Beach restoration efforts see success

Puducherry Beach. DH Photo by E T B Sivapriyan

Ravi Kumar, 33, was left disappointed during a trip to the famed Town Beach in Puducherry in March 2018. The beach didn’t quite meet his expectations. Coastal erosion had led to the retreat of the shoreline.

However, on his recent trip, he could spend more time on the beach as it was restored to its past glory. An artificial reef structure made of steel caisson with rock bottom has been immersed on the northern side. The reef will reduce wave activity which will prevent erosion along the coastline. “Now I can walk on the beach. Last year, there were only rocks and less sand,” Ravi Kumar told DH.

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As part of the restoration efforts, beach nourishment that involves dumping of sand on the beach was carried out with the sand dredged from the other side of the harbour. 

As of now, more than Rs 40 crore has been spent on the project and a minimum of about 3 lakh cubic metres of sand should be dredged every year from the harbour to replenish Town Beach.

The problem of beach erosion began after the construction of the Puducherry port, which lies dormant now, in 1986 and due to various human interventions such as the construction of structures along the coast.

Over the years, more than 10 km of the coast was lost to erosion and with the use of new technology as suggested by scientists of National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai a stretch of about 400 metres has been regained. Experts say that lakhs of tonnes of sand get accumulated on one side of the harbour due to which the coast on the other side of the harbour is getting eroded.

“We have a long way to go and hope we will be able to concentrate on other beaches close to Puducherry. Measures like immersing a reef is expensive, but things will worsen if we don’t act now,” Probir Banerjee, president of PondyCAN, told DH. PondyCAN has worked with the Puducherry government, NIOT and other organisations for the beach restoration project.

The government officials, in the beginning, were in denial about the causes of coastal erosion and kept constructing sea walls and groins to prevent beach erosion.

Aurofilio Schiavina, a coastal environment expert who co-founded PondyCan, said coastal erosion takes place when a harbour is constructed on a sandy coast.

“The sand was getting eroded to the north of the harbour and instead of using sand, rocks were being placed to mitigate the erosion. However, it didn’t solve the problem. Artificial reef along with beach nourishment is an excellent solution but it has to be regularly maintained,” Schiavina said.

He also said beach nourishment project is the only way to save the coastline. However, people living in near-by coastal villages that are part of Tamil Nadu complain that the Puducherry project has aggravated coastal erosion in their area.

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