Human-produced underwater noise a cause for concern

Nobody likes noise – not us, not animals in forests and not fish in oceans. Loud and cacophonous noise displeases us, and, at times, even leads to dire health issues. But if that’s the case with us, do marine organisms feel the same way about noise? Does noise “displease” fish? Does it cause health issues in organisms that live in the seas?

Ocean Noise Pollution (Image Source)

Let’s look at the world through the lens of fishes. Light does not travel very far in water. So the vision of most fishes is limited to a few metres underwater. Luckily, fishes are very sensitive to sound. Unlike light, sound can travel across massive distances underwater. That’s why most of marine life depends on sound for navigation, reproduction, feeding, communication and even escaping predators.

Marine life depends on sound (Image Source)

And this where we step in. Our activities like commercial shipping, seismic surveys, military sonar and oil and gas exploration cause ocean noise pollution and permeate danger into the already dangerous and fragile lives of marine species. Navigation, reproduction, communication, escaping predators – these abilities of highly acoustic marine animals get damaged beyond repair. Fishes may even be forced to alter their migration routes or spawning sites to keep away from noise.  Besides behavioral problems, marine organisms can face physiologic problems such as bleeding, hearing loss, tissue damage, or even death.

Effects of ocean noise pollution on marine life (Image Source)

Plastic pollution, overfishing, trawling, etc. – these are known to impact oceanic environments adversely. But what remains lesser known is the effects of anthropogenic sounds on members of the marine world. And with noise levels rising precariously, the effects of ocean noise pollution cannot be overlooked.

In January 2016, more than 80 short-finned pilot whales were stranded on the shore in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. In the same year, a 37-foot whale washed ashore in Mumbai. Incidents of stranding like these have been reported at various locations several times. While there is no one specific reason to explain them, it is understood that noise pollution might have a significant hand in their occurrences.

Pilot whales wash ashore in Thoothukudi (Image Source)
Image Source

The fact that noise pollution levels in the Indian Ocean region have come down during the pandemic shines a glimmer of hope during these testing times. But this news should not in any way induce laxity in our measures.

Oceans are naturally noisy environments, with the survival of marine animals being largely dependent on sound. It is we who have intervened in these domains and broken the natural prosody of aquatic life.

While there is increasing awareness of certain perils to oceanic habitats, ocean noise pollution, though not a new phenomenon, needs greater awareness and scientific research.

Foamy Coastline of Chennai

In the last months of 2019, Chennai’s iconic Marina Beach had become the centre of attention in the news.

Locals standing amidst foam-like substance along the coast (Image source)

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.  

A child playing in poisonous foam (Image source)

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.

Kolkata & the Bay of Pollution

Occupying an area of about 839000 square miles, the Bay of Bengal is one of India’s most important oceans. The water body also holds significant historical importance in Kolkata, and once served as the gateway for the Britisher’s arrival to India.

It is also the home of 475 different species of fish, and thus also plays a crucial role in the ecological aspect. The livelihood of thousands of fishermen in Kolkata rely solely on the Bay of Bengal – the annual prawn-catch, nearshore fish species, and tuna-fishing forms a large part of Kolkata’s economy.

But over the years, the quality of this mighty ocean has been deteriorating – largely owed to Kolkata’s excessive pressure on the Bay of Bengal.

Rapid urbanization has led to a massive increase in the demand for water for both domestic and industrial requirements. Dumping of huge amounts of wastes (metallic garbage, e-waste, toxic substances, sewage, harmful and untreated effluents, etc.) in the Hugli river only augments this disastrous problem, as the driver drains into the Bay of Bengal, carrying with it all the pollutants.

The Hugli river is one of the most extensive jute-processing regions, which requires abundant water for processing raw jute. Wastes and industrial effluents discharged in extremely large quantities directly flows into the Bay of Bengal, which poses an imminent threat to the ocean’s aquatic life.

In 2017, the Times of India had reported that the river contains 1,60,000 faecalcoli form bacteria per 100 ml, a clear sign of human excreta (WHO has capped the safe limit at 1000 per 100 ml). The high level of pollution is due to improper and inefficient waste management.

Kolkata is also an important hub for leather tanning. There are several industrial tanning facilities along Hugli’s banks. The pollution caused by these has had a devasting impact on the river, the Bay of Bengal ocean, and a source of havoc for the rising pollution in Kolkata. Even bigger problem is the addition to illegal leather tanneries set up inconspicuously. These also release unchecked amounts of chemicals and toxins into the water body.

