Environment

Eight questions (and answers) about Mumbai’s fragile coastline

Water way: Coral species from (top) Back Bay and (below) Juhu.

Water way: Coral species from (top) Back Bay and (below) Juhu.  

Reclamation work on the coastal road project is stalled owing to judicial intervention, but we need to ask what’s at stake for the city’s marine life

The promenade of Worli Seaface and the skyscrapers beyond are an unlikely backdrop — to the prettiest of corals. Pink and maroon tentacles that fringe small cylindrical bodies sit close together on one patch of the rocky shore. Yes, corals, which you’d think would live only off white sandy beaches and clear diving sites, are determinedly present on Mumbai’s polluted shore.

This week, there was some reprieve for environmental groups petitioning against the State’s Coastal Road Project. The Bombay High Court has restrained the BMC from carrying out reclamation work related to the Coastal Road Project (CRP) until April 23. But what are these groups fighting for, exactly?

For groups who are questioning the CRP this isn’t only about fisher folk, or the wildlife or concerns about the traffic. Like all cities, Mumbai too has an ecosystem and what happens to one arm of it, will affect the other. It is only fair that necessary checks are done to prevent any catastrophe, which includes the dying of an entire wild space.

Why is there legal opposition to the coastal road?

Organisations like Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and Sagar Shakti (the marine and coastal community research division of Vanashakti) have filed a petition in the Bombay High Court. The report addresses the threat that reclamation poses to the habitat and the survival of the intertidal wildlife that exists there, especially coral. Debi Goenka, Executive Trustee at CAT said, “The project still does not have environmental clearance — there is only a CRZ clearance whose conditions have been violated. There was no public hearing.

The CRZ areas were wrongly categorised and the fact that the area was CRZ IA was never recognised. There are several marine species including corals that are found here that are included in Schedule I of the Wild Life Protection Act. No clearance has been obtained for destroying these species.” According to a report in Scroll, Vijay Singhal, additional municipal commissioner in charge of the CRP said, “the BMC has all the requisite permissions,” and would submit them in court.

Why is the presence of coral important?

Ideally, a space hosting Schedule 1 animals is off-limits. For context, what other animal enjoys that same protection level? The tiger.

How many shores is this going to affect?

While the petition is being filed for Worli, with inputs from the fishermen of the Worli Koliwada who are protesting the potential loss of livelihood, the intertidal areas in Juhu, Bandra, Dadar, Versova, Worli, Haji Ali, Neapean Sea Road, Marine Drive are likely to be impacted in different ways, either directly or indirectly.

What is the intertidal zone?

The stretch of land that is visible during low tide and submerged during high tide is called the intertidal zone. It can be sandy (like Juhu), rocky (like Haji Ali), muddy (like Sewri) to name a few.

How many animals live on these shores?

Marine Life of Mumbai’s project on iNaturalist clocks 1,700 observations (and counting) including 322 species that have been verified by global experts in two years. Shweta Wagh’s report titled “Social Ecology of the Shallow Seas lists the different levels of the intertidal with the species that live and hunt there.

Is the intertidal zone protected?

Yes, but with stipulations. According to the CRZ notification, the intertidal zone comes under section CRZ 1B of the draft where certain “reclamation activities are allowed, including Foreshore facilities like ports, harbours, jetties, wharves, quays, slipway, bridges and sea links, etc.”

However, CRZ 1A protects unconditionally, certain animals in “ecologically sensitive areas and the geo-morphological features which play a role in the maintaining the integrity of the coast.” And on that list is coral, found on almost all our shores.

Wasn’t there environment research done before?

Environment Impact Assessment reports were carried out and the NIO (National Institute of Oceanography) has been hired to study the impacts of the coastal road periodically for six years starting now. But in the absence of a strong baseline of what existed before work began, this seems like a shaky foundation to base findings on.

Don’t we need more roads, though?

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, Nikhil Anand’s whose research focuses on the political ecology of cities, said, “The first section of the coastal road aims to serve only two lakh motorists a day, at a cost of over ₹12,000cr. The road does nothing to serve the needs of 98% of the city’s population, who will continue to use the existing rail and road systems. Mumbai can afford and deserves a world-class transportation infrastructure that allows commute at the lowest social and environmental cost.”

The author is a member of Marine Life of Mumbai, a citizen-driven initiative to explore and document Mumbai's coastal biodiversity

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 3:18:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/eight-questions-and-answers-about-mumbais-fragile-coastline/article26823224.ece

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