Disappearing beaches: Climate, human greed play havoc with Andhra's beaches

Families were forced to relocate to various places after their houses were washed away due to high tides. Many people who continue to reside in coastal areas reside in fear.

Published: 02nd March 2023 06:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2023 07:53 AM   |  A+A-

Andhra's fishermen are the most vulnerable to coastal erosion and rising sea levels which has been a big issue in the last few years. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

VISAKHAPATNAM:  Coastal erosion, global warming and rising sea levels are significant problems in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Extending from Ichchapuram in the Srikakulam district in the north to Tada in the Nellore district in the south, the state has the second-longest coast in the country at 974 kilometres.

According to the National Centre for Coastal Research’s ‘Status of Andhra Pradesh Shoreline Changes along the Indian Coast (1990-2018), report, 28.7 per cent of the beaches are eroding, 21.7 per cent are stable, and 49.6 per cent are accreting.

The reasons are both anthropogenic and geographical – in other words, human activities and natural phenomena. Many areas are vulnerable to erosion due to geographical factors such as wave action, global warming, rising sea level, ice melting, cyclones, and human activities such as construction and deforestation. Some of the major areas that face significant effects of coastal erosion are Uppada, Visakhapatnam, Machilipatnam, the delta regions of Krishna and Godavari districts and Krishnapatnam.
It is important to note that coastal erosion is a complex issue that a variety of factors can influence, and the specific causes may vary from location to location.

“Ours is a monsoonal coast that encounters cyclones, storms, and others, producing high and aggressive waves that cause coastal erosion. Additionally, in the name of modernisation and industrialisation, we are constructing jetties and harbours offshore, obstructing the natural flow of sand, known as sedimentary transport. In the Bay of Bengal, sedimentary transport happens from south to north. With the construction of the harbours, jetties, and breakwaters, this natural process is being obstructed,” explains Dr K S S  Murthy, CSIR Emeritus Scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography.

“If we consider this, the sedimentary transport from Gangavaram in the south is being obstructed from flowing towards RK Beach and other areas in the north, leaving them eroded. The casuarina trees and mangroves help absorb the wave effects on the village coastlines. But when it comes to the cities, the modernised harbours do not act the same, leaving the coastal vegetation destroyed where the coast is more exposed to the ocean waves, leading to erosion,” he says. 

Of all, fishermen are the most vulnerable to coastal erosion and rising sea levels, as their livelihood depends on this, which has been in trouble in the last few years. “The quantity and quality of the fish have degraded in the last ten years, and so have our lives. 60-70 per cent of us are coastal fishermen who catch fish on the shores and nearby areas. Only the remaining fishermen continue to fish in the deep sea. Today, the percentage of fish catch has been reduced to 50 per cent, and massive amounts of marine waste have been caught. The boats we use cannot withstand the strong currents, and most fish is not available in these areas,” Tataji, a fisherman from Visakhapatnam, told this newspaper. 

Coast erosion and global warming have also impacted the Godavari and Krishna districts. Groundwater extraction causes seawater intrusion into coastal waters, lowering groundwater levels and increasing seawater. Excessive usage of groundwater, channelling the saltwater canals for aquaculture, and the groundwater being exploited are affecting the villages in times of flood and degrading the quality of the villages.

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One of the significant places to be affected by erosion and global warming is Uppada in the Kakinada district. According to a study by the Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre, the coastline near Uppada got eroded at an average rate of 1.23 metres per year between 1989 and 2018. Many villages in this district have been awaiting a permanent solution for coastal erosion, but all measures taken go in vain. Hundreds of families were forced to relocate to various places after their houses were washed away due to high tides. Many people who continue to reside there live in constant fear and confusion about their future.

Dr P Sunitha, Head of the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography at Andhra University, says, “Neglecting coastal zone management (CZM) process, we are taking up various constructions on the coasts for developmental, industrial, and recreational purposes. Besides, the other major factors for this are the deforestation of mangroves and the contamination of the sea with toxic waste from industries. To control this, we must follow the CZM processes, beach nourishment, construction of seawalls and groynes, and afforestation of coastal areas. Coastal erosion, global warming, and sea level rise are real and should be considered seriously.”

The classic case of sea erosion is Uppada in U Kothapalli mandal of Kakinada district where the sea surged forward by one-and-a-half kilometres over the past few decades. Says Ganta Swamy (70), a resident of Suradpeta near Uppada, “The sea has come forward by more than one-and-a-half kilometres. taking away hundreds of acres of land, three temples, a government school and a community hall. We are moving back as the sea is surging towards our villages but we can’t go away as it is our livelihood.”

Echoing his views, a resident of Uppada, Thiridi Nukaraju laments that cyclones and heavy rains bring with them the threat of inundation of their houses. “Every full moon and new moon days, seawater enters our villages. Our village would be in two-feet water for a day or two. The situation is similar in Suradapeta and our village,’’ Nukaraju says.

He regrets they cannot shift to alternate places as their livelihood depends on the sea. The high tides wash away the Kakinada-Uppada beach road occasionally. Temporary measures by the revenue and roads and buildings departments to control the damage did not prove successful.

Kothapalli is another village where more than 10 acres of the coast got eroded with the sea surging forward by almost one kilometre over the past decade. A similar situation prevails at Pallipalem in Sakhinetipalli Mandal and Turpupalem in Malikipuram Mandal of Konaseema district during high tides. Recently, a few houses and shops were washed away into the sea at Pallipalem.

On the other hand, Machilipatnam, Krishnapatnam, and other nearby areas are vulnerable to cyclones. The town and surrounding areas have been affected by several cyclones in the past, with varying degrees of severity. These cyclones typically form over the Bay of Bengal and bring strong winds and heavy rainfall, which cause damage to infrastructure and homes as well as flooding. This remains a significant concern for those living in these areas, as their homes and livelihoods are at risk.

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Worst-hit coastal areas:

  • Uppada, Visakhapatnam, Machilipatnam, delta regions of Krishna and Godavari districts, Krishnapatnam
  • Between 1990 & 2018 -  28.7 per cent of AP’s coastline eroded,  21.7 per cent are stable and 49.6 per cent are accreting
  • Uppada: A classic case of sea erosion. Sea surged forward one-and-a-half km in the past few decades – at U Kothapalli mandal of Kakinada. The shoreline near Uppada eroded at an average rate of 1.23 m per year from 1989 to 2018.

Leading causes of coastal erosion

  • Wave action: Strong waves from the Bay of Bengal erode the shoreline and cause coastal erosion.
  • Sea level rise: As the global sea level rises, the coastlines are also affected by increased water level
  • Human activities: The construction of ports and harbours and the construction of sea walls and breakwaters disrupt the natural flow of sediment and cause erosion. Deforestation and urbanization also lead to soil erosion and the weakening of coastal features that protect against waves.
  • Unplanned development: The unplanned development of coastal areas and lack of proper coastal regulation have led to the destruction of natural habitats and increased vulnerability to erosion.
  • Natural causes: The sediment supply to the coast is blocked by the siltation of river mouths, leading to erosion.
  • Climate change: The effects of climate change, like sea level rise, increased frequency of storms, and rising temperatures, make the coastal erosion problem more severe.

(With inputs from S Trimurthulu in Kakinada)


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