Community bands together to save the shores

Beach study: Community volunteers recording the shoreline dynamics of the North Vanjore beach in Karaikal.  

On a low-tide, when the full moon was still shining, nearly 10 volunteers assemble at 5.30 a.m. on the coast of North Vanjore in Karaikal region. From a fixed control point on the shore near the sand dunes, two volunteers — Kalaiyarasan and Suryaprakash — use two 2-metre poles and a 5-metre measuring tape to record the distance between the two poles which is then used to calculate the contour, length and elevation change of the beach.

Each individual volunteer carries a separate file to note down the readings of sand erosion and accretion on a graph. Then, they conduct sand grain analysis and photo document human-related disturbances and ecological indicators.

Since August 2015, every month, on the full moon or new moon day, during low tide, these volunteers have been gathering at the shore on the coast of North Vanjore, Kilinjalmedu, Karukalcherry and Mandapathur in Karaikal region and repeating the procedure.

This beach profile monitoring programme is under way in four coastal hamlets in Karaikal in Puducherry and four in Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu. The programme has been developed by Vivek Coelho, Programme Officer, Social and Ecological Stewardship Programme at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and partnered with NGOs — Social Need Education and Human Awareness (SNEHA) and Legal Aid to Women Trust (LAW Trust) of Nagapattinam.

History of profiling

“A simple method of profiling beaches was developed by K.O. Emery in 1961 and is popularly known as the Emery Method. Standard tools for measurement such as graduated poles as suggested in the Emery Method were not easily available and also prohibitively expensive,” according to Mr. Coelho.

After a series of trials with improvised equipment, Mr. Coelho developed a low-cost method. The accuracy was not compromised and within ₹10, 000 per year, a community was able to monitor the beach, document and archive it on a continuous basis within the community and also use it for evidence based information and decision making. The ultimate idea is for communities to take ownership for a healthy coast, he said.

The beach profile monitoring programme began in 2015 in Karaikal and Cuddalore with over 120 trained volunteers from the two districts collecting the data at four control points in Karaikal and Cuddalore districts respectively.

The volunteers have been documenting the details on the shore such as the vegetation, solid waste, available life forms and ecological indicators and human related disturbances on the full moon or new moon day every month. The ultimate idea is for communities to take ownership to regenerate a thriving coastal ecology.

“Beach profile monitoring programme has created space for coastal communities to proactively engage in observation, documentation and recording of data pertaining to their local ecology, using beach profiling and sand grain size analysis strengthened by photo documentation and archiving of data.

This uses simple science with adequate scientific rigour for informed decision making, laying the foundations of a community beach monitoring and restoration system; integrating into a community resilience cell.”

This initiative endeavours to use ecological monitoring tools and restoration ecology techniques to create ecologically aligned sustainable livelihoods, and a cadre of community first responders in the context of the disaster cycle and climate change, Mr. Coelho said.

“When Social Need Education and Human Awareness (SNEHA) entered into partnership with TISS, we wanted to do beach monitoring, resource mapping and livelihood interventions. Initially, we started with training community volunteers and planned to cover the entire coast of Nagapattinam covering 24 points. However, due to resource crunch we decided to collect data from four control points in Karaikal. We have discussions within the community and they extended support in protecting the control points,” Jesu Rethinam, Director of SNEHA said.

According to Prakash, a community trainer from Kilinjalmedu, the community volunteers practice the process and are the co-creators. They are able to understand the changes in the beach morphology especially the erosion and accretion rates.

“Every volunteer will have one of these files comprising the data to track their own progress and become a proficient beach profile volunteer for which they are certified by TISS. As many 12 graphs are documented and archived by each of the volunteers,” he said.

‘Proactive strategy’

“Beach profile is a proactive strategy for Legal Aid to Women (LAW) Trust where community is the co-creator who is actively engaged in monitoring the coast with scientific rigour. As fishing is a way of life and coast is their livelihood space for the communities, they are moving further to evolve measures for restoration of the coastal ecology as a resilient mechanism,” A. Gandhimathi of LAW Trust said.

The youth as right holders and duty bearers have understood the need for monitoring and documenting empirical evidences for restoration of the beach using simple scientific tools in the context of vulnerability to disaster and climate change, Ms. Gandhimathi added.

Monitoring shorelines change on a long term basis, observing our natural environment and acting to support regeneration of natural environment has to be a natural practice. People as custodians of the natural environment of the coast have existed closest in Tamil Nadu.

The whole idea of restoration of natural spaces whether it is sacred groves or the forests or coastal lands has to be reinstated and practised as a way of life in the younger generation as custodians of nature, Mr. Coelho said.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 8:32:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/community-bands-together-to-save-the-shores/article19403578.ece

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