Beach Conservation efforts in Chennai

Chennai as a city is home to several unique and picturesque beach stretches. Each stretch is a biodiversity hotspot by itself and serve as pristine grounds for nesting of sea turtles. Unfortunately, these beaches over the years have been abused and polluted, causing harm and a threat to the already threatened marine life.

Two such stretches are the Neelangarai Beach and the Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach. Over 40 volunteers from across the city joined hands (social distantly of course!) on 3rd April 2021 with E.F.I, and had taken on the task of protect these beaches!

Take a look at all that happened!

In just 2 hours, our volunteers were able to collect close to 350 kg of non-biodegradable waste. ghost nets, microplastics and much more!

We thank all the volunteers who joined us in cleaning our beaches!

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

How COVID corrupted our coasts…

The outbreak of the COVID pandemic had caused widespread scare amongst all nations and made the world come to a standstill. With everyone under lockdown, there was a downfall in COVID cases, and a brief period of time when Mother Nature could finally breathe in peace again. Everyone rejoiced this moment as they could finally see Mother Nature thrive in her true form again! Distant mountains could now be seen from people’s balconies, birds started to return rivers, and a lot more! But, this too seemed to be short-lived as the restrictions were slowly getting lifted once again.

The people started to go out once again, roaming the streets, visiting parks and of course, our beaches! And that’s where a new problem began… Rise of a new variant of waste, bio-medical waste. Our beach soon started to see large numbers visit them, and dumping their sanitizers, facials masks at the beach!

The beach clean up at the Neelankarai Beach on March 27th, 2021 aimed to tackle this issue. Over 30 dedicated volunteers from across the city joined us to clean and protect our dying coast. Take a look at all that happened during the clean up!

The volunteers in a matter of just 2 hours were able to collect close to 400 kg of non-biodegradable waste and bio-medical waste from the beach!

We thank all those who joined us for the voluntary beach cleanup! We thank the HCL Foundation and the Greater Chennai Corporation for their support!

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

Ghost Nets haunts Chennai’s Coasts

Chennai as a metropolitan city, is important for countless reasons, such as, business, culture, education center, and its coast. Coast of Chennai is vital to its growth as most of its trade and fisheries are carried out here. Fishing when done on a large scale tends to have its demerits. One such a demerit is the leaving behind of fishing nets, commonly known as “Ghost Nets”.

Ghost nets are nothing but fishing nets that are discarded or abandoned by fishermen. They are at most times vaguely visible to the naked eye underwater, and this causes several marine animals to either trap, feed or choke on them. Hence it is crucial that these are removed from our ecologically rich coast!

Hawaiin monk seal caught in ghost fishing gear
Source: worldwildlife.org

The beach clean up at the Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach and the Broken Bridge Beach had focused on this issue. Over 40 dedicated volunteers from across the city joined us to clean and protect our dying coast. Take a look at all that happened during the clean up!

The volunteers in a matter of just 2 hours were able to collect close to 500 kg of non-biodegradable waste and over 300 kg of ghost nets from the beach!

We thank all those who joined us for the voluntary beach cleanup! We thank the HCL Foundation and the Greater Chennai Corporation for their support!

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

Are toxic ships harming India’s waters ?

Marine transportation handles up to 90% of world trade and container ships help move cargo, cruise ships carry millions of passengers and ferries provide optimum options for commuting and help reduce road congestion. The number of ships in the world exceed 50,000 and general cargo ships account for a third of the world’s merchant fleet.

The ‘cradle to grave’ cycle of ships is long and complex : New ships require detailed planning and design, financing of ships is expensive , ship building and assembly takes several months and finally the launching of the ship and its operations involves strict adherence to environment regulations and a sophisticated process involving large crews and latest technologies.

What happens when ships spend around 25-30 years in service and they become too expensive to be maintained and repaired ? The answer is ship breaking and/or ship re-cycling . Covid-19 brought the cruise industry to its knees and resulted in 34 ships being scrapped off in 2020 and many of the world’s biggest cruise lines filed for bankruptcy.

