“Birds of Pulicat Lake” is another feather in ecologist P. J. Sanjeeva Raj's cap
Restoration ecologist P.J. Sanjeeva Raj has melded academics with activism. Head of the zoology department at Madras Christian College from the 1960s to the 1980s, he turned the Pulicat lake into a field of experiment.
He has led many initiatives to protect the ecological balance of this lagoon, second largest in the country; his magnum opus is the Estuarine Biological Laboratory built at Pulicat Town in 1969.
Eighty-three-year-old Raj's interest in the region has not waned. Still an authority on the lake, he volunteers information about it. He continues to foster eco-awareness among residents and is the founder of the Pulicat Lake Bird Lovers' Society (PLBLS), a voluntary organisation that aids and provokes research on the bird life.
The Society is not shut up in an intellectual ivory tower, but partners with the locals in protecting Pulicat birds. It organises excursions and functions as a window to Pulicat's rich biodiversity. For its supportive role at the Flamingo Festival (an annual attraction at Sullurpet), PLBLS won the ‘Best Society Award' for four years on the trot (2004 to 2007).
Drawing upon his knowledge gained by a continuous observation of the lake, he has now written Birds Of Pulicat Lake. Meant to be a quick guide to bird-watching in Pulicat, he collaborated with Odd W. Jacobsen, associate professor in animal ecology at Bergen University College, Norway, for the book.
Raj underlines the importance of the neighbouring freshwater Nellapattu Sanctuary in the book. “The Pulicat and Nellapattu sanctuaries complement each other. The Pulicat lake with brackish water serves as a feeding habitat; Nellapattu is breeding ground for these birds.”
Together, these sanctuaries support seven threatened species of birds — spot-billed pelican, painted stork, white ibis, darter, lesser flamingo, marbled teal and black-bellied tern.
For Raj, a peek into the fascinating world of birds can make youngsters sensitive to the issues of global ecology. Birds have scant regard for national boundaries; they bring out the common thread running through Nature.
From China to Venadu
“The bar-headed goose breeds in the lakes of Tibet, Ladakh and China, but leaves high altitudes in the winter months. Flying high over the Himalayas at an altitude of 33,000 feet, in the jet stream, the bird travels towards Pulicat. It can be seen foraging in the paddy fields on Venadu Island in the South and Moolah village in the North.”
Raj says the case of the spot-billed pelican emphasises how even salutary human action can negatively impact Nature.
"At one time, these squat birds were found in millions in south and south-east Asia. Indiscriminate use of DDT, especially in south-east Asia, during the Green Revolution after World War II led to these birds laying thin-shelled eggs. Naturally, their numbers dwindled alarmingly. The subsequent blue revolution (aquaculture on a mass scale) in the region left the bird with no trees to nest and breed. A remnant of the spot-billed pelicans in south-east Asia escaped to Assam and South India. The pelican population in South India is now picking up."
Raj says Pulicat and Nelapattu sanctuaries have contributed immensely to the protection of this pelican. “Located close to a rocket-launching station, these twin sanctuaries have few parallels in the world. They illustrate that, when planned, development can go hand in hand with Nature.” For details about the book, call 26185188.