Puducherry

Illegal collection of Bristle worms threatens aquatic ecosystem in Puducherry

Polychaete worms also known as Bristle worms are abundantly found in the backwaters of the Ariyankuppam River in Puducherry

Polychaete worms also known as Bristle worms are abundantly found in the backwaters of the Ariyankuppam River in Puducherry   | Photo Credit: T. Singaravelou

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The worms are being collected for prawn feed, from the backwaters of the Ariyankuppam River and the Thengaithittu lagoon; activists allege the government is taking no action despite repeated complaints

The illegal collection of Polychaete worms also known as Bristle worms from the backwaters of the Ariyankuppam River and the Thengaithittu lagoon for commercial purposes -- as feed for prawn hatcheries -- is posing a serious threat to the aquatic ecosystem.

Polychaete worms play a vital role in the backwater bio-diversity food chain, and they are also the source of feed for other animals, including amphibians, birds and fishes. The worms are in high demand in prawn hatcheries and are used for feeding the prawns.

“The prawn hatcheries deploy a well-oiled network of middlemen who exploit labourers to scout for Bristle worms in the brackish waters. The labourers, mostly women, begin work early in the morning and they are mistaken for fishermen. We have brought the issue to the notice of authorities concerned, but no action has been taken so far,” said M. Selvamanikandan, president, Puducherry Environment and Mangrove Forest Development and Protection Society.

The smugglers buy the worms at ₹800 to ₹1,000 per kg and transport them to prawn hatcheries for supply as live feed. Bristle worms are a good indicator of environmental health, and if the illegal collection continued, it would affect the ecological balance in the aquatic eco-system, Mr. Manikandan added.

According to Aurofilio Schiavina, an expert on Coastal management and member of PondyCan, the collection of these worms in the Thengaithittu lagoon threatens the mangroves because those who collect the worms trample over and uproot mangrove seedlings in the process.

“The other impacts of harvesting these worms is the increase of water turbidity, the smothering of other organisms with the mud that is displaced and increasing the organic loading of the water by stirring up the organic matter that has been deposited on the bed of the lagoon. This also results in reduced oxygen content in the water. The ecosystem in the lagoon is under a lot of stress as it is already very polluted and the collection has aggravated the situation,” he said.

Instead of banning the practice of harvesting these worms it could be regulated. This resource is used by the poorest people and depriving them of this resource also needs to be taken into consideration. The worm harvesters could also be encouraged by the Fisheries Department to set up aqua farms to grow the worms in a sustainable manner, Mr. Schiavina added.

M. Ilango, former MLA and Chairperson of National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) said that large-scale smuggling of Polychaete worms was happening from the backwaters in Puducherry. The worms are mainly smuggled to Andhra Pradesh to prawn hatcheries and the illegal trade is said to generate huge amounts of money every year, he said.

Though repeated complaints have been made to the Fisheries Department and the Forest Department, the departments pin the blame on each other for failing to curb smuggling. The worms are the main source of feed for juvenile fishes at the confluence of the sea mouth and backwaters he said, adding that continuous smuggling was affecting the livelihood of the fishermen.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:04:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/illegal-collection-of-bristle-worms-threatens-aquatic-ecosystem-in-puducherry/article30266191.ece

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