Tag Archives: coastal erosion

“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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CoastalCare.org Features Article on Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu Coastal Erosion

Coastal Care, a non-profit foundation dedicated to defending the beaches and shorelines of our shared planet, has a feature (along with photos) on the erosion along the Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu coastline.

The story can be seen here:  http://coastalcare.org/2010/08/pondicherry-tamil-nadu-south-india/

Coastal Care highlights similar problems with beach erosion in other parts of the world.

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Beach Erosion in Karaikal

Erosion at Killinjam medu village

Erosion at Killinjam medu village - photographed at low tide

10 March 2009

The picture above shows the effect of coastal erosion in Killinjam medu, one of three villages affected by the construction of breakwaters for a fishing harbour in Karaikal, one of the non-contiguous territories of the Union Territory of Puducherry, located on the east coast of India, south of Pondicherry and just north of Nagapattinam.  As is evident from the picture, at high tide, the sea has started to erode the foundations of the first row of homes in this village.  (In Akkampettu village, just to the north of Killinjam medu, the sea is said to be two to three meters from the first row of houses.)

Killinjam medu is located approximately three kilometers north of the new fishing harbour at the Arasala river.  Construction of the breakwaters for the harbour were started about a year ago.  The southern breakwater is complete; the northern breakwater is near completion.  According to a 12 March 2008 report in The Hindu Business Line, the breakwaters are to extend 400 metres from the shore into the sea to establish the new fishing harbour.  Local NGO representatives of SNEHA (Social Need Education and Human Awareness) and the Law Center report that 100 metres of beach has been lost in in Killinjam medu in less than one year.

An even bigger threat to the coast looms on the horizon as the breakwaters for the new deep-water port in Karaikal, at the Nagapattinam district border, near completion.  The government of Puducherry has awarded MARG Limited the contract to develop and operate a port for 30 years (renewable twice for 10 years each) on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model on 600 acres of land.  The plan calls for a total of 9 berths (two for coal) at a depth of 16 meters.  The first two berths will have a length of 460 metres.

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Erosion of Puducherry-Villupuram Coastline: Why a ‘Hard’ Solution for a ‘Soft’ Problem?

Excerpts from a letter to Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (with copies to relevant Central, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu government officials) by Commander John Jacob Puthur, Charge Hydrographer, FIS, FCA, FGS, Indian Navy (Retired), dated 10 February 2009, in which he:

Questions the “authorities” on the reasons for taking ‘hard’ solutions to tackle coastal erosion:

Apparently, your long struggle to put in place an eco-friendly ‘soft’ solution to tackle coastal erosion seems to have had little impact on those in authority. The experts and those in authority seem determined for a ‘hard’ solution in the guise of a groyne-field. What exactly is their motivation to construct the groyne-field? Is it that they have failed to see the truth or they simply don’t want to see the truth?

It’s obvious that the people concerned are not ignorant, so there is hardly a need to explain the matters afresh. Nevertheless, I shall explain Puducherry’s coastal erosion problem as briefly as possible, in an everyday language. You may find that useful to make things clear to the common citizens likely to be affected—the non-specialist stakeholders…

So what is this truth about coastal erosion affecting the Puducherry-Villupuram Coast? And how can we get the experts to see that, and so get them to adopt the correct approach to tackle the problem of coastal erosion?

There is an old Chinese saying though—”You cannot wake up a man who is only pretending to sleep.” Therefore, getting them to see the truth, when they are pretending to not to see it, is definitely going to be a difficult affair. That does not mean that you must give up easily.

Explains the problems of coastal erosion in layperson’s terms:

Let see what this truth they are refusing to see. First let us be clear—erosion is not natural to the coast, any coast. If it was natural such a coast would never exist. However, the movement of sediments, sand, along the coast, along most coasts, particularly along the East Coast of India, is natural. The Puducherry-Villupuram Coast forms a tiny segment of this long East Coast of India. Sand moves along this coast from south to north during the Southwest Monsoon—from April to September. Then during the Northeast Monsoon—from October to February—the sand movement is reversed, and it moves from north to south.

What causes the sand to move along the coast? Even this has been established to certainty. The waves crashing on the coast at steep angle pushes the sand along the length of the coast. During the Southwest Monsoon, the waves meet the coast at a sharp angle from the south; hence the sand is pushed along from south to north. The wave direction almost reverses during the Northeast Monsoon, with the waves meeting the coast at a steep angle from the north, consequently, the sand moves from north to south. Millions of tons of sand are thus moved either way, every year.

