Trouble is brewing for sand extraction at Thottappally estuary

Olive Ridley turtles seen at the Thottappally coast.  

The move to remove mineral-rich sand from the Thottappally ‘pozhi’ (estuary) has met with opposition.

The State government last month decided to extract sand from the estuary and dredge the leading channel to ensure smooth flow of water from the Kuttanad region through the Thottappally spillway.

It directed the Irrigation Department to sell the sand either to Indian Rare Earths Ltd. (IRE) or Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd. (KMML).

However, environmentalists and local residents say the move is aimed at extending the mineral-sand mining along the Thottappally coast.

The Thottappally coast is one of the prime locations for egg-laying Olive ridley turtles in the State.

“The decision to remove sand from the estuary will spell doom for the ecology of the area.

To remove sand, they will have to cut more than 350 casuarina trees.

Besides, the area is also home to several species of reptiles, migratory birds, and a large number of butterflies,” Saji Jayamohan, secretary, Green Roots Nature Conservation Forum told The Hindu.

Mr. Jayamohan says the removal of sand from the estuary will not help prevent flooding in the Kuttanad region.

“They are going to remove mineral-rich sand in the name of preventing floods. But there is no basis to it. To ensure the flow of water, the government should only dredge the leading channel and operate shutters of the Thottappally spillway more efficiently.

Removal of sand from the estuary will result in the intrusion of salt water into Kuttanad. Instead of removing sand from the estuary, the government should initiate measures to develop the area as an ecotourism spot and protect the environment,” Mr. Jayamohan says.

Turtles affected

The move to remove sand from the estuary comes at a time when local residents are up in arms against the ‘never-ending’ dredging and mineral-sand mining at the Thottappally harbour.

The State government, a few years ago, allowed dredging of the harbour in the name of its development.

Residents say it has already turned out to be a disaster for them and Olive ridley turtles that come to the coast for nesting.

According to officials, 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh cubic metres of sand will be removed from the estuary.

When contacted, Irrigation Department executive engineer K.P. Haran Babu has said they have invited expression of interest from the IRE and KMML to remove sand.

“We will select either IRE or KMML based on the price quoted. In the initial phase, sand from the estuary will be removed. The dredging of the leading channel will be taken up separately. Both IRE and KMML are not going to take sand from the leading channel as it is not mineral-rich as in the case of estuary,” Mr. Babu says.

Habitat loss

The turtles used to nest in an area of around 800 m along the Thottappally coast. Their natural habitat was damaged in Cyclone Ockhi in 2017. Residents say the opening of a new mining site at the estuary, along with the ongoing dredging at the harbour, will force Olive ridleys to totally abandon the coast.

The Purakkad panchayat authorities say that they were not consulted by the government before taking the decision to remove sand from the estuary.

“In the case of the ongoing harbour dredging and recent decision to extract sand from the estuary, the local panchayat has been totally sidelined. The decision to take sand from the estuary in the name of floods is nothing but a blatant looting of rich mineral-sand deposits. We will stand with the people of the region and will not allow the government to remove sand,” says an official with the Purakkad panchayat.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 9:36:43 AM |

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