‘No Port Zones’ Near Eco-Critical Areas
June 2010: The Ministry of Environment and Forests has proposed amendments to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 1991, to speed up development of ports and harbours. While the draft policy emphasised that any expansion plans of existing ports, harbours and jetties can be undertaken only if studies indicated that there is no significant impact on the shoreline or the ecologically-sensitive areas along the coast, conservationists believe that the very fact that the government wishes the ports to increase their capacity to 860 million tonnes by March 2012, will usher in several new port projects.
Expressing serious concern over the rapid large-scale development in the vicinity of ecologically critical coastal areas, marine biologists, sea turtle researchers and conservationists wrote to the Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, asking him to protect such areas by introducing effective legal safeguards. The petition was signed by over 300 Indian and international marine biologists and conservationists and was handed over to the Minister by Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India and Dr. Kartik Shanker of the Centre for Ecological Sciences. The petition was supported by the Bombay Natural History Society, Conservation Action Trust, Dakshin, Greenpeace, Kalpavriksh, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Reefwatch Marine Conservation, Sanctuary Asia, WWF India, Wildlife Protection Society of India and Wildlife Society of Orissa.
The petition demands that no ports be permitted within 25 km. of turtle mass-nesting areas and other important feeding, migratory and refuge habitats. Another key demand is for a no-development zone for all industrial activities for at least a 10 km. radius around the mass nesting beaches in Orissa. This concern was overwhelmingly expressed at the recently concluded 30th Annual Sea Turtle Symposium held in Goa at the end of April 2010, which brought together the world’s leading international marine researchers and conservationists.
Opposition to the controversial Dhamra port in Orissa has galvanised India’s conservation community into addressing the potential environmental threats that ports and other coastal infrastructure projects pose. “Unbelievable as it is, Dhamra is just the tip of the iceberg: there are currently ports proposed at all of Orissa’s mass-nesting sites – Gahirmatha, Rushikulya and Devi. If the Centre does not step in, Orissa’s state government will be signing the death warrant for these habitats,” said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
The call for tighter controls on port locations comes at a time when Central and state governments are actively pushing the construction of ports all along India’s coast. Over 300 ports have been proposed along the coast of mainland India, and over 200 have already been notified.
Dr. Kartik Shanker, turtle biologist at the Centre of Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science and outgoing President of the International Sea Turtle Society said, “Fragile coastal ecosystems and artisanal fishing communities today face the same threat in terms of rampant destructive development. The challenge before government and Indian society at large is to institute mechanisms that ensure the health of the ecosystems which sea turtles, other species and fishermen rely on.”
“The recent oil spills at Gopalapur port near Rushikulya and near Paradip Port in 2009 are wake up calls. The ecological disaster unfolding from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is an example of how badly things can go wrong. If we continue to locate industrial infrastructure in ecologically critical areas, we will sacrifice what is left of our marine biodiversity,” said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India. “Minister Ramesh’s response to this petition will determine his true legacy as Environment Minister and reflect his commitment to regulate coastal development more effectively. The consequences of inaction are empty seas and empty futures for our coastal populations,” he concluded.
Sanctuary readers are urged to write to the minister for Environment and forests, Jairam ramesh at
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
Visit www.greenpeace.in/turtle for more updates on the issue.