The effects of such actions are simply shocking. Over the course of 2-3 years, there has been a sharp decline in the number of shrimps found in the ocean. This is clearly an oversight into the water’s deplorable condition. The shrimps were subject to a disease called White Spot, which is a bacterial infection caused due to contaminated waters.

It is important to preserve Bay of Bengal’s beauty, history, and ecology for the protection of both the aquatic life, as well as the people’s livelihoods that depend on it. The government of Kolkata must implement some stringent measures to keep Hugli’s pollution in check, and save the Bay of Bengal.

The Effect of Light Pollution on Aquatic Life

With an ever-increasing pressure on our environment, the future of all living beings, including humans – who are the problem – is bleak. Through all the media that we know exist; water, air, soil, etc. our polluting activities pose an imminent threat to the flora and fauna around us.

India boasts a large coastline that abodes a plethora of aquatic species, whose existence is now endangered. It is not new that water pollution and soil pollution affects aquatic life. But there is another danger that is lurking around the corner; an invisible apex predator that poses harm to all marine life.

Today, the concept of artificial light is entirely taken for granted. Apartments, bungalows, resorts, clubs, skyscrapers and the like built near or along the shore produce immeasurable amounts of artificial light. This is especially so during the nights, when ornamental bulbs become incandescent and festoons glow for our entertainment, the lives of the neighbors residing in the waters is at potential risk.

This is due to a phenomenon called light pollution. To put it in simple words, the production of excessive light that alters nature’s conditions or activities causes light pollution. For millions of years, animals and plants have been adapted to the cycle of day and night. It is encoded in their DNA and they have been predictably surviving in this manner.  The advent of light-production has allowed us to use the power carelessly and nonchalantly, ignoring the massive impact it has been having on the environment for years.

Light pollution is a major problem for a simple reason – we cannot see the light. Unlike different forms of pollution, light-pollution is quite invisible, and yet it is inconspicuously killing India’s aquatic life. A single point-sized source of artificial light allows the light to spread unchecked over vast areas. Our deep-sea explorations too have carried this hazard to unfathomable depths and distances – considering the fact that the speed of light in water is a mind -bending 2250000000 meters per second!

The dangerous effect of light-pollution stunts the growth of several species of fish, and the routine behavior of nocturnal aquatic life has been negatively affected. As a result, the predator-prey relationship also changes, thus disrupting the natural order of events. Human-produced light eliminates the boundary between day and night, affecting aquatic life both physiologically and mentally.

For instance, in human beings, the hormone called melatonin is responsible for causing sleep. But light emitted from devices such as mobile phones, laptops, etc. reduces melatonin’s production, thereby disrupting our sleeping habits, or, in the worst cases even leading to insomnia. Similarly, in the case of fish, the artificial light hinder melatonin’s production, affecting their physiology and their daily cycle.

SOURCE

One species that has probably been the most impacted is the sea turtle. Sea turtles come to the shore to breed and nest, since they require a dark atmosphere (beaches). When the eggs hatch, the sea turtles use the reflective water’s surface as a guide to get back into the ocean. However, light pollution tends to confuse and disorient them. After roaming about on the shore, hundreds of sea turtles simply die in the absence of food, nourishment, etc. unaware that their home was just a meter away. As a result, places such as Goa that are known for their hospitable beaches that support sea turtles are witnessing a sharp decline in their numbers. Frogs too are active during the night, who croak for mating. Unnatural light largely affects their routine.

The major obstacle also includes the fact that there are no stringent laws and regulations in India recognizing the light-pollution’s adverse impact on our ecosystem. With lakhs of people living along the coast and carrying different commercial activities, large scale light-pollution can have a devastating impact on India’s aquatic life.

If you look up at the sky above, you will actually be able to count those scanty stars in the city, while the skies in rural areas are ubiquitously covered with visibly sparkling stars.

Such is the dreadful impact of light pollution on India’s aquatic life. The solution? People have to realize the repercussions of their actions, despite its magnitude. Who knows, switching on the torchlight in your mobile phone while at the beach could probably be leading an entire shoal of fish into a trap.

Jellyfish – Slimy Mirrors of the Future

An introduction on Jellyfish blooms

Chennai’s coastal waters and harbor-waters have witnessed jellyfish blooms time and again. As early as in 2018, for instance, visitors gathered at the city’s port as a part of the Defence Exhibition were treated with an unexpected surprise – the sight of hundreds of orange blobs blanketing the ocean surface near the shore.

Jellyfish blooms are sudden upsurges in the jellyfish population within a short span of time, and humans are believed to have a major hand in their occurrences.

