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Mere seawalls won't do, keep natural cover: experts

By S. Dorairaj

CHENNAI, JAN. 22 . Experts and fishermen associations have welcomed the State Government's keenness to implement a Coastal Zone Protection Scheme along the 1,076-km coastline at an estimated cost of Rs. 5,000 crores to ensure the safety of fisherfolk, but have called for a long-term solution without disturbing the natural protection system.

Environmentalists and fishermen appreciate the Government's intention to wipe out the psychological fear in the minds of the people in the coastal areas and to ensure that the coast is not ravaged as it was on December 24, 2004. However, this cannot be achieved by merely putting up seawalls.

Alternative proposals

They have come out with alternative proposals. One of them is construction of hook-shaped jetties in suitable places. The traditional fishermen of Therespuram in Tuticorin have urged the Government to put up such jetties in the area. The seawall will hamper smooth landing and berthing of crafts, they say. (The graphic presentation is based on the project proposed by the fishermen).

"Whether or not a seawall is needed remains a matter of dispute in the coastal hamlets. The policymakers need to look for long-term solutions. Hook-shaped jetties are a dire need for traditional fishermen who depend on manually operated craft and gear," says Vareethiah Konstantine, a Kanyakumari-based scientist.

Eco-friendly approaches

According to him, surveys on the nature and magnitude of the tsunami devastation show that the damage is considerably less in areas which have natural protections such as ridges, dunes and mangroves, while areas close to the sea, especially low-level areas, and in the vicinity of estuaries have been badly hit. "The lessons are clear: obey the elementary rules while handling the delicate coastal buffer zone. The emphasis needs to be on natural and eco-friendly approaches."

`Regenerate mangroves'

P. Sudhakar, Joint Director, CPR Environmental Education Centre, Chennai, says that instead of going in for a seawall, mangroves should be regenerated and casurina, Pongamia, Calophyllum inophyllum and Thespesia saplings planted along the coast.

Jayapalayan, president, Tamil Nadu Fishermen Association, Chennai, says hook jetties are suited to the southern coast, which has a rocky seabed. They also help traditional craft fishermen in fishing within the jetty whenever the weather is rough.

According to B. Karunanidhi, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Meenpidi Thozhirsanga Kootamaippu, hook jetties are safe for berthing crafts, besides being helpful in stalling storm surges and sea erosion. The administration should encourage biowalls by planting appropriate vegetation, feels B. Subramanian, leader of the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Society.

Official sources point out that the proposal for putting up seawalls is only part of the scheme. The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, has made it clear that the scheme, to be funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, will include mangroves and shelter belts wherever feasible and groynes and rubble-mound seawalls.

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