METRO PLUS

Creek in crisis

FOR THE first time in its history, the Ennore Creek turned into a hard, dry bed. Huge mounds of sand had settled down south of the Ennore Port, heavily silting the creek mouth, forming a sandbar across and clogging it so badly that even dredgers were unable to open up the creek for a while. For almost six months when the creek remained dry, fishermen of Mukhadwara Kuppam could not go fishing. Only since August-end, when the creek was finally opened up, could fishermen resume fishing.

The 20-odd-km Ennore-Pulicat coastline, from the Ennore Creek in the south to the Pulicat Lake in the north, and the Buckingham Canal that runs alongside, have been facing a great threat for the past few years due to discharge of effluents from industries in Ennore.

However, clogging is not new, according to M. Raman, chairman and managing director, Ennore Port Limited. "It's a natural phenomenon that depends on the tidal flow. Because of a poor monsoon in the past few years, there has been no riverine flow," he says, adding, "a good monsoon will certainly help water flow into the creek and open it up."

Sanjeevi Raj, former professor of ecology and co-founder of the Ennore-Pulicat Environmental Protection Forum, disagrees and partly blames the Ennore Port and the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS), both situated north of the creek. "For some time now, fishermen have been complaining that prawns and other species of fish in the Pulicat Lake are being pulled towards the NCTPS by heavy suction pumps. In fact, some have even noticed dark-coloured effluents being discharged into the Buckingham Canal, which opens out into the Pulicat lake at its northern end," he says, referring to the NCTPS earlier drawing coolant water from the Ennore Creek and discharging effluents into the Buckingham Canal. Now, the NCTPS discharges effluents into the sea (all attempts to get in touch with the chief engineer of the NCTPS were in vain).

Ever since the breakwater construction of the Ennore Port was initiated in 1994, beach erosion is said to have begun. "After commissioning of the port in 2003, erosion has progressed, by about 50m to Kattupalli, three km north of the port. Erosion is said to be more towards the north of the port, near Kalanji village. Fishermen have been moving their huts backward year after year and now have reached a stage where their only way is towards the Buckingham Canal," says Dr. Raj. "Beach erosion is seasonal. In fact, we have undertaken `beach nourishment' programmes to strengthen the beach by creating a wall of sand. We do not attack the shoreline at all," counters Raman.

Fishermen say that the fish population has dwindled dramatically after the port construction. The fish catch per unit effort (CPUE), which used to be about two kg prior to the construction, has now been reduced to about 0.4 kg. The Olive Ridley sea turtles are now unable to cross the steep beachfront and the Kattupalli Beach, their traditional breeding ground, may soon lose its distinction as a multi-ecosystem island.

Constant exposure to hot effluents has resulted in mangrove patches, which have existed along the Buckingham Canal banks and in the Pulicat Lake area, slowing disapperaing. Prawn, fish and crab are no longer present in the canal, from the point of discharge of effluents up to the Kalanji or Karugali villages 8-10 km away; and migratory birds hardly arrive any more.

"The fisher folk have lost their means of livelihood and many of them have resorted to selling seashells or brewing illicit liquor. It's a typical case of environment and people being victims of unbridled industrial development," points out Dr. Raj.

A beginning must be made to restore the damage caused to the Ennore-Pulicat area. And that can happen only if environmentalists and industry decide to discuss and find ways to preserve the ecosystem. Says Raman, "Over the next three years, the National Institute of Ocean Technology will be conducting a study of the Ennore-Pulicat ecosystem, and based on the findings, we will certainly do whatever needs to be done to preserve the environment."

SASHI NAIR

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