Alarming rise in coastal pollution

A recent report by The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) has drawn attention to the rising levels of pollution in India’s long coastline which pose a threat to the health and wellbeing of human and other forms of life. The survival of some species of both flora and fauna may be in danger because the ecosystems that support them may disappear. India has a 7,500 km coastline with 13 states and Union territories spread over it. There are a large number of estuaries, mangroves, lagoons, creeks and backwaters along the coast and over 1,200 islands in the country’s exclusive economic zone. The economic life of the coastal states and of the nation is crucially dependent on the health of the coastline. The complex network of water bodies and their interaction with land have a bearing on weather patterns, agricultural practices, lifestyles and other natural and human activities.

The report has noted that large amounts of waste water and agricultural run-off which are let into the coastline are increasingly polluting the waters. Industrial effluents, municipal sewage, ship-breaking debris, solid waste including plastics, oil spills and various other pollutants have made the coastal waters murky and unhealthy. Coastal states generate over 33,000 MLD of sewage but treat only about one-third of it. The rest goes into the coastal waters. Water quality in the Union territories of Andaman and Nicobar and the Lakshadweep is better because they are far away from the coast. But the heavily populated mainland areas have already started feeling the impact of coastal pollution. The dissolved oxygen levels in the water, on which aquatic life depends, are much lower than the optimum levels in many places. This is like choking to death many life forms such as fish on the coast and in the sea.

Marine fisheries are an important part of the country’s food system and they may be badly affected by pollution. India has the potential to harvest about 4.5 million tonnes of marine fisheries every year. About 4 million people depend on fisheries for their livelihood. But the fish stock has started falling in some areas of the coastline. Consumption of fish contaminated by pollution can cause damage to health. Pollution of the land and air is more easily noticed and experienced and so there is greater awareness of the need to fight it. Coastal pollution is mostly experienced only by those who live near the shore. But its consequences are no less serious and it calls for urgent remedial and preventive steps on the part of both governments and the people.

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