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Key Challenges in Coastal and Marine Area Management

The major issues relate to misuse, overuse and abuse of resources, degradation of ecosystems (albeit with some improvement in recent years), conflicts among stakeholders, increasing damages from coastal hazards, threats to livelihood security, growing pressure from and demand for economic infrastructure, and the overarching concern for sustainable development.

Vulnerability of coastal areas and coastal communities: The Indian coast is subject to severe weather events and episodic events, including in the recent past the 2004 tsunami and several super-cyclones. On average, 5.2 depressions, 1.9 storms and 1.4 severe storms affect the Indian coast every year. Between 1877 and 1990, 964 out of 1474 cyclones that originated in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea affected the Indian coasts, inflicting severe damages to lives and properties. At times, the effects are exacerbated by inland floods, and in recent years, inundation. All 73 coastal districts of India are vulnerable to coastal hazards. Six of these districts (Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara in Orissa; Nellore in Andhra Pradesh; Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu; Junagadh and Porbander in Gujarat) are regarded as severely threatened. Ten more districts (North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in West Bengal; Baleshwar and Bhadrak in Orissa; Srikakulam, Guntur and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh; Thiruvallur, South Arcot and Ramanathpuram in Tamil Nadu) are regarded as highly threatened.

Resilience of the rural coastal communities to these extreme weather events is low, mostly due to impoverishment. Resource productivity over the years has declined due to low inputs, poor technology, and lack of communication and marketing facilities. Many coastal communities have weak, undiversified and limited livelihoods that rely heavily on unsustainable utilisation of natural resources. Lacking access to other sources of income, subsistence or employment, these communities have few alternatives but to continue to rely on an insecure and rapidly degrading natural resource base. Meanwhile markets for both marine and coastal products remain undeveloped, inaccessible and often distorted, even while the catch is declining due to environmental degradation and overextraction.

Another significant issue in the rural coastal areas is accelerated erosion of coastal land, which threatens the sustenance of coastal agriculture, and built habitats.

Accommodating urban and rural growth and economic needs: Coastal areas in India today face multiple environmental degradation issues due to ever increasing anthropogenic pressures and over-extraction of natural resources. Between 1981 and 2001AD, the coastal districts of India experienced a population growth of nearly 80 percent. The coast also contains some of the largest and most dense urban agglomerations, including Mumbai (population 16 million, density 21,190 persons/km2), Kolkata (13 million, 24,760 persons/km2), Chennai (6 million, 24,231 persons/ km2), Kochi and Visakhapatnam (each with more than 1 million). There are 77 coastal cities, 197 major and minor ports, 308 large-scale industrial units, and several newly established special economic zones.

Apart from the pressures related to rapid urbanization, important economic activities in the coastal zones include marine fishing, tourism, coastal and sea bed mining, offshore oil and natural gas production, aquaculture, agriculture, and forestry. These have led to significant increase in demand for infrastructure and exploitation of natural resources.

Degradation of coastal and marine resources and habitats: The resilience of marine ecosystems has been subjected to great pressure through over-extraction of resources, increased pollution, and physical alterations in coastal ecosystems. Mangroves have been exploited for timber, fuel wood, and other purposes. For about 200 years, large mangrove areas have been cleared for agricultural activities and shrimp farming. In a six year period between 1975 and 1981AD, according to the estimates of the National Remote Sensing Agency, about 70,000ha of mangrove (10 percent of total) were lost. The decline has been partly arrested, but recent estimates show that only about 4,474km2 (66 percent of mangrove areas recorded in 1960s) remain. Along with the mmangroves,coastal forests have declined in both area and composition as a result of over-harvesting for fuelwood, construction materials and fodder. There is ample evidence that fish stocks are declining; and endangered or commercially important marine species such as food fish, aquarium fish, sea cucumbers and corals are fast disappearing. Major issues in coastal fisheries are overfishing, habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, post –harvest damages due to lack of infrastructure, fishing during monsoon, and conflicts between mechanized and traditional artisanal sectors.