The wave action during the Southwest Monsoon is more intense and lasts much longer than that during the Northeast Monsoon. Therefore, the amount to sand moved from south to north is much more. So we can say, annually there is a net movement of sand from south to north. You don’t need to be an expert to understand this. It is not easy to physically observe this movement of sand taking place on a normal shoreline. This movement of sand however becomes apparent when someone manages to interrupt the movement.

What happens when this movement of sand along the coast is interrupted? Before I attempt to answer that let me share with you what can cause such an interruption. The sandy coast is ‘soft’ and so highly dynamic—prone to movement. Anything ‘hard’ erected on this ‘soft’ coast will interrupt the movement of sand—jetty, wharf, pier, breakwater, seawall, groyne, groyne field, and even large ship beached (sometimes they use beached ship as a breakwater, for example, at Vishakhapatanam). When any such a ‘hard’ structure comes up on the coast, sand begins to accumulate on its upstream, which in the case of our coast will be to the south of the structure. This then would result starvation of sand downstream of the structure, that is, north of the structure, along this coast. To make good this starvation of sand for onward movement along the coast, the waves, which continue to the lash the coast, begin to erode the coast. The process of coastal erosion is as simple as that.

Gives the history of the recognition of the issue of coastal erosion on the East coast of India:

This truth became known for the first time along the East Coast at Chennai, some two hundred odd years ago. A small wharf was built on the coast, off the Fort St. George, probably to receive the Governor General’s Yacht. Soon the sand began to accumulate on the southern side of this wharf—the birth of the now famous Marina Beach. At the same time, on its northern side, the coast began to erode. In a few years time, the eroded stretch became an indentation on the coast, which was otherwise straight as an arrow for miles and miles. This shoreline indentation went on to become the Major Port of Chennai. Nevertheless, the accumulation of sand to the south still continues. The Marina Beach getting wider every day. Just as the accumulation of sand on the south of Chennai Port is continuous, so is the erosion to the north. And so, beyond Chennai Port, yet another indentation began to form, which in due course became the Fisheries Harbour, hoping it will bring to an end the erosion. Erosion hasn’t yet stopped. The erosion continues northward, taking away precious coastal landscape. Who is going to pay for this environmental disaster? Is anybody doing anything about it? That is not the only example of coastal erosion due to ‘hard’ structures on the coast.

Gives other examples of erosion along the Eastern coastline:

The Ennore Port has repeated the same story. The coast north of Ennore Port is now steadily eroding. Kakinada is yet another example, where to the north of Port, nearly two kilometres of the shoreline has already been lost due to erosion. Vishakhapatanam Port is the next example, where erosion to the north of the port is to some extent controlled by a ‘soft’ solution—sand-bypassing. I understand that it is the Vishakhapatanam Port that is footing the bill. So we may look at this as precedence in your favour. Further north, the Paradip Port is causing relentless erosion north of it. More new ports fast coming up along this coast will only compound the problem. As yet no one has arrived at a port design that wouldn’t cause erosion. The experts in question must surely be acquainted with these examples of coastal erosion.

Gives the history of erosion along the Pondicherry coast:

Erosion along the Pondicherry coast began long ago, when the first pier was constructed. And when that pier was wrecked in a cyclone, a new one was built. So the erosion northward continued. Then the Pudhucherry Port was created further south. After the creation of the port, it became the main cause for the disruption of sand movement from south to north. The New Pier ceased to be the culprit any longer. In case of erosion, the culprit is easily caught. Wherever the sand is accumulating is the give away of the obstructing structure. We can now see sand accumulating south of the new port.
The sandy coast along the Beach Road gave way to an ugly seawall. (Then someone decided to drape the seawall with sand. That doesn’t make the coast any soft.) Despite this seawall, the erosion continued unabated further northward—north of hardened shoreline.

Tells us why groynes are not the solution:

A groyne or groyne field is not going be anything different, but only serve to harden up yet another section of the shoreline. So the erosion will spread further northward. There will be no end, until it reaches the next river mouth on the coast—the Palar River. Are we to go on building groyne-fields or seawalls all the way north, perhaps up to the mouth of Palar River? Is that the eventual solution that the experts are contemplating?

