Protecting our coasts
From the dense mangroves in the Sunderbans and the nesting sea turtles in Orissa to the majestic whale sharks in the Gulf of Kutch and the breathtaking coral reefs in Lakshadweep, India’s 8,000-km-long coastline is a treasure trove of marine life. These waters are also spawning and breeding ground for a variety of fish. The countries fisheries industry has thrived for centuries thanks to the richness of its marine life.
In spite of all this, India’s ocean environment has been neglected. Within the political system, understanding on this issue is either limited or poor and the policy focus is ad hoc. Even with the limited information available it is quite clear that the country’s coast line and marine environment is under threat.
The execution of massive projects such as ports with inadequate assessments of their impacts on the local environment and the livelihoods they sustain is a matter of serious concern. The 11th Five Year Plan has identified 331 ports for development on the mainland. That’s the equivalent of having a port every 20 km or so along India’s 6,000-km-long mainland coast.
The cumulative impacts of these ports on the environment have not been assessed and their economic advantage is not known as half of the ports in the country are under utilised.
Apart from endangering marine habitats, this also poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of coastal communities. Fisheries resources in several parts of the country are under severe stress. By offering a variety of subsidies and incentives, governments at the centre and state level have allowed too many mechanised boats to operate, resulting in too many boats chasing too few fish.
The campaign for oceans is currently focused on three specific areas:
Coastal development: Coastal real estate is most prized for tourism, industries, aquaculture, nuclear and thermal power plants or ports, all of which leave behind a devastated coastal environment. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 1991 was meant to protect our coasts but has failed to do so. Greenpeace is demanding that the notification be strengthened and implemented and industries and infrastructure projects be kept away from eco-sensitive areas.
Overfishing: Increasingly, a wide range of marine ecologists and scientists think that the biggest single threat to marine ecosystems today is overfishing. The appetite for fish is exceeding the ocean’s ecological limits with devastating impacts on marine ecosystems. Scientists are warning that overfishing could result in profound changes in our oceans, perhaps changing them forever.
Marine reserves: Our oceans are in need of protection – from overfishing, pollution, mining and other threats. Marine reserves are an important tool to protect and preserve areas of our oceans that are rich in biodiversity, ecologically significant and vulnerable to destruction. These areas are closed to all extractive uses, such as fishing, mining, oil exploration, waste dumping etc.