On August 19, 2012, it will be 10 years since the brackish water Ashtamudi Lake with eight creeks was declared a Ramsar site by designating it as a wetland of international importance. The lake was recommended by the Ramsar Convention’s partner organisations as a wetland of 61.4 sq km. And the lake entered the Ramsar list as site number 1,204.

However, since then, the area of the lake has shrunk to 34 sq km and it is facing serious environmental degradation. Revenue authorities dispute the 61.4 sq km extent but agree that the lake may have shrunk by at least 5 sq km in the past 10 years.

Internationally there are 2,046 wetlands designated Ramsar sites and India has 25. The main purpose of declaring an important wetland as Ramsar site is to enable its conservation through local and national-level action with international cooperation for achieving sustainable development.

Two sites in Kollam

Kollam is the only revenue district in India with two wetlands declared as Ramsar sites. The freshwater Sasthamcotta Lake is the second Ramsar site in the district and both were designated on the same day.

But sadly, in spite of the international status, there has been no serious attempt to gain national or international cooperation to protect these lakes.

Environment activists say wanton reclamation, pollution, and sand-mining have destroyed Ashtamudi Lake. The pollution factor includes hydro-carbon discharge from over 1,000 mechanised fishing boats that operate through vast portions of the lake. The lake has also become a solid waste dumping ground of Kollam city.

Even after 10 years, no signboards have been put up on its banks to indicate that it is a Ramsar site. Vast areas of the lake have been reclaimed for so-called development projects and more areas have been earmarked for upcoming projects, they said.

Noted environment activist and former Pro-Vice Chancellor of Calicut University M.K. Prasad said it appeared as though the government was not aware that Ashtamudi Lake was a Ramsar site. That could be a reason for the apathy on the part of the authorities concerned towards conserving the precious wetland. “It is a pity that the lake continues to be destroyed.”

Encroachment

In 2007, some earnest efforts were made by the district administration to recover huge tracts of the lake that had been encroached upon. More than 100 hectares of the lake that had been reclaimed through landfill process was identified. However, no steps have been taken to recover such land.

V.K. Madhusudanan, environment activist and convener of the Kollam district environment subcommittee of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, said though the Ramsar convention gives big thrust to mangrove conservation, there has been heavy destruction of Ashtamudi Lake’s mangrove forest zones.

Only a small portion of the special funds allocated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for the conservation of the lake after its status as a Ramsar site had been utilised. Mr. Madhusudanan said almost all courses of the lake had become a solid waste dumping location with plastics turning out to be the biggest threat.

He said encroachments upon the lake were so rampant that not only the mainland course of the lake but even the inhabited estuarine islands were growing in area by the year. Rampant sand-mining has taken the fish population of the lake to near extinction as it destroys the spawning grounds of the lake’s fish.

Keywords: Ashtamudi Lake

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