Swarms of jellyfish have been observed at numerous coastal regions of our country, such as Mumbai, Goa and Thiruvananthapuram, in addition to Chennai. Having no brains, lungs or intestines, and made up of about 95% water, these free-swimming marine creatures are slimy mysteries that are waiting to be unravelled completely.

Jellyfish swarming and beach stranding events reported along the Indian coast from 1995 to 2019 (Source)

Why do jellyfish blooms occur?

The reasons behind the booming jellyfish population are not clear, but are often associated with adverse impacts of human activities on marine ecosystems. Some marine experts think that their increasing numbers are related to rising pollution. When sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. are drained into oceans (directly or indirectly), they increase the volume of nutrients present in them. These nutrients increase plankton that are fed on by jellyfish. Putting two and two together, jellyfish numbers are bound to increase with rising pollution levels of oceans. But pollution alone does not cap the list of reasons behind burgeoning jellies.

Sudden blooming of jellyfish may also be caused by the effects of climate change on ocean temperatures. Global warming has been heating oceans for decades now. Many marine species have already begun dwindling. Unfortunately, an often ignored threat adds on to the list of problems they are facing. Unlike many marine species, jellyfish can flourish in warmer waters with less oxygen. So, the warmer oceans become, the more jellyfish we get to see.
A rising jellyfish population undoubtedly means negative impacts on socio-economic activities. But a greater threat lies in the fact that these creatures feed on fish eggs and larvae, implying a bleak future and grim survival possibilities for most marine species.

According to Dr C Venkataraman, a scientist at the Zoological Survey of India, overfishing and trawling could also contribute to the exploding population of jellyfish. Overfishing reduces predatory fish that consume these gooey creatures. This creates a mismatch in enumerable food chains and food webs of marine ecosystems, threatening to snap the delicate thread that we have treaded on so far.  

Trawling (Marine Stewardship Council)

For some, jellyfish may be a source of fascination; for others, a source of disgust. In either case, it’s hard to deny that they represent our fundamental errors of today. These jellies are mirroring the adverse environmental consequences that our actions have reaped. It’s up to us now to take their presence as a cue with foresight and reform our actions before it’s too late.

The Arribada – “Mass Arrival” of Olive Ridley Baby Turtles at Odisha

At Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, Odisha, 

March 11th 2021 – March 24th 2021 :

Mass Nesting by 3.94 lakh Mother Turtles on the islands 

From May 7th 2021 :

Mass Hatching of 1.48 crore Baby Turtles from shore towards the sea 

The natural scene was a delight for environmentalists, Turtle Protection Force and nature lovers to behold the “Arribada of Turtle Life cycle”. 

Gahirmatha Beach is regarded as the world’s largest nesting ground for these endangeres species, for mass nesting and hatching phenomenon.

It is a fact that the Olive Ridley Turtles (female), lays around 100-120 eggs on the shore. The incubation period lasts between 45 – 50 days.

Millions of life to the Bay of Bengal makes it so admirable and picturesque with their annual culmination sojourn, proving the saying,

“Slow and Steady wins the Race”.

It has become a customary annual parctice for the forest officials in the unmannes island to protect, wait and watch until the tiny turtles succesfully march in reaching their home for round-the-clock vigilance for safety of the newborns.

It is a common sight in the East Coast of India to witness Olive Ridley Turtles to nest and hatch in the summer.

What makes it difficult for them is their endangered and vulnerable conditions owing to artificial lighting at nights, strolling in the beach, traffic noise and other man-created disturbances.

The Arribada, needs protection, preservation and conservation for a seamless and peaceful life creation.

Whenever one happens to stroll the Beaches of East Coast, at Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, it is vital to be cautious especially during summer to not accidentally disturb or step on the laid eggs.

In the process of the Arribada recently in Orissa, 10% of the Olive Ridley Turtles have lost their lives due to human related accidents.

The marine biodiversity is the ocean wealth, healthy human practices on the shore makes the ocean life healthier!

Let’s strive to welcome the coming batch of Turtle Army for creating their next generation, protect, preserve and conserve life for generations and generations.

People wish to “Live like a Turtle” with a long life span. For Turtles to live their fullest life, the little that we could do is to make the environment inclusive.

Live and Let Live!  

“Edward Elliot’s Beach”

Shoreline striking elusive elegance 

A classic landmark of Chennai with glittering waters in the heart of Besant Nagar and the shores of Bay of Bengal, the “Edward Elliot’s Beach” is a charming and sparkling stretch of sand prominent at the end of Marina. 

