A helping hand for Thiruvananthapuram’s Vellayani Lake

kanthari participants are on a clean-up mission to save Vellayani Lake

Published - August 08, 2018 03:32 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 Paul Kronenberg fishing out one of the invasive plants that is threatening the health of the Vellayani Lake

Paul Kronenberg fishing out one of the invasive plants that is threatening the health of the Vellayani Lake

“You can be part of the problem or be part of the solution,” says Paul Kronenberg, co-founder of kanthari, International Institute for Social Change at Vellayani, pulling out an invasive grassy plant with a long stick from the serene Vellayani Lake, brimming with clear water after the plentiful monsoon. “See,” he says showing me the dark green, long grass-like plant, “these are four or five of the invasive species that are choking Vellayani Lake to death. These are easy to remove from the lake but it has to be done almost every day as they multiply rapidly,” says Paul.

Paul and his team evidently want to be part of the solution. Since January 2018, they decided to act instead of merely talking. “So we tie a boat-like container to our back, go into the water and pluck out the plants such as lotus, water hycinth, Myriophyllum Heterophyllum and several floaters among which are floating grass, and a purple plant, to clear the water. The lake is not very deep and so we are able to move around. Nevertheless, it is extremely muddy and it is tedious work to manually pull out the plants one by one. The clear water that is now seen is just a small part of the lake. In many places, these plants have completely taken over the lake, carpeting it in purple and green. It only looks beautiful but the truth is that these are destroying the eco-system that sustains the lake and its surroundings,” explains Paul, showing the dense green patches a little away from the surroundings of kanthari.

 The team from kanthari cleaning up the portion of the Vellayani Lake near their campus

The team from kanthari cleaning up the portion of the Vellayani Lake near their campus

The Vellayani Lake is in deep waters. Over the years, it has been encroached upon, filled, mined for sand and polluted by urban sewage. From more than 750 hectares in 1926, it has now been reduced a little less than half that area. Now, the scenic fresh water lake on the outskirts of the city, a green lung for the district, is being strangulated by the invasive plant species. A thick layer of grass has made some portions near the banks a marshy grassland.

Displaying images of the lake on Google Earth history, Paul shows how, over the years, the lake has been filled with these plants and lotus. “In 2003, it was about five percent. By 2004, it was approximately 10 per cent and today a greenish mass covers more than 40 per cent of the lake,” he adds.

The lotus leaves cover the surface of the lake and prevent the sunlight from penetrating the water. Eventually, the water’s surface gets heated up and natural cooling does not occurs. “So the temperature increases, killing many species. Moreover, the roots of the lotus form a mesh-like growth on the bed of the lake and that reduces the oxygen supply to the lake. As a result many of the native fish in the lake are getting depleted. The addition of new species like carp tends to deplete the local species,” he explains.

In fact, Paul and Ajith, manager of Kanthari, point out that 15 years ago local fishermen remember earning about ₹1,000 per day during the season whereas at present even eight to ten fishermen find it difficult to earn that much.

In 2016 and 2017, participants of kanthari organised a fund raiser and with the money they collected, they bought two pedal boats that they gifted to Vengannor-based Neerthadam, comprising volunteers who are trying to save the lake on their side of its banks. “One drop of kerosene in these pristine waters can do incalculable damage to the eco-system here. So the government encourages only pedal boats or country boats. Similarly, the authorities must also decide what can be sold on the banks of the lake so that people do not pollute it with plastic covers and wrappers of eats,” he says. Paul avers more would have to be done for the lake to breathe again.

Letters have been sent to the local Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor and to the District Collector Dr. Vasuki. Although Tharoor immediately responded to the letter and raised the issue in Parliament as well, it has not yet resulted in actual action to clean the lake.

“He has always been helpful and supportive but we need work on the ground to be done. It would be nice if the Collector, who is said to be environmental-friendly, visits the place to see the magnitude of the problem. Tharoor has also promised all help. Nevertheless, I hope they understand the urgency of the matter,” Paul adds.

His dream is to have a batch of 30 to 40 volunteers removing the plants and freeing the lake from its menace. Or even a government sponsored effort that recruits enough manpower to remove the vegetative covering on the lake.

“It is a source of drinking water and if we act now, it would be much less expensive than trying to do something at a later stage. It would be an ecological disaster if the lake dies. Approximately 130 species depend on the Lake, a ‘hidden pearl’ of Thiruvananthapuram. We welcome volunteers who want to lend a helping hand to save the lake,” he says.

Contact: 8129820819

(A close encounter with people and places in the city)

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