The northern Indian Ocean is one of the ten global hotspots for threatened coral reef areas. Sixty-one per cent of the coral reef areas in India are threatened due to coral mining, fishing with explosives, sedimentation, oil pollution, removal of reef organisms, anchoring, harbor construction and removal of coral for curio trade. In the early 1980s, reefs in the Gulf of Kachchh were utilized for commercial mining of coral sand (up to 1 million tons per year). Coral reefs off the mainland coast were exploited for extraction of lime. Collection of reef fishes, ornamental shells, sea fans, seaweed, sea cucumbers, spiny lobsters and sea horses continues. Agricultural and industrial runoff, pesticides and oil pollution add to the degradation of mainland reefs.

Cumulative contamination and pollution from sectoral and uncontrolled developments
Municipal wastewater constitutes the largest single source of marine pollution in India. The cities and towns located in the coastal areas generate 5560 million litres of wastewater per day. Of this only about 521 million litres per day (about 9 percent) are treated before being released to the coastal waters. Agricultural run-off laden with excessive chemicals and pesticides is thought to be huge but has not been estimated. Clearance of upstream land for agriculture has also resulted in sedimentation and siltation, impacting the mangrove and reef areas in particular. A variety of industries, including shrimp farming, tanneries, slaughterhouses and other chemical processes, contribute solid waste and wastewaters to the coasts, often without adequate  or any  treatment. Wastes and sewage from cities and tourism centres are also frequently dumped in the sea and estuarine water bodies. A large proportion of all industrial units of all sizes are located along the coast, including most of the petrochemical complexes and thermal power plants. While coasts are natural location for such industries, poor infrastructure, acute concentration, and lack of integrated planning have resulted in threat to the environment. The MoEF has identified 30 industrial hotspots along the coast, which include Mumbai, Trombay, Okha, Mangalore, Chennai, Tuticorin, Paradip and Visakhapatnam.

Sectoral planning and management in marine and coastal areas is uncoordinated and often conflicting

There is no integrated approach to planning and management of coastal and marine areas at the national, state or local level. Harmonisation of conservation and development goals is poor, with little coordination between the different sectors that depend on, impact or manage coastal and marine resources. The lack of integration is reflected in a multiplicity of institutional, legal and economic planning frameworks. This has resulted in a series of activities and interventions being carried in coastal and marine areas in isolation from each other, at times resulting in direct conflict between the goals of the different stakeholders and sectors.

Rapid development of the shrimp sector during nineties and thereafter required the conversion of flat, coastal lands to shrimp ponds. Shrimp aquaculture has, in the last twenty years, accounted for about 80 percent of the conversion of mangrove land, and 10-12 million litres/day of wastewater discharge to the sea. Mangrove conversion has been undertaken by both small- scale extensive farms and by larger-scale semi-intensive and intensive farms. In the Godavari delta, about 14 percent of the aquaculture farms have been constructed on mangrove lands. The rate of conversion of mangroves into shrimp ponds increased in the period 1997 to 1999, suggesting that shrimp pond construction started in fallow and croplands but then encroached on mangroves in the absence of suitable fallow land. Shrimp aquaculture production increased from 30,000 tonnes in 1990 to 102,000 tonnes in 1999, primarily driven by the high profitability of shrimp farming and attracted a wide range of investors.

Lack of integrated planning of economic infrastructure
India has 14 major and 185 minor/intermediate ports and many more are in pipeline. While each of them might be constructed or expanded carefully, the lack of integrated planning has unintended impacts on geomorphological setting of the coasts. Near some of the ports, the shoreline has receded by about 500m with respect to the original shoreline as measured in 1876. Seawalls constructed to prevent further erosion resulted in undermining of the seabed, leading to large waves that affect the coast. Construction of a smaller port, near the Pulicat lagoon required dredging of 14 million m3 of seabottom, the spoil of which was deposited on-shore, reportedly closing the mouth of the lagoon. Elsewhere, unplanned development of tourism infrastructure has resulted in large-scale beach and dune erosion; increased stress on local freshwater availability, and in a few cases destruction of coastal habitats. Construction of irrigation works and causeways on coastal estuaries is a growing concern. At a number of places, such as the Vembanad Lake, estuarine systems are being transformed into freshwater systems, which is counterproductive to the needs of much of coastal population in the long term. New investments over US$ 2 billion per year in construction of offshore and near-shore platforms and pipelines – while all critical component of national economy – have also increased the threats of oil-spill and ballast water pollution.

