Concerns loom over damage to Pulicat wetland as claim settlement of villages in the sanctuary begin

The concern arises from the fact that the State government plans to denotify a sizable area of the sanctuary

April 23, 2024 09:20 pm | Updated 10:17 pm IST - Chennai

Pulicat is a biodiversity hotspot that hosts around 250 species of birds, says expert. File

Pulicat is a biodiversity hotspot that hosts around 250 species of birds, says expert. File

The initiation of settlement of claims for local communities residing in 13 revenue villages within Pulicat Birds Sanctuary boundary limits has raised concerns over the shrinking of the sanctuary’s eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

The concern arises from the fact that the State government plans to denotify a sizable area of the sanctuary. During the 77th meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife held in January 2024, a proposal for the use of 215.83 hectares of non-forest land for the development of an industrial park inside the eco-sensitive zone, and 5 km from the bird sanctuary, was discussed.

While in 1980, the villages were included as part of the sanctuary, the State government has now begun the process of rationalising its boundaries. The settlement of claims is the first step in the process of denotifying the sanctuary. Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas Reddy told The Hindu that once that was done and the final notification was released, the current 10 km buffer would not exist and the ESZ would be declared based on the sanctuary boundary. 

Pulicat’s unique hydrology

Vaithianathan Kannan, wildlife biologist who has written extensively on the ecosystem, notes that Pulicat is a biodiversity hotspot that hosts around 250 species of birds, 50 of which are intercontinental species and that people do not realise the preciousness of the wetland. While damage has already been done to a wide area of Pulicat, several industrial expansion projects proposed now will have a detrimental effect, he adds.

A petition that is being put forth by environmental collectives, including the Chennai Climate Action Group, to the State authorities points out that the Pulicat lagoon is unique in its vulnerability to shoreline dynamics, the presence of more mangrove plantation in ESZ rather than in the Sanctuary area, significance of the lake to over one lakh people depending on it for livelihood and identity, its importance to wildlife and role in Central Asian Flyway for birds.

It also urges the authorities to consider Pulicat’s role as a climate buffer for the city as the lagoon-wetland complex acts as a massive flood water catchment when cyclones hit the coast. “The Pulicat barrier island and associated sand-systems act as critical cyclonic buffers and barricades against tidal and storm surges. Chennai draws between 75 and 100 million litres of fresh water every day from the well-fields of its river basins,” it states.

Jayashree Vencatesan, managing trustee at Care Earth Foundation, says that Pulicat is one of the very few sites that are both historically and ecologically significant. “It is also one of the few landscapes where the locals’ use of water is extremely knowledge-driven. It is used for agriculture, marine fishing and inland fishing,” she adds.

According to Mr. Reddy, the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management has done a study of the wetland and the ESZ will be marked based on its zone of influence.

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