Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The murder of India's beaches

Over the span of a few decades, India has lost almost half its beaches along its once beautiful coastline. And in a few years from now, India won't have a single beach left. We are losing our beaches every second because of simple man made errors. It's not too late - many miles of beaches can still be saved but the government is doing nothing. In fact most state governments are making things worse.

It's known around the world as the murder of India's beaches. Even though it's not clear to the naked eye, beaches are constantly moving, the sand moves up the coast line pushed by the winds and the waves especially during the monsoon.

Now when a port is built, it breaks this natural movement of sand. As a result sand piles up south of the port. But north of the beach the sand gets eroded as it moves further north. If it goes on there will only be rocks, not beaches left.

That is why Marina beach in Chennai has so much sand - but if one goes north of the port, the beaches are gone, lost. They are destroyed.

In other parts of the world, it is mandatory for all ports to dredge the sand from one side and place it on the other side, but not in India.

Instead in India the government gives lucrative contracts to businessmen to fill the eroded beaches with rocks and build walls of rocks. India is building so many miles of rock walls where beaches used to be, that may be 20 or more years from now our entire coastline will be one long rock wall - longer than the great wall of China.

What's killing the beaches even faster is the number of ports India is building. Instead of 5 or 6 big modern profitable ports, India is commissioning a small new port every few months; most are loss making and cannot afford to dredge the sand.

There is another devastating effect of the death of our beaches. The sand on beaches acts as a filter and stops the salt in sea water from going inland. The problem with rocks is that they can't act as a filter. So wherever the eroded beaches are replaced by rocks and rock walls, more and more villages on our coastline have discovered that the underground water in their area has become saline, which in turn means that their crops and livelihood are dying.

India used to be famous for its 'necklace' of beaches unless something is done fast. There will be no beaches but India will be famous for another kind of necklace, a necklace of rocks.