Downtown Cares Chennai

Have you ever walked down the mudflats?

Mudflats are an ecosystem in themselves; but what they have to offer is often not obvious. Worse still, we may be muddying the waters. Here is a look at the mudflats at the estuarine systems in Covelong and Adyar

February 20, 2020;

7 a.m.

It’s a walk down the mudflats at Kundrukadu in Covelong that are part of the Muttukadu backwaters and estuarine system.

The time to suss out the ecosystem was randomly chosen — significantly, the day’s tide chart was not consulted.

It however turns out to be an opportune hour to explore the mudflats.

A fisherman, who is winding up the morning session, having caught crabs in the backwaters and is getting ready to give a sales-pitch at the market — either the one at Covelong or the one at Kelambakkam — points out the low tide has set in.

They sure can read the backwaters effortlessly and accurately tell the nature of a tidal action — low or high — and how far a tidal period has progressed.

Later, consulting the tide chart for February 20, this writer discovered that one of the two low-tide periods began at 6:47 a.m., and this fisherman was working on the basis of an instinctual understanding of the inter-tidal zone honed by experience.

Exposed as result of the low tide, the mudflats suggest an abundance of life, without any of the small crawlies running around the space to demonstrate the fact.

There are innumerable small burrows. What lies around these tiny passageways into the earth leaves one in no doubt about the nature of the residents.

These are clumps of earth-balls, seemed to have been shaped to near-perfection, as if with a precision instrument. Certain crab species are said to “execute” this “accidental craftsmanship” while sifting through sediments for their feed.

Have you ever walked down the mudflats?

Anirudh Kishore, project associate, Care Earth Trust, who is currently engaged in a study of the region, including the Muttukadu backwaters and estuarine system, as part of an exercise that seeks to identify what can be done to ensure water sufficiency over the years, states mudflats are rarely seen as an ecosystem by themselves, and that they should be.

“They may be a huge component of the estuarine system with its brackish water – as is the case with the Muttukadu backwaters — but mudflats are so rich that they deserve to be seen and studied as an ecosystem in themselves. They are essentially coastal wetlands formed out of deposited sediments,” explains Anirudh.

A key component

With nutrient-rich soil that supports many organisms, mudflats are part of what makes an estuarine system invaluable to man and animal.

He continues, “Estuarine systems and mudflats fit neatly into a few categories that come under a broad classification of ecosystems. When viewed against the services of ecosystems categorised by Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), estuaries and mudflats have much to offer, but these benefits may not be obvious. This classification by MEA which has since been modified to address the little intricacies, are broadly: One, provisioning — those with market value, where an ecosystem supports people’s livelihoods such as fishing; two, regulating — flood control, water storage and purification and carbon sequestration; three, cultural — recreation such as eco-tourism; four, supporting — here, the various components of an ecosystem support the whole; together with other components, mudflats play a hugely supportive role.”

Anirudh lists out the benefits of mudflats: “They support the fishing community; an example being a proliferation of crabs, which create aerobic conditions by their burrowing activity. Mudflats help in not letting erosion take place as they don’t have loose soil. Depending on the kind of vegetation you find there, they also play a supportive role in carbon sequestration. As breeding and feeding grounds for organisms mudflats are invaluable.”

Problem of pollution

Anirudh says that protecting the Muttukadu estuarine system would include arresting sewage inflows.

Raghavan Murti, president, Union of Tower Association at House of Hiranandani Upscale in Egattur on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), points out that the Muttukadu backwaters, found between OMR and East Coast Road (ECR), gets polluted by sewage inflows.

“Due to lack of sewage connections, residents on vast sections of OMR, including the Muttukadu region, depend on private sewage-clearing tankers. After being removed, the sewage is let into the Muttukadu backwaters. So, the Muttukadu Backwaters suffers from a double whammy — there is sewage being let into it, in this manner, and then there is the polluted water that comes in via the Buckingham Canal,” says Raghavan.

Anirudh explains what is at stake: “Untreated sewage contains nitrogen and phosphorous. Mudflat ecosystems have evolved organically to support life forms, and when these elements get introduced, they alter the functioning of the ecosystem, and as a consequence, living organisms suffer as they will be unable to adapt to these changes. The food chain gets disturbed. When sewage comes in, it will affect the growth of algae and some planktons, which form the base of the food chain.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 8:47:25 AM |

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