The Fisheries Department's plan to construct a fish landing centre and other infrastructure on 1.71 hectares at Annamalaicheri in Pulicat lake eco-system has led to renewal of the long-standing demand for a separate bird sanctuary in the village, like the one at Nelapattu in Andhra Pradesh.

There is also a demand for declaring the Pulicat wetland eco-system as a Ramsar site.

The Rs.4.72-crore proposal under the tsunami rehabilitation programme includes construction of administrative office, auction hall, buyers' waiting hall, cafeteria, locker room, security room, chill room, women's self-help group building, sanitary facility and compound wall.

“Annamalaicheri is the only site on the whole lake where shore birds feed in plenty. Also, the shallow waters attract wader birds such as flamingos. Such a valuable eco-system should not be disturbed or destroyed by the construction of new infrastructure,” says P.J. Sanjeeva Raj, a known researcher of the Pulicat eco-system for 45 years.

“It is a unique eco-system, particularly for the Greater Flamingos. The knee high water, with good biodiversity, is a great feeding ground for thousands of these birds during winter. Last January, we sighted 40 Lesser Flamingos too,” says T. Murugavel of Environment Monitoring and Action Initiative. Endangered birds such as Grey Pelican, Painted Stork and birds like spot-billed ducks, shovellers, pintails, garganeys, godwits, sandpipers and stints are also sighted, he adds.

Considering the fact that the farmlands around this place and also the other parts of the Pulicat Lake are being fast converted as SEZs and promoted by real estate developers, any more development or commercial project will have a serious negative impact on this wetland, says K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan, founder, Nature Trust.

Instead of one more fish landing centre in Pulicat, the government should use funds to widen and deepen the lake mouth permanently to benefit fisher folk of 50-60 villages, says Mr. Sanjeeva Raj.

Wildlife activists like him suggest construction of artificial islands on which mangroves, babul (Acacia nilotica) and Indian Oak (Barringtonia acutangula) could be planted to attract roosting and even nesting water birds to promote bird sanctuary like the one at Nelapattu, just 40 km north west of Annamalaicheri.

Annamalaicherri fishermen are unsure of the detrimental effects the new constructions, planned on the western side of the village, would have on bird life. “We want the government to continuously dredge the channels, which help us navigate boats into the deeper part of the lake, particularly during summers when the water recedes,” said Sukumar, panchayat president.