Legal and policy frameworks are not adequately implemented
Although a number of laws have been enacted and rules and regulations promulgated for the management and protection of coastal and marine environment, their enforcement has been ineffective, and in many cases laws are partial or incomplete. Legal frameworks remain, for the most part, based on command and control measures which are costly and difficult to enforce given the limited institutional capacity and budget constraints. Economic instruments are used more in support of development ignoring conservation objectives. Adequate funds and effective financing mechanisms are lacking, both for the public agencies who are mandated with development and conservation in coastal and marine zones, as well as for the resource users and local communities who bear many of the indirect costs of maintaining a healthy environment. As a result there are few concrete incentives for local communities, resource users and land managers to promote sustainable and integrated development and conservation in coastal and marine areas.

Lack of involvement of relevant stakeholders in natural resource management
Planning and management of coastal and marine environments for both development and conservation tends to be dominated by the goals and objectives of economic development, and mainly include central and state decision-makers, urban populations and commercial sectors. Local communities and their needs are frequently marginalized in these processes  at the cost of both the natural environment and the livelihoods of the poor communities who depend on them. While the need to mobilize local participation and support is recognized at the policy level, there is a significant gap between these statements of intent and actual practice. Studies point out that government agencies are slow to share information, either due to a lack of formal mechanisms or as a result of institutional culture.

Lack of adequate capacity, skill and knowledge in managing coastal zones
The organizations and institutions responsible for managing coastal and marine areas do not have adequate capacity to address issues of marine and coastal conservation, sustainable livelihoods, economic development and disaster management in a holistic manner. Most coastal zone planners, environment agencies, and the managers in the sectors whose activities have an impact on the coastal and marine environment have little understanding of these impacts created, or of the possible benefits of coordinated joint actions. There is an insufficient knowledge base in the country to understand and manage direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment, and few if any mechanisms for sharing information on national and international best practice. This is exacerbated by the scarcity of technical and scientific data on the geomorphology, biophysical or socio-economic situations and changes along the coasts.

Climate change induced risks to coastal communities and infrastructure According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Asia will be one of the most severely affected regions of the world as a result of “business-as-usual” global warming. India is likely to have increased exposure to extreme events, including cyclones and tropical storms, floods, and severe vector-borne diseases. Sea level rise may cause large-scale inundation along the coastline and recession of flat sandy beaches. The ecological stability of mangroves and coral reefs may be at risk. A number of studies note a significant acceleration in sea level rise in Asia, an average rise of 3.1mm/year over the past decade, compared with 1.7–2.4mm/year over the 20th century. There has also been an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. A number of studies in the region have explored linkages among the observed changes in mean climate variables, extreme weather events, and changes in biophysical and human systems. The IPCC estimates that even under its most conservative scenario, sea levels in 2100 will be about 40 centimeters higher than today,which will cause flooding in the coastal areas in Asia, effecting 80 million people, the majority of which will be in India. A sea level rise of 1 meter would flood nearly 6,000 km2 in India. By including the effect of ice-sheet dynamics, other studies suggest a 3–5m rise in sea levels by 2100.

Such an increase, if probable, would have a devastating impact on the region. The large coastal cities such as Mumbai and Kolkota are at average elevations of 2–10m above the mean sea level. Overall,some 63 million people live in urban areas in low-elevation coastal zones, and 31 million of them in cities larger than 5 million in population. A 3–5m rise in average sea level could effectively deurbanize the region along the coast. Whether the eventual sea level rise is about the damaging 40cm or the devastating 3–5m, a large urban and rural population will be affected. Significant numbers of people will likely migrate toward large urban settlements in the interior of the country rather than get dispersed in the hinterland of existing coastal cities. Further, the large infrastructure investments in ports, industries and other facilities in the coastal areas will be at greater risk due to rising sea levels.