Shipbreaking process :

A grim fact : Only a fraction of the world’s end-of-life ships are handled in a safe and clean manner . More than 70% of the world’s obsolete ships land in South Asia : India, Pakistan, Bangladesh , China and Turkey are the main destinations for end-of-life ships. As the name suggests , shipbreaking is a process where workers use tools and machinery to dismantle ships and break it down piece by piece. Ships are pulled onto the beach , any remaining fuel is emptied, and interior fixtures, furnishings and other salvageable items are removed for resale before shipbreakers deconstruct the vessels for scrap.

What role does Alang in Gujarat play as a global ship breaking and recycling facility ?

Alang is a coastal town situated on the Gujarat coastline and is currently the world’s largest ship graveyard. Alang’s beachfront location is ideal for shipbreaking. Tides are heavy there, and the natural slope of the beach makes it easy for a ship to be hauled to the shore. Alang shipyard dismantled 239 ships in 2019 .

Why are ships considered toxic ?

As per the International Labor Organization, Ship breaking is amongst the most dangerous of occupations, with unacceptably high levels of fatalities, injuries, and work-related diseases.When it is time to dismantle ships , the various hazardous materials within the structure of the ship are toxic.

Asbestos , Heavy Metals , Mineral Oils :

Asbestos is one of the most common and most hazardous materials found onboard ships. Asbestos is used, particularly in engine rooms for thermal insulation and when broken down, remains as suspended air particles for long periods. When inhaled, the fibers can lead to fatal diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, the symptoms of which are not apparent for many years.

Heavy metals like Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Zinc, and copper can be found as paints, coating, insulation, batteries, and electrical units in ships. Exposure to Lead affects the nervous system, and impairs hearing, vision, and muscle coordination. Toxic oil fumes released by torch-cutting equipment have also resulted in explosions onsite.

Bilge and Ballast water :

Bilge and Ballast are pump systems that are used to drain out water and oils in the lower most portion of a ship deck in the engine room. When draining out the ship oil, cargo residues, arsenic, copper, chromium etc. are pumped out directly into the ocean directly impacting the marine ecosystem. Untreated ballast water from ships also transmits parasites and potentially invasive alien species of predators that can destroy marine life.

Why are Alang’s shipyards picking up this work ?

Recycling is big money :

The real reasons why huge ships end up on the beaches of Alang are their steel hulls and frames. Steel is where the real profits are made. Steel scraps from the broken down ships are recycled and Alang helps generate around $2 Billion annually in revenue .

The road to Alang is lined with shops and warehouses selling items that come from ships that used to sail across oceans: oak desks, faux crystal chandeliers, life vests and lifeboats, ropes, electric cables and switches, leather chairs, paintings, giant generators and motors – just about anything you can name.

Employment opportunities :

Ship recycling industry is labor intensive and Alang provides job opportunities to around 25,000 workers hailing from nearby states of Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Despite precarious working conditions and exposure to hazardous chemicals, the availability of migrant workers willing to work long hours for daily wages keeps the industry going.

Does the ‘Polluter pays’ principle work ?

International maritime laws for ecologically sustainable development was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between countries. As per the ‘polluter pays’ principle, a country must not allow the export of a ship containing hazardous materials if it suspects that the waste will not be properly dealt with by the ship-breaking country. Sadly, the track records of the developed countries seem poor and the polluter does not pay , but dumps the ship.

Who are the global dumper countries ?  In 2019 , the Top 3 countries that dumped their ships were UAE with 45 ships , Greece with 40 and USA with 29 ships , not to forget Singapore, Japan and South Korea discarding their older ships to the beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

‘Green’ Ship Re-cycling today :

True ship recycling stands in deep contrast to how most ships are broken today. The solution to transform dirty and dangerous shipbreaking to sustainable ship recycling will require ship owners to sell their ships to yards that invest in the safety and environmental standards of their operations. 

Moving shipbreaking off beaches and onto dry-docks in regions with capacity to store and treat oily and hazardous wastes is essential thereby guaranteeing the safety of workers with zero dumping of waste into the ocean.

Unfortunately , it is extremely easy for ship owners to circumvent existing laws that aim at protecting vulnerable communities and the environment from the dumping of toxic waste.

