Sunday special | Puducherry

A famous promenade returns to its sandy past

Reverse engineering: Water with sand being pumped on the coast near the old pier, as part of the Puducherry beach restoration project.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

It is a sweltering, slumbering Sunday afternoon but Puducherry Chief Minister A. Nayaranasamy makes time to speak of the pilot project that aims to restore Puducherry’s sandy beach to its famous rocky promenade. Sifting through memories, he recalls,“I was born in a village about 5-7 kilometres from here. The sea was a part of life for my family. When I was a young boy, we used to run to the water and go swimming in the sea. Beaches are where people come to relax in the evenings after work, and they are also a critical source of livelihood for coastal communities. Beach restoration has been one of our dreams.”

In early March, a baby step was taken in this direction by the many agencies jointly handling the project, with the commencement of the Shoreline Management Plan for Puducherry.

In a first for the country, it sees the coastline as a continuous entity occurring in nature beyond State boundaries, and offers a man-made solution to a man-made problem.

Puducherry lost its sandy beaches, including the most visible stretch of bay down the historic Goubert Avenue, almost within a decade of the construction, in 1989, of its ‘under-performing’ port, which meanwhile, is used more as a fishing harbour.

PUDUCHERRY, 12/04/2017: Sand water being pumped through pipelines on the coast near old pier as part of beach restoration project in Puducherry.
Photo: S.S. Kumar

PUDUCHERRY, 12/04/2017: Sand water being pumped through pipelines on the coast near old pier as part of beach restoration project in Puducherry. Photo: S.S. Kumar   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

Nature disrupted

“Significant constructions along the coastline cause disruption in the littoral drifts that carry, deposit, remove and restore sand to beaches, shifting cyclically in opposite directions over the annual monsoon calendar,” says Aurofilio Schiavina, co-founder of PondyCAN, an advocacy group working on coastal erosion.

This is why beaches are sometimes called ‘rivers of sand’.

In the absence of naturally occurring sand barriers, wave action erodes the coastline drastically. Alarmed local authorities then put up rock walls and groynes that hold back the sea in much the same way a port’s breakwater does, pushing the unresolved issue of erosion further up and down the coast. For instance, coastal erosion in the fishing village of Chinna Mudaliyar Chavady near here worsened when groynes were constructed in Thandirayankuppam to its south.

The pilot project, estimated to cost ₹65 crore and jointly funded by the Puducherry government, the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), is designed as a baseline model that can be replicated elsewhere.

It will feature one artificial four metre-high, 28,540 sq. mt. ‘nearshore wedge reef’ opposite the Chief Secretariat, which will serve as a ‘mild barrier’ to sediment losses and enable sand to move naturally to the north. A similar 4,200 sq. mt. offshore reef placed at the southern end will create the effect of a tombolo (a sand bar) to hold sand on the city’s foreshore.

Work has not yet started on the reef building but the beach nourishment component of the project is on: 450,000 cubic metres of sand is being dredged from the mouth of the Thengathittu fishing harbour, transported and deposited via pipes 2.3 km away, near the old pier.

Is it sustainable?

Whether the project will remain sustainable beyond its presently allocated funding remains unclear since maintaining the restored beach will require perpetual replenishment. “It is a demanding and costly exercise to try and do what nature does for free,” admits Mr. Schiavina.

On the future, Mr. Narayanasamy says, “Beaches are very precious and must be saved.” Should the pilot project run its course, by year-end, Puducherry will have a sandy beach and not a rocky wall between the sea and its people.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 1:48:38 AM |

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