Sea level rise will affect the coastal zone in multiple ways, including inundation and displacement of wetlands and lowlands, coastal erosion, increased coastal storm floods, increased salinity in estuaries and freshwater aquifers, alteration of tidal ranges, as well as changes in sediment and nutrient transport. Rapid urbanization has led to the enlargement of natural coastal inlets and dredging of waterways for navigation, port facilities, and pipelines, exacerbating saltwater intrusion into surface and ground waters. The areas protected by mangroves, deltas, low-lying coastal plains, coral islands, sand beaches, and barrier islands are less likely to be impacted by sea level rise compared to the built-up areas. However, these areas and resources are already under stress. Most of the sandy beaches are eroding; the sand dunes are disappearing mainly due to reduced supply of freshwater and sediments in the coastal estuaries. This degradation will aggravate climate-change induced sea level rise by increasing shoreline retreat or by coastal flooding.

The most vulnerable communities will include those with maximum exposure to these stresses, as well as those with the least capacity to respond and recover. Physical changes are likely to take place in abrupt, nonlinear ways as thresholds are crossed. The least resilient communities—for example, those dependent on subsistence fishing—will be the first to experience “tipping points” in their life systems; they will have little choice but to abandon their homes and search for better prospects elsewhere.

The combination of extreme climatic and nonclimatic events has already caused coastal flooding resulting in substantial losses and fatalities. Between 1981 and 1990, 262 cyclones occurred in a 50 km wide strip of Indian coasts, resulting in massive destruction of life and property. The frequency of cyclonic events (especially during November, the month of severe cyclones) has increased by 25 percent in the Bay of Bengal and by 100 percent over the north Indian Ocean over a period of about 100 years (1877–1998). Salt water from the Bay of Bengal is reported to have penetrated 100 kilometers or more inland along tributary channels during the dry season. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate water resource stresses on all Indian coasts, affecting agriculture through declining production, as well as through reductions in arable land area and food supplies for fish. Climate change also poses substantial risks to human health. Empirical studies project that in India, a larger population will be at risk of dengue fever.

The mainland coasts of India have four geographical divisions: one on the eastern coast, and three on the western one. The eastern coast, 2,630 km long, is predominantly deltaic with deep sedimentation. The major deltas, from north to south, are the Ganga-Brahmaputra, the Mahanadi, the Krishna-Godavari, and the Kaveri. Most of the Mahanadi and Ganga-Brahmaputra floodplains have poor drainage and flood regularly. Tidal incursions extend far inland, and the wide deltas are regularly subject to cyclones and other special weather events. The eastern coastal plain contains several lagoons, the largest of which, Pulicat and Chilka lakes, are a result of sediment deposition along the shoreline. On the western coast, the largest division is the Gujarat Coast, which is about 1,600 km long. It lies to the northwest of the Western Ghats, extending from the Gulf of Khambhat into the salt marshes of the Kathiawar and Kachchh peninsulas. These tidal marshes include the Great Rann of Kachchh along the border with Pakistan and the Little Rann of Kachch between the two peninsulas. The level of the marshes rises during the rainy season, making the Kachchh Peninsula an island every year. The Konkan Coast between Daman and Goa is constituted by several flooded valleys extending inland into narrow riverine plains. These plains are dominated by low-level lateritic plateaus and are marked by alternating headlands and bays, the latter often sheltering crescent-shaped beaches. Finally, the Malabar Coast, from Goa south to Cape Comorin, was formed by deposition of sediment along the shoreline. This 25-100km wide plain is characterized by lagoons and brackish, navigable backwater channels.

Coastal and marine biodiversity resources
India’s tropical climate and diverse geomorphologic setting favors an abundance of coastal and offshore marine ecosystems. The Indian Ocean region has 227 of the 686 species of corals globally reported. The fish population in Indian waters is diverse, with 2,546 species belonging to 969 genera (equal to 57 percent of fish genera found in the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean). Further, the Indian coast hosts 26 species of sea snakes and 5 species of sea turtles. Of the 120 species of marine mammals reported globally, 25 (including sea cow, dugong, dolphin, and whale) are found in Indian waters. Many of these marine mammals and reptiles are endangered.

