Flora, fauna hit by oil spill recovering slowly

While there are still some sediments left of the oil spill in Ennore, flora and fauna are recovering slowly and the coast of Chennai is returning to normalcy, according to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM).

The NCSCM, which is monitoring how the oil spill has impacted flora and fauna along the coast, last week conducted its review of the regions affected by the nearly 200-tonne oil spill off the Kamarajar Port in Ennore following the collision of two cargo ships in late January.

The NSCSM carried out its environmental and ecological impact study from January 30 to March 2. The study was done along the coast and offshore with actual on-field data, and modelling and remote sensing data.

The institute submitted its report to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) recently.

Various zones

A copy of the report, which is available with The Hindu, classified the impact of the oil spill into various impact zones.

The report says the region between Ennore and Marina beach is a ‘High Impact Zone’ (Zone 2), while the region from the south of Marina beach to Kovalam is classified as a ‘Moderate to Low Impact Zone’ (Zone 3). The region between Pulicat and Ennore is classified ‘Low Impact’ (Zone 1) and the ‘least impact zone’ was found to be Kovalam to Mahabalipuram (Zone 4).

Across all these zones, Olive Ridey turtles were found to be affected, though the report added a rider that turtle mortality could not be directly correlated to the effects of oil spill.

“Most of the dead turtles were washed ashore from by-catch/entanglement in fishing nets during peak nesting season [January 2017] along the Chennai coast,” the report said.

Macroalgae like Chaetomorpha antennina and Enteromorpha intestinalis were affected in Zones 1 and 2, while Ulva reticulata was affected in Zone 2. The study also found a large number of marine fauna such as molluscs, crabs and barnacles to be impacted, mostly in the High Impact Zone. Fish was found to be affected only in the High Impact Zone between Ennore and the Marina beach. “But we are seeing them slowly recovering. There are some rocky sediments still left but the system [of flora and fauna] is recovering quite well,” Ramesh Ramachandran, director, NCSCM told The Hindu.

‘Chocolate mousse’

The report said ‘chocolate mousse’ (industry slang for oil emulsified with sea water) and tar balls of varying sizes were found on beaches from the Marina to Neelankarai. Tar balls were also noticed up to Kovalam further south, it said.

“Hydrocarbon concentration was found to be about three times higher than the pre-spill period,” the report said.

While making short-term recommendations on the immediate measures to be undertaken to restore the coast, the NCSCM said that in the long run, implementation of the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan formulated by the Indian Coast Guard was necessary.

It also called for the involvement of prominent research agencies undertaking coastal research to be a part of the oil spill drills undertaken by the agencies to formulate preventive measures in the event of an unavoidable accident.