The state’s coast provides a vivid juxtaposition of natural and artificial environments. As an interface between land and sea, coasts are very rich ecosystems, providing vital and highly dynamic resources for nature. Interestingly, they are also the most urbanised areas of the state. The varied habitats that one sees in TN’s coasts, including salt-adapted scrub and grasslands, sheer cliffs and rocky shores (especially Kanyakumari), sandy beaches and tidal areas, estuaries and lagoons provide breeding grounds and habitats for marine organisms, as well as for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife. Coastal areas, notably wetlands are also very important habitats as feeding areas for migratory bird species. Some of the state’s best birding areas such as Pulicat, Pallikaranai or Vedaranyam are located on the coast.
Tamil Nadu’s coastal zones are under multiple pressures the most critical of which is the destruction and degradation of coastal habitats.
As transition zones between terrestrial and marine environments, coasts are affected by a wide range of pollution sources. Pollution from land-based activities reaches the coast through rivers. In the absence of well designed waste water management systems, coasts receive high loads of nitrogen and phosphorus. This contributes to eutrophication (which is an adverse change in ecosystems) that is caused by increased inflows of nutrients both from rivers and direct discharges, including rainfall. High nitrate and phosphate loads lead to flourishing of bluegreen algae, which can choke all other aquatic life through its high oxygen consumption. In addition to rapidly decreasing availability of food resources, bluegreen algae can directly threaten human health, in the event of direct contact through bathing, consumption etc.
An Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan for the 13 coastal districts was done in 2015. The plan calls for a strategic approach to coastal zone planning and management in order to achieve sustainable development, and recommends that adaptation to climate change and risk, and management of the land-sea interface and marine areas be the priority themes for the state’s planning agenda.
— The writer is Managing Trustee, Care Earth