Chennai: The coastal Ecological Sensitive Areas (ESA), which act as protective shields during natural calamities like tsunami and cyclones, are in distress due to rapid urbanisation and high pollution levels. But pro-active measures taken by the state government post 2004-tsunami have resulted in significant improvement in some of the major areas, especially mangrove forests. The Pichavaram mangrove forest, which is arguably the world’s second largest mangrove forest, near Chidambaram in Cuddalore district has been a success story. In the last 10 years, the Pichavaram mangrove cover has increased by 72.87 hectares.
The current total area is estimated at 1158.30 hectares (3,000 acres). Likewise, Muthupet lagoon in Cauvery delta is also on thrust and now an adobe for young mangroves spread over 534.93 hectares, said Dr S. Srinivasalu, director of Institute of Ocean Management (IOM) of Anna University. IOM was mapping all the ecological sensitive areas in Tamil Nadu, Dr Srinivasalu told Deccan Chronicle. “It’s the first time such a work is being done. We have been into the project, which is funded by University Grants Commission (UGC), for last four years and will be submitting the final study report in another three months.”
IOM is focusing on four main ESAs, including Pichavaram and Muthupet mangroves forests, Pulicat Lake and Thamarabarani River (Mouth) or Gulf of Mannar. Scientists have already proven that dense mangrove forests can help reduce the devastating impact of tsunamis and coastal storms by absorbing some of the waves’ energy. When tsunami struck Tamil Nadu in 2004, areas in Pichavaram and Muthupet with dense mangroves suffered fewer human casualties and less damage to property compared to areas without mangroves. “This has woken up the authorities and local communities about the importance of protecting these bio-diversity . The state forest department has done a good work”, he said.
IOM has used satellite imaging techniques to map and estimate the coverage of mangroves. However, Dr Srinivasalu was quick to say that it doesn’t mean the ESAs are totally safe. There are multiple stress factors that are threatening to play spoil sport. Population growth and unsustainable economic development including deliberate land reclamation for urban and industrial development, widespread shrimp farming, and chemical pollution are some of it that have to be dealt with effectively by the state establishment.
“We are drawing up the action plan, which the government can adopt. We give site specific analysis,” he said. Besides these four major ESAs, there are several others like turtle nesting grounds from Chennai to Kanyakumari and they have to be protected. There are 23 indicators that define the health of an ESA and we covered all areas, he said.