Wetland conservationists have called for an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and carrying capacity studies in Ashtamudi Lake where the State Tourism Department has proposed to introduce more houseboats. The department plans to introduce 500 boats in the lake, a Ramsar site, and canals of Malabar.
Comparing Vembanad Lake, which “was impacted by over-exploitation for recreational boating,” with Ashtamudi, conservationists argued that the impacts of indiscriminate introduction of boats will be felt harsher there. The Ashtamudi is a shallow system with less water flow when compared to Vembanad.
There is also increased fishery activity there, which would also be impacted, they pointed out.
B. Madhusoodana Kurup, former Vice Chancellor of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Kochi, suggested a carrying capacity study of the lake system before the introduction of boats.
Pollution from the boats, including oil slicks and discharge of waste, are areas of concern. Guidelines for management of waste should be introduced, said Dr. Kurup who had worked on an Ashtamudi Lake management system.
N. Nandini Menon, a scientist of the Nansen Environmental Research Centre, Kochi, who studied the impact of boating in Vembanad, pointed out that anthropogenic activities such as fishing, sand mining and tourism have degraded the Ashtamudi lake system.
The lake is hit by low dissolved oxygen value, high E. coli count, indicating faecal contamination and heavy metal concentration, she said.
Increased boat traffic would lead to environmental and ecological issues such as shoreline erosion, pollution from fuel emissions, destruction of fish spawning areas, churning and re-suspension of bottom sediments and increased turbidity, which will impact the biodiversity of the lake, said Dr. Menon, who argued for an EIA study.
K.V. Thomas, an academic consultant of the KUFOS, who also suggested an EIA, said suitable locations for boating should be identified through bathymetry studies. A zonation of the lake based on the possible use of estuary and its resources shall be carried out before introducing houseboats. There is intensive fishery activity in the lake, which may come into conflict with the tourism operations, he said.
V. Venu, Secretary, Tourism Department, said the apprehensions raised by the conservationists were unrealistic and the boats approved by the department complied with all statutory norms.
All these boats have facilities like bio-toilets and were propelled by inboard engines.
However, Mr. Venu said he cannot vouch for all the boats in the lake system.
House boats alone cannot be blamed for the deterioration of the lake system, Dr. Venu said.