The early morning phenomenon that leaves its visitors spellbound is the flap of pigeons’ bedlam in an astounding pattern off and on a dune. The saying – Birds of a feather flock together, is a proven sight at the shoreline, captivating the interest of almost every visitor until the sun peeps out of the sky. 

The whirl of congregating flight of pigeons in front of the K.A.J Schmidt memorial makes the bandwidth of landscape an addiction to keep watching. The guarded grey piece of monumental structure is the resting place dedicated in honor of Karl Schmidt, a Dutch citizen for his gallantry act of laying life to save a drowning English woman, a brave incident with a fountainhead that occurred on December 30th, 1930. 

The beach once upon a time being a part of Madharasapattinam (The fishing village), then gaining precedence of Madras, and now, popular in Chennai was frequently visited by the Britishers. Hence with the history in the colonial era, the beach is named after Edward Elliott who presided over the Madras governance as Chief Magistrate and Superintendent of Police, son of erstwhile Governor of Madras, Hugh Elliott. 

From the time then to times now, it’s an alluring visual and a picturesque sight to gaze and experience sunrise and sunset. The Chennai populace recognizes this tranquil foreshore as Besant Nagar Beach or Bessie beach, extremely busy in the mornings and evenings.

A start of the day at the Bessie sands at dawn would show a world of wonders making it a happening place that leaves the heart clinging to the seashore forever. The short and sweet coastline is home to a lot of small businesses and people’s livelihood which is prevalent in the dusk.

However, the dark side of the yellow and blue ochre is the litters onto the land and ocean. Though beach clean-ups and installation of dustbins are rampant, civic negligence of waste disposal is on the rise day after day making crows and stray dogs quite visible trying to search for food from the garbage thrown. The line is a treasure chest for a foray of rag pickers who collect plastics to exchange for some money. 

The sound of the waves swashing to the shore and swaying back generating wind currents of soothing land breeze (in the dusk) and calming sea breeze (in the dawn) would remind the travellers to conserve, preserve and protect what’s beautifully and artfully bestowed by nature at Chennai. 

The paradox is Elliot’s beach has earned a reputation of being one of the cleanest and pleasant beaches in the city. The very look of it and a relaxing stroll in it makes the fact surreal and questionable! 

With a high frequency of visitors, and being a tourist spot, the dramatic stretch of line requires attentiveness and consciousness to keep it clean and maintain the cleanliness. Being adjoint to Velankanni Church shrine and Ashtalakshmi Temple, the beach is also a place of God and Mother nature which is to be worshipped with respect. 

The short and sweet coastline faces the city, with an upfront of Banyan enclave alongside the Theosophical Society, Adyar founded by British theosophist, socialist, and woman activist, Anne Besant in the late 19th century after whom the territory is named as “Besant Nagar”. Theosophy (the art professing mystical insights about God and the world) is naturally spoken by the beach belt scenery, a creation that echoes an admiring heart with unspoken and unheard revelations and reverberations. 

Time and Tide wait for none. It’s a highly crucial juncture that the civic engagement in the maintenance of the Bessie Beach, linger for its longer life of elusive freshness, tranquillity, beauty, elegance, and splendour. 

Charming Waves of Chennai’s Coastline

Beaches are the definers of Chennai.

A Penchant for Chennaites and tourists.

That can turn grueling lifestyle into a paradise,

By stepping on the sands of the beach,

The beauty of sunrise and sunset points 

Mesmerizing sea breeze to escape from heat

Are the imagery of the coastline landscape

An opportunity to play, stroll, family time and conservation.

The beaches that nudge your senses:

  1.  Marina Beach

The world’s second longest coastline that encompasses a whole new world is the charm of Marina. Madras Marina was its initial name, coined by 1881-1886, the then Governor of Madras, Grand Duff who was captivated by the promenade.The lighthouse, Gandhi statue, University of Madras, several spiritual places lie around its vicinity.

2. Edward Elliot’s Beach

The beach is named after Edward Elliott who presided over the Madras governance as Chief Magistrate and Superintendent of Police, son of erstwhile Governor of Madras, Hugh Elliott. The monumental structure in honor of Karl Schmidt, a Dutch citizen for his gallantry act of laying life to save a drowning English woman symbolizes the story of sacrifice. This popular beach in the expanse of Besant Nagar is known as Bessy beach jazzily and Besant Nagar beach as a landmark.

