Tag Archives: beach erosion

Sunita Narain: Where are the beaches?

The Business Standard has published an article by Sunita Narain called:  “Where are the beaches?”  based on Ms. Narain’s visit to the eroded beaches along the coast of Pondicherry.  The text of the article, dated 9 May 2011, appears below:

We were on a beach, somewhere close to Puducherry. It was a surreal sight: half-smashed houses with fronts wide open, and people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village so there was no protection between the sea and the village.

Why was this happening, I asked. My guides were members of the Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN), which has worked tirelessly to draw the nation’s attention to beach erosion.

To understand this, we walked a little distance away from the devastated village. From the beach, I could see massive granite stones piled up to build a groyne stretching into the sea. This structure, constructed to protect villages from erosion, ends up protecting one village and destroying another, explained my guides.

But I could still not see the connection. How could one small structure like this change the coastal ecology? Civil engineer Probir Banerjee and marine engineer Aurofilio Schiavina explained that a beach is not just a lot of sand. “Beaches are rivers of sand” because each year sea waves transport huge quantities of sand from north to south and south to north. During the southwest monsoon, some 600,000 cubic metres of sand is moved towards the north. Also, during the three months of the northeast monsoon (when winds are fierce), as much as 100,000 cubic metres of sand gets transported towards the south across the eastern coasts of the country.

So beaches are living creatures – winds and waves bring sand in one season and take it away in another. My teachers further explained marine science: “Then, think of the groyne as a dam in a river which will block the movement of sand, not water.” In this case, the groyne has stopped the movement of sand to the beach ahead. Thus, the beach does not grow and when the wind changes, the monsoon gets fierce, and the sea moves in. There is no beach to protect the land beyond.

The lesson did not finish yet. Our next stop was the Puducherry harbour, with a breakwater making its way into the sea to protect boats. This structure, which was built in 1986, marked the beginning of devastating changes at the coast. Once the harbour was built, it first changed the beach closest to it – the beach along the city of Puducherry.

“I played on the beach as a child,” said V Narayanasamy, member of Parliament from Puducherry and minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office. “What beach?” I asked. All I could see for miles were black granite stones piled along the ocean promenade. By then it was evening. People had gathered to enjoy the beach and the sunset. But there was neither sand nor beach – only rocks.

All this had been lost in living memory in 15 to 20 years. People had lost their playground. More importantly, a city had lost its critical ecosystem, which would protect its land and recharge its groundwater. And fishermen had lost their livelihood.

But this is just the beginning, explained Mr Banerjee. This structure, small by modern standards of harbours or ports, has spun an entire chain of changes in the beach along the coast. The groyne that we saw earlier was built because the length of the coast stretching 10 to 20 km was now destablised. We could see piles of sand accumulated before the harbour, blocking way to regenerate the beaches. Now every beach needs a groyne and every groyne adds to the problem of the next beach.

Ports are interventions in the natural ecology of coasts. But we neither understand the impact nor worry about dealing with the damage. A few years ago, Puducherry woke up to the reality that its harbour required to be rebuilt and contracts and concessions were awarded to transform it into a massive port (some 20 million tonnes annually). The citizens’ group, which was against the project, went to the court. But the developer – who, strangely, had no experience in ports, and built shops and malls – is not letting go. This is a sweet deal, which brings real estate benefits since the port concession package comes with cheap city land for cost recovery.

In this stretch of some 600 km, you can count seven ports that exist and another three are proposed. This is when each existing port is not used to capacity and is still being upgraded big time. Then why are we building more ports? Is this development? Or land grab?

Interestingly, there is an absence of policy on siting and the number of ports in the country. The Central government knows only about “major” ports and leaves the rest – permission to locate and build other ports – to state governments. There is no distinction between a major port and a state port. It is just a matter of how many one can fit into the coast as fast, and as profitably, as possible. Nobody, therefore, knows how many ports are being built. Nobody cares about the cumulative impact on rivers of sand.

Surely, this cannot be called development. Can it?

sunita@cseindia.org

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“A Way of Life Swept Away on a Current”

Akash Kapur writes a “Letter from India” for The New York Times about lives and livelihoods destroyed by coastal erosion in a small village near Pondicherry.  The full text of the article is given below or may be read here.

CHINNAMUDALIARCHAVADI, INDIA — For centuries this village lived in harmony with the ocean. Fishermen earned a reliable, if meager, living off the sea. Boys played cricket on the beach. In summers, while the rest of South India simmered, a gentle breeze cooled its unelectrified huts.

Something has gone wrong in recent years. In 2004, as fishermen sorted through the day’s catch, the Asian tsunami roared through the village, destroying huts and boats. No one was killed, but hundreds of lives — and livelihoods — were devastated.

Then, just as the village was recovering from that disaster, a slower, but in many ways more insidious, tragedy began taking shape. Villagers started noticing that the ocean was drawing closer. The stretch of sand in front of their huts was shrinking. The beach was eroding.

In a matter of months, the waters were entering the village at high tide, infiltrating huts and public buildings. Scores of homes were destroyed. Their owners, many of whom had rebuilt after the tsunami, were forced to retreat to rented accommodations farther inland.

The erosion eating away at Chinnamudaliarchavadi is the continuation of a process that started more than two decades ago, when the city of Pondicherry, about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, from the village, decided to build a new port. Environmentalists warned that the port would block replenishing sand flows carried by currents from the south. They were overruled in the name of progress: Politicians promised the port would bring investment to the area.

