Wednesday, 10 October 2012

COP 11 Biodiversity: India’s Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Under Serious Threat from Developmental Projects

 By Syed Akbar

Marine biodiversity conservation remains seriously under-represented in India’s conservation efforts even though the Indian Ocean has amongst the richest biodiversity in the world.

This is especially significant given that the entire coastal and marine stretch of the country is coming under unprecedented threats from ‘development’ projects. Urgent legal, policy, and institutional action is needed to conserve coastal and marine biodiversity, especially by empowering traditional coastal communities through recognizing tenurial rights and regulating the kind of development that is allowed in such areas.

The Bombay Natural History Society, National Coastal Protection Campaign, Dakshin Foundation, PondyCAN, Kalpavriksh, ICSF Trust and Greenpeace India have come together on the platform of COP 11 to discuss the importance of protecting the marine ecology and its biodiversity.

According to them, an unprecedented scale of ‘development’ along the east and west coast of India is taking place; this includes ports, power plants, ship yards, coastal armouring, aquaculture, and so on. This spells doom for large tracts of inter-tidal and near-shore marine areas. These developments will make already vulnerable traditional and artisanal fishers more vulnerable, destroying or displacing livelihoods.

  • Prohibiting or regulating development projects in coastal and marine areas, avoiding any biodiversity-damaging and livelihood-displacing projects.
  • Empowering traditional coastal communities, especially through clear tenurial rights, to maintain their conservation-oriented traditional practices and to have a central voice in decisions affecting the coastal and marine areas;
  • Providing legal and policy backing to a range of conservation measures that promote community conserved areas and co-management, using laws such as the Environment Protection Act, Biodiversity Act and Forest Rights Act

For example, 15 proposed power plants (totalling 25GW), 6 captive ports and 6 maga shipyards are coming up in a small stretch of 150 km of coastal Maharashtra. This will expose the whole coast’s inter-tidal areas and adjoining waters under thermal pollution, directly affecting near shore biodiversity and fisheries.

Similarly, Andhra Pradesh is proposing 10 new ports, 15 new thermal power projects (eight of them in Krishnapatnam area in Nellore district), and several other power plants with undisclosed or uncertain locations. Additionally, Andhra Pradesh has 70 SEZs proposed in 15 districts, including a staggering 5 million acres in a coastal corridor that will include airports, sea ports, ship-breaking, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, information technology, apparel units and captive thermal power stations

None of the Environmental Impact Assessments of existing power plants takes into account the issues around thermal pollution of sea water; nor do existing policies make cumulative impact assessments mandatory. These are serious gaps, considering that immigration and emigration of fish and shellfish species can have significant impact of traditional fishing grounds, adversely affecting a large number of species with narrow range of temperature tolarance.

On the occasion of the CBD COP 11, India can announce significant steps to curtail this kind of reckless development, and to ensure the conservation of marine and coastal biodiversity. This will need at least the following:

 One of the major reasons coastal communities not coming forward for formal conservation regimes is their highly restrictive and undemocratic nature. For example the legal ambiguities within the Wid Life (Protection) Act 1972 amendments of 2001, make the Conservation Reserve and Community Reserve concepts redundant or regresive. If such anomalies are removed, and laws that promote community based conservation measures are used, India’s coastal and marine areas could be more effectively protected against destructive development.

Overall, there is an urgent need for a clear Policy on Coastal and Marine Conservation and Livelihood Security, which keeps in mind the social, ecological, economic and political context, and secures the biodiversity of these areas through empowering traditional coastal communities and regulating developments in such areas, they pointed out.

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