Responsible ship recycling at Alang(Credit : Alang Info)

In conclusion, Shipyards like Alang in Gujarat are ensuring mandatory safety standards , personal protective equipment(PPE), fire protection measures , appropriate emergency response, rescue and first-aid service, extensive training process and working with responsible ship owners to ensure international maritime laws and ship recycling policies are met. Proper due diligence when choosing business partners is essential and shipping corporations have an obligation to ensure that their business practices do not cause harm to people and the environment.

Reviving Chennai’s Fragile Coasts

On the 20th of February 2021, the beach stretch of 4th Seaward Road, Thiruvanmiyur was all set for a revival! Over 25 dedicated volunteers from across the city joined us to clean and protect our dying coast. Take a look at all that happened during the clean up!

The volunteers in a matter of just 2 hours were able to collect close to 350 kg of non-biodegradable waste from the beach!

We thank all those who joined us for the voluntary beach cleanup! We thank the HCL Foundation and the Greater Chennai Corporation for their support!

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

Seaweeds of Sacred Rameswaram

Pamban Island is located between peninsular India and Sri Lanka and is the largest island in Tamil Nadu, famous for its pilgrimage town of Rameswaram. Adi Shankara who is credited with establishing the Hindu doctrine of ‘Advaita’ philosophy defined the Char Dham (meaning: four abodes) as a set of four pilgrimage sites Badrinath, Dwaraka, Puri and Rameswaram that encourages Hindus to visit during one’s lifetime in an endeavor to achieve moksha(salvation).

Hence Rameswaram is widely known as a sacred site and is important as a fishing hub, is also the hometown of late President APJ Abdul Kalam and historically known for being the first port of arrival for Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka during the civil war that ended in 2006.

Natural seaweeds of Rameswaram :

Seaweeds are a group of algae found floating and submerged in marine ecosystems. Many of the rocky beaches, mudflats, estuaries, coral reefs and lagoons along the Indian coast provide ideal habitats for the growth of seaweeds. There are about 900 species of green seaweed, 4,000 red species and 1,500 brown species found in India.

In Rameswaram waters , apart from fishing , seaweed farming is a viable and sustainable livelihood opportunity for around 1,200 coastal families who are involved in seaweed harvesting and cultivation. Rameswaram is turning up as a role model for seaweed cultivation, which globally has become the fastest-growing sector of food production, increasing by 8% every year.

Seaweeds are super plants with a spectrum of uses .

Seaweeds as food :

Seaweeds are a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals like calcium, iodine, iron etc. , has high protein content and good omega fatty acids that are an excellent nutritional source of food. It is the culinary delicacy in traditional Japanese and Chinese foods and Chinese utilizes highest seaweed species in their diet than any other ethnic group in the world. Seaweeds are popularly eaten in many ways : Seaweed chips are crunchy and a healthier alternative to potato chips. Kombucha is a popular sweetened black or green tea drink made from brown seaweed(kelp) . In Korea, seaweed soup is served on birthdays and to women after childbirth. Japanese sushi rolls are wrapped with seaweed to hold the rice and fillings and is a very popular dish around the world.

Seaweeds in Industrial Use :

Some of the most important extracts from seaweeds are agar-agar , alginates & carrageenan and find extensive use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetic creams, paper and cardboard, and processed foods.. The greatest use of agar is in association with food preparation and in the pharmaceutical industry as a laxative or as an outer cover of capsules – which earlier used gelatin from animal cells to coat medicinal capsules.(vegetarian options indeed!)

Seaweeds as biofuel :

The carbohydrate content of seaweed, about 50% of its dry mass, can be used in biofuel production and an annual harvest of 500 million dry tons of seaweeds with 50% carbohydrate content can produce about 1.25 billion MWh( Megawatt hours) worth of methane or liquid fuel that can compensate 1.5% of energy from fossil fuels like coal.

Seaweed as crop bio-stimulants :

The extracts from brown seaweeds as plant growth stimulant is gaining momentum for sustainable agricultural productivity and shown to improve the yield of several crops by over 20% including durum wheat, pulses and oilseeds. The bio-stimulants are capable of enriching soil moisture and shown to reduce the diminution in maize crop yield under drought stress, reduce fungal rot in tomatoes , resistance to pests , healthier fruits to name a few.

