CHENNAI: In what could bring cheer to environmentalists and ornithologists, the State government on Thursday announced that eco-restoration of 695 hectares of the Pallikaranai marshland would be undertaken under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change and the State has made a budgetary allocation of Rs 25 crore as seed money.
O Panneerselvam, Deputy Chief Minister, in his budget speech, has said that the eco-restoration project will be implemented over five years from 2018-19 to 2022-23 at a cost of Rs 165.68 crore with the help of funding from the Union government.
This comes as a huge boost for the State Forest department at a time when it has been pushing to declare the Pallikaranai marshland as Ramsar Site. Sources in the department told Express that a proposal had already been submitted and was under an active consideration of the Centre. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of international importance and to plan for the wise use or sustainable use of all wetlands in their territories.
V Karuna Priya, Conservator of Forests, Chennai Circle, told Express that eco-restoration of the Pallikaranai marshland is a totally integrated project under which a three-pronged strategy has been defined for the management of the marsh, which focuses first on consolidation and protection, followed by restoration and conservation.
The official said the Pallikaranai marshland is a very unique ecosystem, consisting of various habitat types like open water, islands, shallow waters and mudflats, each serving a specific purpose. For instance, open water pockets attract diving waterbirds, while islands and mounds are used as breeding sites for a number of species that nest on the ground and shallow waters and mud flats are rich feeding areas for a range of migratory waders who probe the water and flats for tiny animals.
Larger water birds with long legs and bills such as the egret, pelican, heron, flamingo etc. can be found in the shallows probing, spearing, sieving and scooping for food. “We have to maintain this integrity of the ecosystem. We will be first carrying out a fresh survey to identify the ecological and legal boundaries of the marsh to prevent any further encroachments. There are certain pockets in the marsh which have to be desilted as there is lot of debris dumped during earlier reclamation attempts and create channels to have an ideal mix of saline and fresh water flow,” Karunapriya said.
The Forest department has submitted the project proposal under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change, a Central scheme which was set up in 2015-16, based on the Comprehensive Management Plan for Pallikaranai Marsh prepared by Care Earth Trust, which brought to light several core issues plaguing one of the last surviving marshlands in south India.
The marsh, which was originally a low-lying floodplain (of which a large part was either at sea level or below sea level), is today a composite of high-rise residential complexes, industrial and institutional zones, public infrastructure and remnant natural habitats. This obscures the fact that the area has historically been the natural water-holding zone for the city of Chennai. There has been 50 per cent reduction in open and deep water area. Besides, one of the most critical issues pertaining to the restoration and conservation of the marsh is the need to facilitate the seasonal hydrology of the system.
From 6,000 ha to 690 ha
The marsh area had a spread of 6,000 ha around 1906s, of which there is a 90 per cent loss of habitat resulting in the presence of only 690 hectares of marsh. The Care Earth Trust document blames the fragmentation of habitat on construction of institutes like National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) and Centre for Wind Energy Technology, Perungudi dump-yard and Sewage treatment plant which occupy a major part of marsh land and also due to development of IT corridors and residential complexes. Pallikaranai is one of the 94 wetlands identified under the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Union government and is also one of the three in Tamil Nadu.
Area (in hectares)
Area notified as reserve land (2007)
Area taken over from Chennai Corporation (2013)
Revenue area declared by Kancheepuram (2013)
Finance City area & recently allotted to Forest dept
Total area (Forest Department control)
Pallikaranai marsh supports 349 species of flora and fauna including 133 species of birds, 10 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 50 species of fishes, 9 species of molluscs, 5 species of crustaceans, and 7 species of butterflies and about 114 species of plants including 29 species of grass.