Even after the devastation of the 2004 tsunami has left its mark, environmental degradation and short-sighted development projects are still now adversely affecting the fish populations of coastal areas along the Indian Ocean, placing the balance of complex marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of fishermen at risk.
Changes in the sea level and temperature due to climate change have already had a negative impact on the coral reefs, particularly in places such as the Gulf of Mannar, located in the southeast of India and known as the most biologically rich coastal region in the country. Other culprits such as commercial deep-sea trawling and removal of the protective cover of mangroves along the coast have already negatively affected fragile marine ecosystems.
Plans to build the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), a passage connecting the Arabian Sea with the Bay of Bengal, have environmentalists and locals alike concerned about the project’s effect on increasing the sea’s temperature, salinity, turbidity and altering the flow of nutrients. In addition, the canal project could change the direction of ocean currents, translating into increased coastal erosion and industrial pollutants being brought back to the shore and thus affecting human settlements. A telling assessment done by Delhi’s Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) in 2000 has shown that a one-metre rise in sea levels could displace up to 7.1 million people who live and work along the coast.
"Canal dredging is also likely to stir up the dust and toxins that lie beneath the seabed. These will adversely affect the population of corals, oysters and sea cucumbers. Other species, too, will be impacted by the turbidity. There has been no systematic survey of the geology of the seabed to be excavated," says scientist Rakesh Kumar, of the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). ::InterPress Service