The cliff overlooking the Varkala beach — a unique sedimentary geo-morphological structure in an otherwise flat Kerala coast — and the surrounding areas are on course to become India’s first national geopark under a Geological Survey of India (GSI) initiative to preserve geologically important sites in the country.
A proposal to this effect, prepared by the Kerala unit of the GSI, has been given the nod in principle by the agency’s head office. As the first step, the cliff will be declared a Geological Monument. So far, the GSI has established 26 such monuments in the country, including the ‘laterite’ of Angadipuram in Malappuram district.
Over time, the areas surrounding the geological monument would be declared a national geopark. Before this, the designated area has to be made litter-free and no mining or quarrying activity should be done there. A clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is also required for this.
With this, Varkala stands a chance to find a place in the Unesco’s world map of geo-heritage sites.
Geoparks are places where rare geological landforms are preserved intact and where low-impact recreational, scientific, and educational activities are pursued.
Unesco runs a Global Geopark Programme under which people who live in areas of great geological importance cooperate to preserve them.
After a meeting with GSI officials here on Friday, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the Varkala Cliff and the surrounding areas would be declared a protected zone.
The Director of Tourism has been tasked with issuing a notification in this regard. Construction activity would be regulated in this zone and dumping of garbage strictly prohibited.
The project document prepared by GSI notes that Varkala is the only place in the west coast of India where sediments in the mio-pliocene age (13 lakh to 2.5 crore years ago) have been exposed. The geological monument/ geopark project would “help in protecting the endangered cliffs which preserve the pages of earth’s history, nature’s chemical lab, and storehouse of micro fossils…,” the proposal document notes.
Measures to be taken
However, before the cliffs can be declared a geopark, there needs to be reduction in ‘human pressure’ on the structure. There has to be strict prohibition of vehicular movement in the no-development zone envisaged in the Coastal Regulation Zone rules. The helipad located very near to the edge of the cliff needs to be shifted.
A surface drainage network should be constructed one to two metres away from the cliff edge to avoid surface runoff, the GSI document directs. This is to prevent the development of hills and ravines in the cliff slope.
Groundwater which now emerges as water spouts in the cliff would act as a lubricant for landslides.
Groundwater from the cliff portion should be drained off by puncturing the water table away from the cliff by installing horizontal wells or by using it for local drinking water schemes.
A seawall should be constructed throughout the length of the cliff; the existing seawall should be strengthened wherever needed. A gap of two to three metres should be provided between the seawall and the cliff wherever possible, the GSI has suggested.