Questions “pliable” experts and vested interests:

Why are the experts not looking at the more eco-friendly ‘soft’ solution, but insisting on a ‘hard’ solution—the groyne-field? The case seems to be more a matter of self-interest, and of questionable integrity, at least, for some parties involved in the project process. Who are these individuals with vested interest in a groyne-field? The answer will become clear if you look at what goes into the construction of a groyne field. There is no complicated technology, specialised equipment, or even technical expertise involved in the construction of a groyne or groyne-field. All that you need is a huge quantity of rocks and boulders. Therefore a rock quarry must be involved. So the quarry owner(s) will be interested. Then, to transport the rocks and boulders from the quarry to the coast a large number of tipper-trucks will be needed. So the owners of the tipper-trucks will also have a serious stake in the project. Then of course, a large workforce of unskilled labour; at the quarry, in loading up, in transporting, and also at the work-site on the coast. Such a workforce is often resourced through powerful labour contractors—the vote-bank managers. These three vested interests are moneyed, and politically powerful; in fact, some of them may themselves be calling the shot seated on the seats of power. They have thus huge ‘illicit’ power and material resources even to engineer experts’ opinions. Without the help pliable experts it is hardly possible to get such projects through on file.

Don’t expect these arguments will in some way convince the already blinded Experts and the authorities led by them. The nexus of quarry owners, transporters and labour contractors simply cannot be wished away. A social action approach could do the trick, but it may not be easy task to convince the local fishing community, who may want a groyne-field to protect their own stretch of coast, unmindful of what may happen to the people further north, or even if the beauty of the coastal landscape is marred forever. These simple coastal folks mistakenly think that seawall or groyne, made of huge rock as and boulders, works just like a fortress wall on land. Getting them to see a seawall or a groyne as something potentially destructive, unlike a protective fortress wall on land, may not be easy.

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Pondicherry town’s future to be decided at the Supreme Court on November 4th 2008

In February 2007, the residents of Pondicherry began the fight for the life of their unique town. They did not want to suffer the environmental, economic and social damages of having a large, deep water commercial port right in the middle of this exquisite French heritage town – a town which attracts tourists and visitors from all over India and the world. The Government of Puducherry had signed over precious prime seafront property just south of the French boulevard town area of Pondicherry, to Pondicherry Port Limited (PPL) (a joint venture between Subhash Projects Marketing Limited (SPML) and Om Metals Limited (OML)), without going through the proper tender process mandated by the Government of India. In addition, the Puducherry Government was going to give PPL 150 acres of agricultural land at throw away lease prices, allow them to block off an estuary, and reclaim land from the sea by using sea sand meant for the town’s beaches.

The proposed port will be a total ecological disaster. The Pondicherry coast has already been devastated by an existing small harbour, built in the late 1980s. A new port (20 times larger than the existing harbour) would greatly increase the on-going erosion of the coast, flood the town during heavy rains (as the natural wetlands would be filled up), and the air and water pollution from the harbour would affect the entire heritage town. The people’s concern was voiced loud and clear. Unfortunately, only three concessions were made by the Government of Puducherry: 1) that the additional 150 acres would not be acquired, 2) the estuary would not be blocked and 3) the port would not be allowed to handle coal and iron ore.

Despite the pleas of the citizens of Pondicherry to stop the development of a port in the middle of a small town and to restore an already badly eroded coastline, the Government is determined to move forward with this corrupt development. However, a lone individual, of great resolve, has filed a PIL at the Madras High Court and is now in the Supreme Court objecting to this violation of the public trust.

C.H. Balamohan needs all the support and help he can get to save Pondicherry, not only to preserve the last remnants of this heritage town as “Peaceful Pondicherry” but also to safeguard it from the onslaught of the sea which is eating away at its very foundations in the absence of the beaches along its coastline.

If you would like to help or would like more details, please contact Pondicherry People’s Protection Committee.

Email: pondyppc@gmail.com

Telephone: (0) 94432 57770

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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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“Blocking the Sea”

Rocks instead of Beach

Rocks instead of Beach

Down to Earth Magazine pubished an article on coastal erosion in Pondicherry by Arnab Pratim Dutta in it’s September 15 2008 issue.

Coastal erosion is a serious problem in Puducherry. But the beaches did not disappear overnight. The problem began in 1989, when a harbour was built at the southern tip of the union territory. Two breakwaters were constructed as a part of the harbour which stopped the littoral drift, the natural south to north movement of sand.

By 2002, Northern Puducherry had lost all sand. Structures along the coast began to crumble as sea water intruded into their foundation. In 2002-2003, the state government decided to build a seven km long seawall consisting of boulders along the coast. Rs 40 crore were spent on the construction. While Puducherry was saved temporarily, the problem of erosion was transferred to villages in Tamil Nadu in the north.

The full article, called “Blocking the Sea” can be accessed here.

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