With a coastline of 7,517 km, India needs adequate management of its marine resources to shield it from exploitative forces. Capacity-building on this front and trained personnel with adequate knowledge both in scientific know-how and human aspects of coastal management are therefore imperative.
In this regard, the Institute for Ocean Management (IOM), established in Anna University under the Department of Civil Engineering, started a two-year MTech programme in Coastal Management in 2007. One-of-its-kind in the country, the course curriculum was developed in consultation with universities in Amsterdam, Vatican, Vietnam and the UK. Some of the universities include Wageningen University, Netherlands; Alagarve University, Portugal and Can Tho University, Vietnam.
IOM currently has 20 students in the first year and 16 in the second year whereas it allows intake of upto 30 students a year. Six batches have graduated out so far. The students either set up their own companies in coastal management and become entrepreneurs with their own consultancy services or go on to do their post-doctoral fellowship in coast management.
About the course
“The course is a combination of Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering and Management. It has multidisciplinary aspects. It involves talking to fishermen communities. We look at how government policies on coastal zones can be implemented without affecting local communities. We also assess the impact of coastal land reforms on environment and economies,” says S Srinivasalu, Associate Professor and Marine Geologist, IOM.
He points out that there can be engineering solutions to coastal problems but the focus of the course is on human solutions. The only institute in the country to offer this course, what makes it unique is that it complements the students’ background in civil engineering with socioeconomic aspects.
Graduates in BSc Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery or MSc holders in Geology, Applied Geology, Marine Biology, Oceanography, Environmental Sciences and Oceanography and Coastal area studies are eligible for the course. “It is open to civil engineering and marine engineering students too. A majority of our students come from a civil engineering background though,” he says.
Their laboratory facilities include Radiochemistry lab; analytical laboratories for wet chemistry studies, tracing gas measurements and sediment preparation; remote sensing lab and Gas Chromatograph lab used for the determination of levels of greenhouse gases and other organic pollutants in coastal and marine systems.
The Alpha, Beta and Gamma Spectrometry Facility is used for dating of soils, sediments and other flora and fauna samples. Further analytical facilities include visible spectrophotometry equipment for the determination of inorganic and organic contaminants in natural systems.
IOM has facilities for high precision field surveying, sampling and monitoring. It also has boat and acoustic profiling devices (similar to a sonar, it measures water current velocities over a depth range). It also has an extensive map library and aerial photographic collection that is continually updated.
“Around 50 per cent of the course comprises field work and the rest is theory. It is a cocktail of biodiversity, fish diversity, wave dynamics, sediment dynamics, and many other subjects. Aqua culture is 70 per cent of it and the rest is the engineering part of it. The problem with structural engineering and other civil engineering disciplines is that you don’t go out into the public and have an environment impact assessment as opposed to a course in coastal management,” says Srinivasalu.
Sai Chenthur, a second-year MTech student, says that they have been to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Pulicat Lake, various harbours and Marina and Besant Nagar beaches as part of their practical work. “Under the ambit of the Coastal Regulation Zone Act 2011, we look at problems caused by the Tsunami, of the fishermen community, geomorphological problems, siltation problems and fish-catch problems.”
Another final-year student Raj Durai points out that among major coastal cities while Chennai has the problem of sewage and plastic pollution, cities in West Bengal deal with sinking and disappearance of islands. The Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat, is another place where the students have conducted their studies.
The students are recruited by organisations like the National Institute for Ocean Technology and National Institute of Oceanography for various research and academic positions.
Job of a coastal manager
Prof Srinivasalu opines that Coastal erosion and accretion are the major challenges of the Chennai coastline. “We can either take recourse in engineering solutions and go against nature; safeguard our coasts by building artificial sand dunes and bio shelters; or shift residents which has a huge socioeconomic impact because it disrupts livelihoods. Now, as a coastal manager you shouldn’t get into conflicts. Fifty per cent of the job is about taking public opinion into account,” he explains.
The institute enjoys support of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India and aid in policy making, which is significant.