Environmentalists have welcomed the intervention of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in protecting the Sasthamcotta freshwater lake in Kollam district.

Mr. Chandy will chair a high-level meeting in this regard on May 8. Terming it a step in the right direction, eco-activist V.K. Madhusudhanan, who had been taking up the cause for over a decade now, said conservation efforts should be supported by genuine, eco-friendly solutions.

The lake was listed as a Ramsar site in 2002. Livelihood activities and biodiversity protection was also important. Serious concerns were raised only when the water level dropped alarmingly. But many people had for long been raising the issues of biodiversity and livelihood destruction, Mr. Mr. Madhusudhanan said. Some 10 years ago, more than 150 fishermen depended on the lake for their livelihood. The lake then had good fish wealth. With rampant biodiversity destruction, the fish stock got depleted. The natural vegetation around the lake was also destroyed and replaced by exotic varieties like acacia trees and vetriver. The lake was even subjected to fish stocking by releasing exotic species. All this indicated that the natural biodiversity of the lake was being destroyed. But those aspects did not invite much attention then, he said.

Finally the water level began receding, mainly due to rampant sand-mining. The Chief Minister’s intervention, though delayed, brings much hope. The Chief Minister should also ensure that the intervention will not lead to a situation that would serve the interests of contractors and engineers, he said.

The conservation projects announced or implemented so far had only served to destroy the lake.

These were finalised at the bureaucratic level without consulting scientific experts, he said. K.K. Appukuttan, former scientist at Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), and chairman of the Kollam district environment subcommittee of the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, said the construction of a bridge-cum-regulator across Kallada River, at the Kadapuzha course, would do only harm.

The Munrothurutu islands were part of the river’s delta. Deltas were built and sustained by sediments delivered by rivers. If a river was blocked by a levee near the delta, it can spell doom for the islands. It can result in such islands getting submerged, he said.

The levee was being constructed to block the river and pump water from there to partly meet the drinking water requirements of Kollam. As much as Rs.10 crore had been allocated for this. The aim was to reduce the pressure on Sasthamcotta Lake in meeting the drinking water requirements of Kollam. Dr. Appukuttan said the levee should be constructed only after conducting a proper environment impact study.

All exotic species of plants around the lake should be removed and replaced with endemic species, especially screw pine which was once abundant there. It arrested soil erosion and was a natural biodiversity booster, Mr. Madusudhanan said.

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