These 'sinking' Tamil Nadu islets find a saviour in palmyra plants 

An ecologically fragile, but a pivotal location in a State; a tree that stands tall, deep-rooted, and spread across the region, with the power to pull through the odds.

Published: 07th November 2021 05:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th November 2021 03:19 PM   |  A+A-

A forest official showing the palmyrah seeds that sprouted at the Vaan island in the Gulf of Mannar | Express

Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI: An ecologically fragile, but a pivotal location in a State; a tree that stands tall, deep-rooted, and spread across the region, with the power to pull through the odds. If the land is in need of someone to take guard for it, then why not call upon the trees, thought a group of forest officials in the Gulf of Mannar under their Forest Range officer R Raghuvaran.

Seeds of palmyra, the ‘karpaga tharu’ of Tamil Nadu, were thus sown in the saline marshes of islets in the Gulf of Mannar, in a venture to strengthen the region against further erosion, and to prevent the islands from all-out submersion.

With man-made factors and climatic changes over the past five decades bringing forth changes in the morphology and geomorphology of the region, two of the islands — Vilanguchalli and Poovarasanpatti — have gone under the waters. 15 more of them face the eventuality, as they have been reduced in size over the years. The islands are also getting elongated in shape, expanded on the windward side, and shifted from their original core towards the land.

At a time when researchers are taking studious efforts to find out prevention mechanisms to these changes, the forest officials came up with the idea of planting palmyrah trees — which can stand strong against gales and cyclones, and have a long life — as a plausible solution for the islands’ troubles. Dr JK Patterson Edward, director of the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute, says palmyrahs are essential as they could prevent soil erosion. Patterson had earlier spearheaded the deployment of an artificial reef in the Vaan island to prevent it from drowning.

Raghuvaran says they have now planted nearly 7,000 palmyrah seeds in six islands under his range. “We did not have any special funds for the planting drive; however, we took it as a task so as to protect the islands,” he said. “Palmyrah seeds were preferred as they can withstand strong winds and grow in saline waters, too,” he says, adding the seeds have germinated in all the islands, despite destruction due to rodent menace. “Rats destroyed all the seeds planted in Kariyachalli island. We have replanted them,” Raghuvaran says.

Wildlife Warden and District Forest Officer Abishek Tomar sees these efforts as part of a two-pronged approach to protect the islands, the scientific one which includes its restoration, and a goal to increasing the tree cover. Though it may take years for the palmyrahs to yield, it is on this ‘real yield’ that they pin their hopes to make the difference.

Points to ponder

  • The Vilanguchalli island and Poovarasanpatti island, which covered an area of 2.81 hectares and 4.69 hectares respectively in the year 1969, have been submerged now
  • SDMRI researchers headed by Dr N Gladwin Gnana Asir say that in the past 49 years, five islands including Vaan, Koswari, Kariyachalli, Upputhanni, and Valai had lost more than 50 percent of their area
  • According to Dr Gladwin, apart from excessive coral mining, dynamite fishing, and bottom trawling, scientists have said that natural processes such as storms, tsunami, neo-tectonic activity, and sea-level rise could also have influenced the morphology of the islands
  • Increasing the tree cover in the islands could also encourage more nesting and roosting of birds, which will further increase the vegetation on the islands


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