Mapping of CRZ areas almost over

Ajai Sreevatsan
CHENNAI: Efforts to protect ecologically sensitive zones along the State's coast, estuaries, rivers and backwaters will soon have an unlikely ally. Using a combination of satellite imagery, GPS geo-referencing and village-level land survey details, the Department of Environment has almost completed mapping all the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notified areas in the State. The mapping of Chennai coastline has been completed till Kovalam and it is proceeding towards the Andhra Pradesh coast.

Of the 13 coastal districts in the State, the High Tide Line (HTL) in 11 districts has already been mapped and overlaid on top of a 1: 5,000 metre scale village level map that contain the land survey numbers. Once the exercise is complete, all the maps will be put up online to improve enforcement, said Environment and Forest Department Secretary Debendranath Sarangi.

Till now, authorisation for any construction that falls inside CRZ was just an estimate, said a senior official.

Spill may trigger long-term environmental problems

Vinaya Deshpande & Meena Menon
Mumbai: The oil leak from MSC Chitra could not have happened at a worse time. This is the breeding season for marine animals, and environmentalists fear that the spill may impact not only the breeding cycle, but also much more in the future if the oil contaminates the sediments and the sea bed. The spill is set to disturb the entire marine ecosystem, including the mangroves, in turn affecting the livelihood of the coastal population.

Environmentalists have called for a systematic study of the incident.

An ongoing survey by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has revealed that a six-eight inch oil sediment has already reached the shore of four villages on the Mumbai-Raigad coastline.

“Around 20 km coastline of Revas, Mandwa, Sasawne and Kihim has been contaminated,” Deepak Apte, scientist and head of the BNHS team, told The Hindu on phone. “A little contamination has also been found at Alibaug, but it may not necessarily be the oil spill from the leaking ship,” he said. Some oil-coated biscuit packets have also been spotted at the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

The exact impact assessment cannot be done as no one has the accurate information about the contents of the ship. But according to experts, India does not have the technology, the money, or the protocol to clear the slick once it reaches the beach. “The beaches where the oil has reached are virtually permanently damaged now,” Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, told The Hindu on phone.

Shyam Asolekar, Professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, Indian Instituteof Technology (IIT), Mumbai, told The Hindu, “The marine ecology consists of all the small and big living organisms in the sea, the particulate matter and the sediments. There are other living forms like the sea gulls that are dependent on the marine life for survival. Even they are a part of the ecosystem and may stand the risk of being affected.”

Anti-pollution operations on to neutralise oil effect: Coast Guard

There were no reports of fresh oil spill from a cargo ship which collided with another vessel off the Mumbai coast even as anti-pollution operations are still on to neutralise the oil effect, Coast Guard officials said on Tuesday.

“No fresh oil spill was reported ever since the fuel stopped trickling out from one of the merchant vessel Chitra’s tanks,” said S. P. S Basra, IG, Coast Guard (Western Region).

“It is good to see no further spill but our anti-pollution operation is underway today as well. Wherever we are finding thick oil patches, we are spraying chemical dispersals to neutralise the oil effect,” he said adding there is no further tilting of the vessel.

However, the traffic suspended at Mumbai harbour is yet to be restored, Mr. Basra added.

Two Panamanian cargo ships, MSC Chitra and MV Khalija-111, collided on Saturday off the Mumbai coast causing an oil spill from one of the vessels. However, no casualties were reported.

Thirty three crew members, including two Pakistanis, were rescued following the incident.

Six coastguard vessels and a helicopter with anti-pollution dispersal spray systems were pressed into service to contain the oil spill.

Atleast 31 containers with hazardous chemicals, including organo-phosphorous pesticides, sodium hydrochloride and pyrethroid pesticides are on board and quite a few of them might have tumbled into the sea and their contents leaked, a coast guard official had said.

More than 300 containers had hurled into the water.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) authorities have been asked not to use sea water at the premier atomic establishment, the official added.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had also undertaken an aerial survey of the affected area on Monday and advised people against fishing in the affected area as marine life around the city was bound to be affected by the oil slick.

Ramesh on U.N. panel on global sustainability

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has been made part of high-level U.N. panel on global sustainability set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The 21-member panel has been tasked with finding ways to lift people out of poverty while tackling climate change and ensuring that economic development is environmentally friendly.

To be headed by the Presidents of Finland and South Africa, the panel will also recommend steps to promote low-carbon growth and enhance resilience to impacts of climate change, as well as to tackle the intertwined challenges posed by poverty, hunger, water and energy security.

The new body is expected to deliver its final report by next December, ahead of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled for 2012, as well as annual conferences of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said a statement here.

Lobsters, shrimps most vulnerable

Mumbai: Four days after the oil spill from MSC Chitra, an exact assessment of the impact on marine life cannot be done for lack of systematic data on the biodiversity off the Mumbai coast. Monsoon adds to the existing woes.

“One thing is sure, the spill will have an amplified impact on the sedentary marine animals like shells, lobsters, crabs, oysters, shrimps and mudskippers,” said Deepak Apte, Assistant Director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Considering that they form the base of the marine food pyramid, this will have a larger impact on life forms outside the sea as well, including shore birds. “When oil settles on the rocks, in the rock cracks, on the sand or on mudflats, it will create a sheath, thus asphyxiating all life forms under it.”

The impact on fish will be known only in the fair season between December and March. “It will not be clear right now how many larvae or eggs have been affected in the current season. Also, there are some species which breed only once in six years. We have no way of measuring the impact on them till we see them out in the sea,” said Mr. Apte. The impact could be measured on the basis of available ‘natural recruitment data' (the pattern of natural reproduction).

Mangroves will also be affected as this is their peak fruiting season. The mangroves in Vashi have already turned black due to an accumulated oil slick. “But it will not be much of a problem if oil accumulates on the barks of the mangroves,” Mr. Apte said. “The real problem is when the oil settles on aerial roots [also known as pnematophores] or affects their seeds.”

Places on the Mumbai-Raigad coastline like Mandwa and Sasawne have a thick oil deposit on the shore. “They will take a very long time to recover. At other places, depending on the seepage, the recovery may take anything from five months to five years,” said Mr. Apte, who has surveyed all affected sites on the Mumbai-Raigad coast.