Acute shortage of river sand for construction prompted an entrepreneur to import around 32,000 tonnes of sand from Cambodia

Foreign plants and animals could sneak into Kerala if imported sand is released without proper quarantine measures, fear experts.

It is believed that the acute shortage of river sand for construction has prompted an entrepreneur to import around 32,000 tonnes of sand from Cambodia. However, the consignment has been held up at the Cochin Port for want of quarantine certificate.

Invasive species experts are not amused with the import as they apprehend that the sand would bring along with it foreign plants and animals.

Incidentally, the Kerala State Biodiversity Board has convened a meeting at Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday to take stock of the threats posed by invasive species. Experts will also validate a list of invasive flora and fauna present in the State at the meeting.

Builders, according to John Thomas, president of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association India Kerala chapter, had mostly shifted to manufactured sand. It was the individuals building their houses who were buying river sand for construction, he said.

Imported sand, if released without quarantine measures, can wreck ecological damage as they could contain seeds and eggs of alien plant and animals. Seeds of some plants like Acacia can remain dormant for even centuries together only to sprout back to life in favourable conditions, said T.V. Sajeev, coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network.

The network with 33 member nations was established in “response to the immense costs and dangers posed by invasive species to the sustainable management of forests in the Asia-Pacific region.” It focuses “on inter-country cooperation that helps to detect, prevent, monitor, eradicate and/or control forest invasive species in the Asia-Pacific region.”

It was the acute shortage of river sand used for construction in the State that had prompted the business groups to import sand.

Dr. Sajeev pointed out that the invaders from a country can easily establish in other countries located in the same latitude and with identical climatic conditions. Cambodia and South India share similar climatic conditions and hence there is the high risk of new weeds and pests from there taking root in the country. If the untreated soil is allowed to be distributed, it would get easily mixed with soil and may provide the escape route for the invaders, said Dr. Sajeev.

Earlier studies had established that a large number of weeds from Latin American countries had elbowed out many native species of Kerala. It was the identical climatic conditions in these regions that helped these plants to flourish quickly, causing huge ecological losses, he said.

K.V. Sankaran, former director of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, said the sand could even contain microbes harmful for human beings. Imported sand should not be allowed to be distributed without adopting quarantine measures, Dr. Sankaran suggested.

Studies had earlier established Kochi as the hub of the invader species in the State. The species reached Kochi along with various import consignments and got distributed to other places along the transport routes.

Dr. Sajeev also suggested culturing of sand samples to find out whether they were harbouring any plant and animal species alien to the land.

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