So the port was built, in 1989, and the prediction came true. First Pondicherry lost its beach, a bank of yellow sand that I had played on since my childhood. Then the erosion began creeping north, eating away the shoreline at an estimated rate of 500 meters, or more than 1,600 feet, per year.

In 2007, several groynes — imposing piles of granite, some of which extend around a hundred meters into the ocean — were built in a desperate attempt to halt the erosion. They succeeded in slowing erosion around Pondicherry but only pushed the problem up the coast, dramatically accelerating the process in Chinnamudaliarchavadi and neighboring villages.

A few months after the construction of those groynes, I visited Chinnamudaliarchavadi and wrote an article about its problems. The devastation was evident: uprooted trees, collapsed electricity poles and an ocean that roared dangerously close to homes.

Now, revisiting some three years later, I found the destruction even more pronounced. The entire front of the village, about two or three rows of huts, had been eaten away. The beach was littered with debris: concrete and clothes and bits and pieces of Styrofoam.

A slice of a women’s public latrine, stripped of plaster, reduced to bricks and rusted steel, reclined on the narrow beach, half-buried in sand like some ancient ruin.

Standing on high ground, with waves lapping below us, M. Segar and his wife told me about the loss of their village. They talked about how the ocean had swallowed their house. Mr. Segar said he had grown up in that house, as had his father and grandfather.

They talked, too, about how difficult it had become for fishermen to earn a living. The sea had changed, Mr. Segar said. It had become rougher, more unpredictable. Not long ago, three fishermen died when their boat overturned near the shore. They had been the sole breadwinners in their families.

“The village is disappearing,” Mr. Segar said. “I try not to think about it. What can we do?”

He said that the village had made several appeals to government officials, pleading for assistance. A group of fishermen had traveled to Chennai, about 160 kilometers away, and stayed there for a week before getting an appointment with an influential minister.

Everyone promised, he said, but no one had helped. He asked whether I thought my article would make a difference. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mr. Segar that the village’s situation was only likely to get worse.

Across the country, beaches — and, with them, villages and professions and human lives — are disappearing. According to the Asian Development Bank, 26 percent of India’s shoreline suffers from serious erosion. In Goa and Kerala, hotels and beach resorts (some of them constructed in violation of environmental building regulations) are crumbling into the Arabian Sea. Villagers and farmers along the country’s 7,500-kilometer coast are struggling with rising salinity in their wells.

The scale of the unfolding disaster is overwhelming. Around a quarter of India’s population — some 250 million people — live along the coast. Their plight will be exacerbated by the predicted rise in sea levels due to global warming. Millions will have to be relocated. Millions will lose their livelihoods.

Some of the devastation is being caused by natural forces. Much of it, though, is the result of human activity: unchecked and unregulated construction, the destruction of mangroves and other natural barriers, the relentless pursuit of wealth.

In Pondicherry, the government, keen to be part of India’s rapid development, is now talking about building a new, bigger port. Environmentalists are protesting again, arguing that it will worsen an already grave crisis. Once again, they are being overruled.

Behind Chinnamudaliarchavadi, where a stretch of highway has been upgraded from a country path in recent decades, the pace of development is rapid. Beach resorts and movie theaters have gone up. Thatch huts have come down, replaced by air-conditioned restaurants and guesthouses.

The new money, the evidence of prosperity, is undeniable. Villages along the road have seen their prospects brighten, their horizons widen.

But standing on that dwindling beach with Mr. Segar and his wife, listening to stories of how their lives have shrunk, how their village is literally vanishing, it’s hard not to wonder: What’s a fair price to pay for all this progress?

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Latest Pondicherry Beach Erosion Presentation on the Web

The latest presentation on the erosion taking place along the Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu coastline is now available on the Internet through Slideshare.

For those of you who are not aware of the situation, Pondicherry has lost 8 kilometers of beach since the fishing harbour was built at the mouth of the Ariyankuppam river from 1986 to 1989.  And the problem has continued to shift northwards into Tamil Nadu, destroying homes, livelihoods and habitats.

Misguided and corrupt politicians and administrators have implemented hard measures, such as rock walls and groynes to try and stem the erosion.  These hard measures have exacerbated the erosion.  The only sustainable solution is to restore the natural movement of sand.

If any of you would like to help with this movement, please leave a comment with your contact information.

Let’s work together to get back our beach and restore our natural environment.

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Meeting on Restoration of Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu Coastline

 

A consultation meeting of scientists, technical experts, representatives from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry administration and NGOs was organized in Auroville (Tamil Nadu) on Saturday, November 3rd, 2007. The meeting was jointly organized by Auroville Coastal-area Development Centre (ACDC) and Pondicherry Citizens Action Network (PondyCAN).

Introduction:

Since the late 1980s the coast along the town of Pondicherry and the neighboring areas of Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu to the north has been eroding. In the last decade, the erosion has worsened and continues to progress northwards. Ten kilometers of the beach has completely disappeared and as the erosion to the north continues, about 30 km of coastline in Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu has been affected.

More recently, the process of erosion has accelerated and many traditional fishing communities have not only lost their livelihoods but also their homes.

Conclusions from the Meeting:

It was unanimously agreed by the experts gathered at the meeting that the cause of the erosion is the fishing harbour that was built at Aryiankuppam in 1989, which interferes with the littoral drift that results in the net movement of 0.5 million cubic meters of sand northwards each year. Badly planned groynes, built to protect rapidly disappearing fishing communities, have accelerated the erosion.

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