3. Thiruvanmiyur Beach

The dazzling grassy lands of the East Coast of Chennai is an alluring sands and waters. Thiruvanmiyur Beach is known for its quietness and serenity. A glance of the sunrise and sunset panorama is a therapy to one’s senses. The specialty of this coastline is the pebbles presence which is why it is also called a Pebbles Beach by many. Thiru – Van – Miyur, ‘Thiru’ refers to Mr. in Tamil; Van refers to Varman of Pallava Dynasty, a relic of ‘Amiyur’ being city of turtles – a crucial habitat for turtles. 

4. Kasimedu Beach

Kasimedu Beach has a thorough history of Royapuram fishing harbor since the 19th century of the colonial era. The boats, harbor, rocks along a sunrise and sunset landscape are most happening feasts to one’s senses. The harbor is the market for the fishermen which sprawls until the Ennore Expressway.

5. Santhome Beach

The beach gained precedence after the construct of the beautiful architecture, the Santhome Church. Santhome Beach in the area of Mylapore attracts throngs of people every weekend. This beach has gained popularity for conduct of marathons, spiritual congregation and lane of schools on the Santhome High road which faces the beach.

6. Covelong Beach

Covelong (Kovalam) , a hub spot for coconuts is named after the village with an abundance of coconut trees. The beach has a plethora of resort chains to attract people to spend a relxing weekend or a vacation. This beach has a rich and posh look and hence a luxurious beach of all.

7. Breezy Beach

Valmiki Nagar is a home to a small yet a subtle coastline popular for horse riding. The tranquility of the beach is an ideal tap for a stroll across the sand and a dip of the feet in the waters. The sea breeze of this foreshore is a coolant to mind and heart which is why it’s Breezy Beach which is never to be missed.

8. Pallavakkam Beach

The Pallavakkam Beach in the suburbs of Chennai is located on the East Coast of Chennai. This beach is popular to be spacious which is not so crowded.  The southern part of Chennai inhabits this foreshore with a beautiful sunrise and sunset points. The unparalleled elegance of this beach has a history of Pallava dynasty, culture and heritage.

9. VGP Beach

 The VGP golden beach resort is a private beach space that attracts masses to spend holiday or vacation at the beach. The place is a home to a vast space open to VGP resort bookers, safe, secure for youngsters, family, corporate vacations. The VGP Universal Kingdom, amusement park adjoins the resort built in the year 1997 spread across 44 acres.

10.  Neelankarai Beach

The beach is an unmixed coastline of the Southern Coromandel Coast of Chennai. Neelankarai Beach (the blue shore) is a peaceful space, where visitors can spot turtles. The solidarity of the sea breeze attracts strollers due to its less visitors’ count. It is an ideal embodiment of a picturesque and silent landscape for nature lovers to behold and click photos. 

The Bottomline

The city’s temperature is majorly influenced by the land and sea breeze. It is high time that the inhabitants realize the importance of the water bodies that joins the ocean.

Sea breeze creates the coolant effect for the city and hence regulates the temperature.

From visiting beaches for cool breeze, the step begins in conserving the inland waters and keeping the space clean.

The Chennai Floods of 2015 and Chennai’s Water crisis of 2019 is a critical lesson owing to rampant encroachments and agglomerations.

The infographic below published by scroll.in highlights the Chennai map in from the bandwidth of 1997 to 2016.

Let’s rise! 

Cleaning the Fishermen’s Beach

Located in South Chennai, the beaches of Neelankarai are few of the unexplored jewels of the city’s coastline. The word ‘Neelankarai’ translates to ‘Blue Shore’ as its light blue waters crashes on to the sand. It is also known to host several turtles during nesting season.

The Chinna Neelankarai Beach is one such a stretch in the area. This beach is well-known as it is quite famous for its fishing practices. Over the years, waste started to get generated due to an increase in human activity at this beach.

Over 10 volunteers and local residents joined us on the 9th of April 2021 to take action against the situation at the Chinna Neelankarai Beach. Take a look at all that happened!

In a matter of just couple of hours, a total of 260 kg of waste and glass bottles were removed by our volunteers!

We thank all those who joined us in an effort to protect our beaches!

Volunteer for India and her Environment with E.F.I, Jai Hind

Battle Against Ocean Pollution

Close to 35 brave warriors joined us on the 8th of April 2021 for a battle against ocean pollution at the Thiruvanmiyur Beach and the Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach in Chennai. Take a look at all that happened!

In just 2 hours, the volunteers were able to collect over 450 kg of waste from the beach stretches!

We thank all those who joined us in protecting and conserving our coast!

Volunteer for India and her Environment with E.F.I, Jai Hind