THOOTHUKUDI: A study by a group of biologists has found a rich biodiversity of 276 flora and 115 fauna species around an industrial site located in the SIPCOT complex on Thoothukudi-Madurai National Highways in Thoothukudi. The study sponsored by Vedanta has recommended to promote agroforestry species, livelihood activity centres, replacement of prosopis juliflora with native species and to develop a biopark to conserve biodiversity.
The survey was conducted in the buffer area around the SIPCOT complex, which houses large red category industries such as the Sterlite Copper. The buffer area comprises cultivable lands, tanks, salt pans, and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere. Also, villages such as Meelavittan, Therku Veerapandiapuram, Sankaraperi, Ayyanadaippu and Madathur fall within 5 km radius of the SIPCOT complex.
The floral diversity of the region surrounding the industries include 276 species belonging to 215 genera and 70 families. The 276 floral species are dominated by 231 dicotyledons, 42 monocotyledons, two pteridophytes, and one gymnosperm. Over 33 species have timber values, 25 have medicinal properties and 12 are ornamental, the study says.
Biodiversity Policy Expert Dr C Thomson Jacob, who was a part of the study, told TNIE that the 63 invasive alien species which includes 58 herbs, two shrubs, and one each of a climber and a tree is a serious matter of concerns among the floral biodiversity around the industries.
Jacob said that the prosopis juliflora (seema karuvelam) has been a major invasive species found in the region. Introduced from south and central America during the mid-nineteenth century, the seemai karuvelam trees meet the 70% of the firewood needs of the rural population, he said.
Referring to a study in 2008, which had documented 173 invasive alien species, Wildlife and Invasive Alien Species expert Dr S Sandilyan said the study area is home to about one-third of India's invasive alien species. Special action plans should be charted to replace the alien species with the native varieties, he added.
The faunal diversity of the buffer zone is home to 115 faunal species including 60 bird species, 20 butterfly species, 12 reptiles and mammals, five fresh water fishes, four beetles, bees and bugs, two arthropods and one damselfly. Among the faunal diversity, egg fly and peafowl are endangered, which needs rigorous protection. Of the 60 bird species, seven are migratory, 13 are local migrants.
The rich wetland and freshwater resources like Korampallam tank primarily form the basis for the floral and faunal diversity of the region, says Jacob.
Raising an alarm on the abundance of the African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) in the fresh water bodies, the biologists said that it is a serious matter of concern, as the highly carnivorous and ferocious predator eliminates on native fishes, frogs, snails and other aquatic life. "The invasive African catfishes had diminished the population of the native fish varieties in the inland water bodies across the country", they said.
The study also finds large neem tree groves in Mapilaiyoorani village are 60 plus years old which needs biodiversity heritage site tag. The biodiversity assessment study for every three years and carbon sequestration study for once in five years will help mitigate the climatic changes, said Jacob.
The study recommends a strategic action plan to promote a livelihood centre so as to conduct skill-based training programmes, encourage cultivation of medicinal plants, promote nutritional garden, and agroforestry to undertake cultivation of high economic value trees. Being an industrial region, a bio park and a seed bank are necessary to conserve endangered species and native seeds, it says.