Pollution peaks in the forests during Sabarimala pilgrimage season

To weary Sabarimala pilgrims, the Myristica swamp forests at Pancharamannu on the Thulappally-Plappally stretch of the main trunk road to Sabarimala offer welcome relief.

Many of them alight there to eat and take a bath in the streams in the forests, but their seemingly harmless travel routine has been damaging the swamp ecosystem. The plastic plates, cups and covers and food waste left behind pollute the serene environs.

The two culverts in the middle of the forests invite people to sit and eat, but also make it easy to throw the waste into the clear streams around. Such pollution hampers the regeneration of the swamp forests, impede water flow, pollute the freshwater source and endanger the reptilian and fish fauna in the unique ecosystem. The pilgrims who come in buses and vehicles trample on the vegetation and use the area as an open toilet. After the pilgrimage season, the ecosystem will be ravaged and filled with plastic and other waste, killing micro-flora and -fauna.

The thick, dense, healthy evergreen patch of the natural freshwater swamp forests are in the Ranni Forest Range. They are found in the valleys of the tropical evergreen forests in the Travancore region and are known to occur in Sri Lanka, G. Prasad, Assistant Conservator of Forests, says.

Mr. Prasad told The Hindu on Tuesday that the undergrowth in the Pancharamannu forests mainly had aroids and the Cyperaceae and the Scintaminae species.

He said such vegetation occurred as a fringe forest off slow-moving streams, and small such patches were seen in the Kulathupuzha and the Shendurney wildlife sanctuaries. The soil was sandy alluvium with a high humus content and remained inundated from June to January.

On the border of the Pancharamannu patch is a teak plantation with reed growth on the other side.

Mr. Prasad said the top canopy trees and the second-level trees sighted there were of the Myristica species, Laphopetalum wightianum, Carellia brachiata and so on. Shrubs such as those of the Pandanus species were abundant. The Pneumatophores and Pneumatothodes, which were root modifications, were of botanical interest to the scientific world.

Unique reptiles, amphibians, fishes and insects evoked curiosity. Some woody and slender climbers banked on the Calamus species to grow. But quick steps are needed to fence and protect the area from dumping of waste and pollution.