Sea gnawing away at Karnataka beaches, coasts

Clubbed with wrath of monsoon, Karnataka fishermen are worst hit by eroding coastline mostly at river mouths. The menace is increasing in recent years, say officials and experts.
Malnad and coastal districts have been experiencing rain over the last few days. (Above) Sea erosion in Kapu, Udupi district.  (File Photo)
Malnad and coastal districts have been experiencing rain over the last few days. (Above) Sea erosion in Kapu, Udupi district. (File Photo)

KARWAR/UDUPI(KARNATAKA: Sea erosion is increasing every year on the West Coast, particularly in Uttara Kannada, where it was so far considered not a serious issue. While experts say the erosion is due to global warming, beaches will soon be lost and thousands of fishermen will be badly affected. They have stressed on proper long-term planning to protect the coast and its economy.

In mid-2022, the people at Thappalakere village in Bhatkal of Uttara Kannada district made it to the headlines when they approached the Human Rights Commission, demanding a solution to their 
annual problem – sea erosion. They have been suffering because for the last 4-5 years. The problem became so severe that Chief Minister Basavraj Bommai, scheduled to visit here, cancelled his trip on being advised against it, as sea erosion has severely damaged roads, making them unmotorable.

Taranath Rathod, Superintendent Engineer, Department of Ports, says, “Thappalakere is a low-lying area and houses get flooded during monsoon. They faced severe problems as everything got washed away. We have now proposed a `11 crore project to address the issue here.” The erosion has been most severe at the river mouths, like Pavinkurve, where River Venkatapura joins the Arabian Sea and Thappalakere. 

The menace is increasing in recent years, say officials and experts. Uttara Kannada district had remained unaffected for a long time. “Erosion occurs during monsoon when sea levels increase. There is no erosion when beaches have sand deposits. Due to various reasons, these deposits have reduced drastically, including due to extraction of sand, construction of vented dams and other aspects,” says Rathod. 

He points out that encroachment on beaches is another reason for erosion, and happens mostly in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, where people live near beaches. Shivakumar Haragi, Assistant Professor, Department of Marine Biology, Karnataka University, Dharwad, points out that changes in the rainfall pattern due to climate change, in turn due to global warming, is the major reason for erosion as the intensity of the rainfall is heavier. “As a result, the sand does not deposit and the erosion increases.”

Livelihoods affected 
The erosion has already affected the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen and is bound to worsen further. “This year, during monsoon, hundreds of boats were washed away both in Kundapur and Bhatkal. This is what happens if the sea erosion becomes severe,” says Haragi. He adds that over 20,000 fishermen’s families will be hit badly in Uttara Kannada as most of them here are traditional fishermen who anchor their boats and dump their nets, motors and fishing gear on the shores.

However the silver lining is that Uttara Kannada is not as densely populated as the other two coastal districts, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. Sea erosion is a major threat to the people living along the coast of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts. Sea walls have been constructed in many places along the 95 km coastline of  Udupi and Dakshina Kannada since the early 2000s. But the permanent measures are still to be put in place.

Some measures at work
Halealive area in Koteshwara Gram Panchayat in Kundapur taluk of Udupi district, seashore residents have sought protection from sea incursion by constructing a permanent barrier. “Despite our request, no steps have been taken and the shoreline is eroding every year,’’ the locals say. The `300 crore funding by Asian Development Bank to construct sea walls has not yielded satisfactory results.

A study by the Department of Applied Mechanics and Hydraulics, National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal, Mangaluru, states that around 46 km of the total 95 km coastline in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada is in the critical erosion category. 59 per cent is at very high risk, 7 percent at high risk, 4 percent moderate and 30 percent vulnerable. 

Karnataka State Minister for Fisheries, Ports and Inland Water Transport S Angara says that at some places like Uchila near Ullal of Dakshina Kannada district, sea wave breakers have been installed. This technology is suitable and can be used on an experimental basis in some places.

At Maravanthe in Udupi district, duck foot technology may be implemented on an experimental basis. Later based on the success rate, the two different technologies may be introduced in other parts, he said, examining suggestions from experts. The total financial implications of the two projects is yet to be known.

One estimate states that the sea wave breaker project costs `25 crore to cover 1 km of seashore. Angara says it has been implemented at Nellikunnu in Kasaragod, Kerala. UK Yoosuf, a Kasaragod businessman, has pitched the idea of introducing the technology. A project proposal has been submitted to Bommai, who has forwarded it to the Chief Secretary to check its feasibility.

Though Prof Haragi suggests that green wall protection is the most suited to prevent erosion, the port department seems not optimistic. Haragi emphasises that proper planning and management will be helpful. “We must identify vulnerable areas, manage them in consultation with locals and take long-term measures. The sea wall is highly unscientific.

There needs to be proper planning and advanced technology. We have to have a long-term planning of shoreline management (artificial green belt creation) and wherever immediate measures are taken, it should be done scientifically. Maravanthe is the best example of long-term planning and a permanent solution,” he said.

Development in Western Ghats hit

The Western Ghats has reduced the pace of development in the region which has marginally helped 
to naturally prevent sea erosion

Low population density has checked the mega population on the beaches of the west coast

The erosion is due to global warming, which has affected the rainfall pattern

Ports and break waters which are major players in preventing sea erosion are very limited in numbers, particularly in Uttara Kannada

Many ports, both fishing and commercial, are being planned under the Sagarmala project which hints that sea erosion is bound to increase in the future

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