India had a total reported area of 6,740km2 under mangroves in 1987. The west coast mangroves (Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala) are scrubby and degraded, whereas the Gujarat mangroves are richer, and occur in Gulf of Kachchh and the Kori Creek. The mangroves on the eastern coast are, however, very rich and diverse. The mangroves of Sundarbans are the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangroves of the world, and the mangroves of Bhitarkanika are the second largest in the Indian sub-continent. Mangrove swamps occur in profusion in the intertidal mudflats on both sides of the creeks in the Godavari-Krishna deltaic regions, Pichavaram and Vedaranyam in Tamil Nadu. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the small tidal estuaries and the lagoons support a dense and diverse undisturbed mangrove flora. Major coral reefs are found in the Gulf of Kachchh, the deltaic regions of Kori creek (Gujarat) and Pichavarm-Vedaranyam. Major sea grass meadows in India (although poorly documented) occur along the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, in the lagoons of some of the Lakshadweep Islands, and in some areas of Andaman and Nicobar islands. Sea weeds are abundant on the Indian coasts, with 770 species, a standing crop of 91,339 tonnes, and a share of about 4 percent of global annual seaweed harvest. However, the Indian coast is relatively poor in marine algal diversity – it has only 624 of the 20,000 known species, mainly concentrated in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Most Indian coastal forests are found on the western coast, with some in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coasts on the eastern coast.

Other coastal and marine resources: Nearly 45 percent of India’s total energy needs are supplied by oil (mostly imported) and gas. Most of the country’s oil and gas reserves lie in the coastal and shallow offshore areas of the Gulf of Kachchh, Bombay High, and Krishna-Godavari Basin, and some in the known deep sea locations. There is no dependable estimate of ocean energy potential (wave, tidal, ocean thermal energy). Some work has started on coasts where the tidal amplitude is very high (Gulf of Khambat, Gulf of Kachchh, Hoogly Estuary). Nonetheless, the potential, subject to development of the required technology, is anticipated to be very high.

Most of the placer and mineral deposits of ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene, monazite, sillimanite, magnetite, zircon, garnet, and other heavy metals in India are concentrated in the coastal zones. Of the 7,500km of coasts in India, a total stretch of 2,643km is laden with substantial mineral deposits.

In Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, huge mineral deposits are alsolocated near-shore up to a depth of 15-25 meters, whereas in Tamil Nadu, such deposits are found upto a depth of 1 meter from the shore.

High temperatures and wind velocity along the coastline are congenial for salt pan activities,mainly on the coasts of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The groundwater in coastal India (18.8 million hectare-metre per year) is by and large fresh, although in the Mahanadi and the Godavari deltas, there are large pockets of saline groundwater. There is increased salinity ingress in most coastal states, notably in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

There are several tourism and cultural heritage sites on the Indian coastline. Some of the sites have regional, national and international significance. Prominent among these tourism and culturalsites are the Marine National Park, Dwarka and Porbandar, Daman, Diu, Alibag, Elephanta Caves,Goa, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Rameswaram, Mallalapuram, Vishakhapattanam, Chilika, Puri,Digha, and the Sundarban. Most of these sites contain historical and archaeological heritage.

Economic value of coastal and marine ecosystem services: Very little is systematically known about the economic value of the coastal resources of India. The primary coastal and marine ecosystem service is the fisheries industry, which is a major driver and safety net for economic development and rural livelihoods. Coastal fishing employs a million people full time (including 200,000 workers in the mechanized sector, and 630,000 in the informal sector). The post-harvest fisheries sector employs another 1.2 million people, of which 25 percent are rural women. India has 3,638 fishing villages and 2,251 fish landing centers. The total marine fish production is about 2,695 million tonnes, of which nearly 50 percent comes from near shore waters and is contributed by traditional fishermen. Although systematic data is not available, the non-fishery values are considered to be high, and are of prime national concern.