turtle species and 11 seagrass species and several species of mangroves. The bay is also among one of the biggest fishing spots in south India.
The northern and southern parts of the Palk Bay are considerably different in their biophysical characteristics. In the northern part, where river Cauvery drains into the sea, there are several rivulets draining into the sea, supporting a large backwater system between Muthupet and Point Calimere in the process. The marshlands of this backwater system support mangrove forests which harbour a wide variety of birds, both native and migratory.
The bay is going through a rapid ecological decline due to immense anthropogenic and climate change pressures making the survival of this marine haven increasingly difficult. Increasing threats of pollution due to the dumping of untreated sewage into the bay, effluents from aquaculture, tourism, salt pans, dangers of the cultivation of introduced seaweed species are gravely affecting the ecological health of the bay and the livelihoods dependent on this.
Coastal aquaculture, primarily for the culture of prawns, was initiated in the region during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The central government introduced the new economic policy in 1991 which gave the opportunity to start prawn farms to the communities living along the coast of India.
Freshwater aquaculture farming uses plenty of groundwater in the region. Moreover, in the coastal region, it has been observed that the water used for aquaculture is allowed to flow into the sea without proper treatment. Contamination by various polluting agents like the disposable waste, untreated sewage, pesticides and fertilisers, disposal of industrial effluents and geogenic contamination of arsenic, fluoride, iron and salinity are other threats that Palk Bay faces.
Another important source of groundwater contamination is the salt water that permeates into the freshwater aquifers in the coastal regions. This also affects the agricultural land and hence, the livelihood of the residents around the Palk Bay.
It is high time that those who are responsible for the ecological deterioration of the bay are held accountable and holistic solutions sought to conserve it.
In 2012, Indo-German bilateral cooperation started a project known as the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Coastal and Marine Protected Areas (CMPA) to conserve the biodiversity of the Palk Bay. India, as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), is obliged to contribute to the Indo-German bilateral cooperation and has set the target of bringing 10 percent of the world's marine and coastal area under protection.
Knowing that there is a bleak future ahead of them if the present situation doesn’t improve, the coastal communities have begun to take measures to protect the bay. For example, in the village of Krishnapuram in Tamil Nadu, adjacent to the Palk Bay, the local fishing community has banned fishing on shores. This village has also banned open defecation by imposing fines on violators.
While Palk Bay faces a fragile future with growing human presence, its survival and protection depend on the convergence of efforts and people's participation.
The documentary films, “Palk Bay: An Ecological Paradise” and “Palk Bay: A Case For Conservation”, made under the CMPA project, provide insight into the need to conserve the bay. The programme is dedicated to estimating and mainstreaming the real economic value of biodiversity in business-related decisions and policy making. The documentary films are produced by Dusty Foot Production. Watch these short videos for more information.
Palk Bay: An Ecological Paradise
Palk Bay: A case for Conservation
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