Seaweeds as a carbon sink to combat climate change :

Like other plants , as seaweeds grow in ocean waters, they absorb and store carbon dioxide in the oxygen-depleted seabed and also decompose much slower than on land. Carbon trapped in the dead plant material remains buried for several years act as a carbon capture mechanism that helps mitigate climate change by reducing acidification of oceans and supplying oxygen to the waters.

In conclusion :

Rameswaram has set a good example for seaweed cultivation to be sustainable , helped create an alternative livelihood for the coastal community as well as providing additional women employment and improving their quality of life.

Out of the global seaweed production of ~ 27 million tons fresh weight, China produces ~50 %, Philippines around 30%  followed by Indonesia, whereas India is having a mere share of less than 1%. India needs to increase its participation in the seaweed aquaculture journey, and we must perhaps provide it a more prominent place in our food plates by including seaweeds in our Indian diets as its nutrition and medicinal value far outweigh other land plants . Try out this interesting Indian masala recipe using seaweeds that may tempt us to eat more of this healthy plant !

Seaweed cultivation in Rameswaram(Picture credit : Alamy)

Love for our Coasts

As the world cherished its love on Valentine’s day, we celebrated our love for Mother Nature herself. Close 40 volunteers from across the city joined us at 7 am to clean and protect the fragile coasts of Chennai. Volunteers gathered up for the orientation session held at the 4th Seaward Road Beach and the Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach respectively where they were briefed about how the activity would go about.

In no time, the volunteers got right into action and started picking up the garbage from the sands. There seemed to be a lesser crowd this time in the beach and this made our volunteers clean with a lot of time in hand.

As the clean up progressed, the volunteers had encountered the dreadful sight of a dead turtle, with its head stuck in a boat’s propeller. But the brave volunteers continued to push through and were able to collect close 350 kg of trash in a matter of just 2 hours!

Like a token of thanks from Mother Nature, we were gifted with a sight of a dolphin pod swimming past the coast! The event concluded at 10:00 am. And the trash was later collected by GCC’s urbaser.

We thank all the volunteer who joined us! We hope to see you next time as well!

We thank the HCL Foundation and the Greater Chennai Corporation for their support.

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

Coastal Conservation Efforts in Chennai

Our day started with the stunning sight of the dazzling sunrise at Chennai’s beach! On 6th of February 2021 from 7 am, the cleanup on 6th February started at 7 am from the beach stretch of the Ashtalakshmi Temple Beach, Besant Nagar. Each volunteer was provided with a sac bag and a glove and the orientation was given about what to collect in the sac bag, a common sac bag was kept at the center to collect the glass bottles separately. Volunteers were so eager to collect the garbage, especially lots of Ghost nets were removed by our volunteers.

  • No of volunteers – around 45-50
  • Totally 50-55 sac bags were collected in which 4 of the bags contains only glass bottle
  • Each of the bag weighs around 10-12 Kg of trash. Approximately 600 Kg of trash was removed

The event ended at 9:00 am, during the cleanup at the gathering point some of the micro plastics were collected by the event coordinator to show the volunteers that how much our beach stretch was polluted. Nearly about 100-120 pieces of micro plastics were collected within a small area of about 10 feet diameter and the ending orientation was given about reducing the Great Pacific Garbage patch and the importance of ecology. For collection of trash GCC’s Urbaser was informed before the event, the garbage machine arrived on time 10 minutes after the event.

We thank all those who joined us for this clean up!

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

Beach Clean Up at 4th Seaward Road Beach

On the morning of 23rd of January 2021, the beach stretch of 4th Seaward Road, Thiruvanmiyur had seemed to come to life! As volunteers from across the city gathered around the coordinator, orientation was given about the negative effects of micro plastics and the importance of beach cleanup owing to the Olive Ridley’s nesting site. This was followed by what needed to be collected in the sac bag, and what items needed more safety measures.

