Sea erosion: there’s money to be made in vulnerability

Sea erosion: there’s money to be made in vulnerability

With the arrival of monsoon, natural forces come alive in the coastal region of Karnataka. The interplay of sand, water and wind engage in a sea dance, terrifying those who live on the coast. In common parlance, this is called sea or coastal erosion.

Beaches play an important role as natural buffers between the ocean and the land. They protect coastal property from intense wave action. This was one of the reasons why the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notifications were conceptualised as early as 1972.The CRZ system came into force in 1991.

The Earth System Science Organisation (ESSO), Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), and ESSO-Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management (ICMAM), Chennai have carried out mapping and demarcating of multi-hazard coastal vulnerability for the states.

The initiative does not include Karnataka’s coastal areas, which means that this shore was not exposed to multi-threat perspective. But it has grabbed attention for all the wrong reasons. The frenzy and hype created by a few people about coastal erosion has become a big money spinner and, perhaps, the worst management of sea shore.

The general trend in vulnerability, demarcated into four classes (very high, high, medium and low), covering the entire Indian coastline, suggests varied degrees of vulnerability along the coastal states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep.

Karnataka does not feature in this, yet for the last 30 years or so, boulders are being dumped into the sea coast across the three coastal districts at an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore. Now, the government is all geared up to spend Rs 911 crore on a sea wall and beach protection projects, which the experts feel will be a colossal waste and will only lead to anti-coastal dynamics.

The manual ‘Coastal Erosion’ brought out by the National Institute of Technology Karnataka (the erstwhile Regional Engineering College), Surathkal near Mangaluru, has outlined 14 different types of methods to arrest coastal erosion that includes a chapter on ‘retreat’.

“The transgression and recession of the sea is not a new phenomenon; everywhere in the world, the sea engulfed the land and later retreated at some point of time. The Arabian Sea had extended up to the Western Ghats several million years back, but then it retreated to the present level; the process is reversible. So, it is best for the human habitations to retreat from the encroachments. It has been observed that roads and human habitations have been built on sand dunes which are nature’s own protection against sea’s aggression,” it reads. This study is, in fact, the core value of the CRZ Act.

However, there are now different lobbies that have started meddling with the cause on the pretext of ‘protecting the coast.’ A barrage of solutions to ‘sea erosion’ based on non-invasive models from France, New Zealand and Australia are available, but on the Karnataka beach, due to strong political interference, invasive solutions like permanent sea wall and dumping of boulders on the sea coast have been promoted.

Experts from various professional organisations point out that these invasive methods, including even a breakwater structure, are big budget projects which become attractive in terms of money involved. Huge packages are sought from the government every year to pay compensation, dump boulders and build sandbag barricades and many other structures along the coastline which cannot hold the fury of the sea for more than three months.

A study conducted by the Department of Marine Geology of Mangalore University by K S Jayappa and K R Subramanya propounded that the interplay of sand, water and the coastal winds are but quite natural and their forces cannot be curtailed by erecting coastal structures.

They said, if forcibly carried out, it can show the effect in neighbouring places. During the monsoons, the sand that is shifted from one place will be deposited in some other place and again shifted to its original place in the next monsoon. This churning helps the coastal ecosystem maintain its balance, and any manipulation will have adverse effects on the ecosystem.

Warnings ignored

There were at least four places along the coast where coastal erosion takes place every year: Kotepura near Ullal, Padukere near Udupi, Rabindranath Tagore beach, Karwar and Ganesh Bagh beach, Ankola

After dumping over Rs 20 crore into the sea in the last quarter century for the sake of these ‘projects’, the state government is now mulling spending over Rs 990 crore to build a 40-km sea wall on different patches along the Karnataka coastline.

Engineers in the minor irrigation department have advised their political bosses against allowing construction of any human habitation on the Kotepura stretch. Their warnings have, however, gone unheeded. Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel says the state government should use the money (Rs 911 crore) for building a township and shift the residents of the four villages to a safer place. Further, the areas on the sea face be declared as buffer zone and all human habitation be prohibited.

A failed sea wall project in Kochi is a living testimony. The engineering company which built the sea wall has given a negative signal about the proposed coastal sea wall along the Kotepura stretch. Not only does it not approve of the sea wall, which it considers more dangerous, but it also worries about the problem of coastal erosion itself.

“Plans are on to permanently shift over 300 families living in the coastal erosion prone areas in Ullal. A DPR has also been initiated in this regard. The legislative committee on housing has given approval for creating a multi-storied housing facility at Ombatkere in Ullal after demolishing the individual housing project that was left half way,” says MLA from Mangaluru and Urban Development and Housing Minister U T Khader.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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