In the last months of 2019, Chennai’s iconic Marina Beach had become the centre of attention in the news.
City-dwellers woke up to an unusual phenomenon on one fine November day. Nearly 1 kilometre of the world’s second longest beach’s shoreline was draped under a blanket of white frothy foam.
This foam formation, as later reported by TNM officials, was caused by the discharge of raw sewage, and industrial and domestic effluents into oceans and rivers.
Witnessing foam on Chennai’s coastline is not something new. Annually, during monsoons, the shoreline is covered with frothing foam caused by various contributors, including waste dumped into water bodies. Waste is discharged into water bodies throughout the year; it is during monsoons that the seriousness of the problem comes into light.
During the rainy season, there is greater inflow of sewage into the city’s sewage plants. This reduces their efficiency, and untreated sewage drains into water bodies.
Frothing is just one of the many negative consequences of waste-discharge into the ocean. As noted by a coordinator at the Coastal Resource Centre, “the foam as such is not dangerous. The real killers are what causes the foam”. Sewage, effluents, chemicals, heavy metals, plastics, etc. – these reduce oxygen levels in water and adversely affect marine life. The poisonous foam produced by these substances also impacts economic activities poses serious threats to human health.
Although foam formation is common event in Chennai, what was witnessed in 2019 was uncommon. The quantities of the fluffy snow-like foam and the area to which it spread posed a major threat to marine and human life. But it was also a shocking reminder of the magnitude by which we pollute our oceans and rivers.