  • No of volunteers – around 30-35
  • Totally 38-40 sac bags were collected in which 4 of the bags contained only glass bottles
  • Each of the bags weighed around 10-12 Kg. Approximately 400 Kg of trash was removed

The event ended at 9:00 am. During the clean up at the gathering point, some of the micro plastics were collected by the event coordinator to show the volunteers that how much our beach stretch had been polluted. Nearly about 100-120 pieces of micro plastics were collected from a small area of about 10 feet diameter.

The closing remarks mentioned how we as responsible consumers can reduce the use of single-use plastics followed by a story of how the Dodo bird became extinct! For collection of trash, GCC’s Urbaser was informed before the event, and the garbage machine arrived on time 10 minutes after the event.

We thank all those who had joined us for the Beach Clean Up! We thank the GCC and the HCL Foundation for supporting this effort!

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

Coral Reefs of the Andaman Archipelago

History of the ‘emerald’ archipelago :

Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean are known for its pristine beauty and is an archipelago of around 550 islands between the Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea. Recollecting our history of 1014 AD , Rajendra Chola of the Chola Empire used these islands as a naval base to conduct expeditions planned against the Sriwijaya Empire (Indonesia today).

The oldest residents of these islands are the indigenous people who have lived there for 30,000-60,000 years. Classified as a union territory, it is a thriving commercial fishing port, hub for tourism , defense base for our Armed Forces and thick with evergreen forests, dazzling white beaches that gradually slope onto the ocean floor carpeted with coral reefs seen from the sky.

Knowing the reefs and the corals that thrive on it :

Reefs are ridges of material made from rock formations, sand or corals(tiny organisms living in colonies) and found near the surface of oceans . In the Andaman archipelago , coral reefs are an underwater paradise brimming with colorful marine life, magnificent corals and covering around 12000 square kilometers of a bustling ecosystem. What makes the corals so colorful are the tiny algae living inside the coral tissues that secrete pigments that are visible through the clear body of the coral skeleton.

Image from round.glass/sustain

Why are the Andaman coral reefs so precious ?

Coral reefs are most unique that support more species per unit area than any other marine environment and scientists estimate that there may be millions of undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs. Coral reefs account for more than a quarter of all marine life.

  • The intricate gaps between the three-dimensional coral structures provide an underwater environment for a host of marine life to survive and thrive. The Andaman archipelago has around 1200 species of fishes belonging to 165 families , 179 species of corals, marine worms, crustaceans, clams, and many other animals and plants, all of which play a unique and vital role in the coral reef ecosystem.
  • Coastal protection : The coral reef structure acts as a natural buffer and protects shorelines against waves, storms, and floods , helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion.
  • Coral reefs are an important food source for the people who live near reefs, and, as nurseries, are vital to the world’s fisheries. Many of the compounds found on corals reefs and proteins derived from sea animals are being used in human medicines to treat cancer , arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.
  • Read this fascinating article on ‘designer toxins’ that use coral snake venom and produce life-saving drugs for hyper-tension, high blood pressure and heart-attacks.

Did you know ?

Most white sand beaches are actually made of Parrotfish excreta (yes, you read that correctly!).In the Andamans , Parrot fish(in picture below) are a highly endangered species and at the risk of extinction due to spear-fishing . They are saviors of the coral reefs by consuming and scraping the extra algae from corals and excreting soft white sand in return.

Species such as parrotfish spend 90% of their day cleaning the reef by grazing on coral-damaging algae(Pic credit : Alamy)

Reality today and effects of climate change on corals reefs :

El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific and have a large-scale impact on the global weather conditions and affects the monsoon climate of the Indian subcontinent. Due to warmer temperatures corals get ‘bleached’ and large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves.

The tragic tsunami in the Indian Ocean of December 2004 wiped out around 97% of the mangrove cover, destroyed majority of the coral reefs and many beaches simply vanished. Affected countries were mainly India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

In the past decade, the Andaman coral reefs are healing and bringing in tourism income for the local communities, but major threats to the corals such as increase in water temperatures due to global warming, sediment deposition , increased salinity of water , over-fishing , marine pollution etc., remain.