Large-scale mining of white clam shells affects Vembanad ecology

The boats and equipment used for suction dredging of white clam shells seized by the Muhamma police a few weeks ago.— PHOTO: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The boats and equipment used for suction dredging of white clam shells seized by the Muhamma police a few weeks ago.— PHOTO: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT  

The indiscriminate mining of white clam shells from the Vembanad Lake and the alleged apathy of authorities concerned in preventing the practice are bound to affect the ecological balance of the region as well as the livelihood of several fishermen.

The region, which has been reeling from the ecological impacts of industrial-scale dredging conducted by the public-sector Travancore Cements Limited over nearly 30 years, is being subjected to sustained exploitation yet again.

The illegal practice of mechanised dredging witnessed in the area for nearly two months continues unchecked and has resulted in widespread protests by the local community.

Deposits of clam shells are present in the Vembanad Lake between Pathiramanal and Vaikom and nearly 15 permits have been issued by the Department of Mining and Geology to lime shell cooperative societies. These societies provide registration to fishermen for clam collection. However, the licensed societies, which have been allocated with demarcated areas, are not permitted to undertake mechanised dredging.

According to K.M. Poovu, secretary, coordination committee of Samyukta Kayal Samrakshana Samithy, boats used by the sand mafia have been equipped with machinery for suction dredging and they illegally function in the region between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

“While we manage to collect nearly 200 kg of clam shells manually on an average for a daily wage of Rs. 500-600, these boats usually collect shells worth Rs. 50,000 by mining at a depth of over 10 metres,” he said.

He said such boats were confiscated by the police on three occasions only to be returned a few days later. On the last such occasion, nine boats which had been seized were returned a few days ago. Two boats were last seen to be mining using mechanised equipment late on Wednesday, he said.

He added that around 30,000 families in the region depended on clam shell harvesting for their livelihood.

K.A. Saleem, convener of the action council of lime shell cooperative societies, alleged that a society based in Vechoor was involved in the unauthorised activity. He said the society had been mining shells from areas outside their allocated limits. The issue has given way to a legal battle among the societies and tension within the local community.

The mechanised dredging of white clams has also drastically affected the benthic environment of the lake. Jojo T.D., programme officer, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), said the disturbances and the turbidity caused by dredging affected the benthic organisms, especially live black clams, and certain fish species.

“The filtration mechanism of these clams gets affected and they die prematurely. Likewise, the clam seeds that are deposited also die off. Such practices also alter the bottom topography of the area thereby creating permanent damages. At a time when the black clam production in Vembanad was facing serious problems, the mechanical dredging of white clam is bound to be detrimental to the clam industry and the lake ecology in general,” he said.

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