CHENNAI: In a bid to restore biodiversity in Gulf of Mannar, the State Environment Department has kickstarted a Rs 24.74 crore project to rejuvenate the coastal ecosystem.
This is one of four projects under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) in late 2015. “First realisation about impact of climate change hit us when Vaan Island almost sank,” said a project officer from the Environment Department.
This is among 21 islands dotting northern parts of the gulf, between Pamban and Thoothukudi, surrounded by shallow water rich in coral reefs. “Two islands, Poovarasanpatti and Vilangu, have already submerged, and it’s time we at least protect what we have,” said the official, noting that erosion of islands is a serious threat to local biodiversity.
This is especially crucial in the Gulf of Mannar, the first marine biosphere in South and Southeast Asia. It has about 4,223 species of various flora and fauna, with an ecosystem comprising mangroves, wetland, sea grass, estuary and coral reefs, which are not only crucial to the local fishing communities but also offer resistance to climate change.
The survey to study and assess vulnerability of ecosystem and coastal communities to climate change began last July. It is being conducted along 364.9km in the lines from Kariachalli and Vilanguchalli islands. “Based on the assessment, we’ve decided to rehabilitate the coral reef and sea grass in a 4 square km area that had degraded,” the official said.
Diverse native corals (8-11 cm) will be picked and anchored back into water, tied to cement slabs. In addition to rehabilitating live corals, 6,000 modules of artificial reefs made of ferro-cement will be deployed near Vaan Island to ensure that marine ecosystem dependent on reefs does not deplete rapidly.
The survey also revealed other major threats, included increase in coastal population by 34 per cent between 1989 and 2009, leading to increased unsustainable activities of sea weed collection, usage of trawlers for fishing and trapping of marine organisms for ornamental purposes. “We’re also working on sensitisation programmes to create awareness among coastal communities,” the project officer added, commenting that communities are resistant to changes that impact their livelihood.
In order to engage communities in the conservation process, the department has planned to encourage self-help groups and also support them with funds through micro-credit revolving arrangement to help communities that are dependent on the coast for their livelihood.
“We’ve planned about 25 village-specific activities such as sea weed culture and eco-tourism at this point,” said a senior official. He added that although the department would be the executive entity that manages and designs the project, NABARD be would the implementation body.
“The aim of the project is to build a coastal ecosystem that’s resilient to climate change. In order to achieve this, we need habitat restoration and recovery, and to implement the project through sustainable means,” he said.
Key issues in Gulf of Mannar
- Population growth
- Unsustainable fishing practices
- Submergence of islands
- Excess collection of sea weed and shell
- Pollution from factories, power plants and harbours
- Climate change and temperature rise
- Depletion of mangroves
- Baseline study to assess vulnerability of coastal communities and ecosystem
- Restore marine habitats (coral reef and sea grass)
- Deploying artificial reef modules to increase resilience
- Promote eco development activities among communities to increase their adaptive capacity