A Study of Coastal Erosion– Have We Lost Our Coasts?

Growing up in a coastal city, the beach with its crashing waves and the salty breeze was something that I associated with home. We have a rather long coastline of 7500 kilometres spread across 9 states, 2 union territories and 2 island territories in India. However, the coastlines in India are under serious threat of erosion. The National Centre for Coastal Research in 2016 stated, based on data from 26 years, it was found that 33% of the Indian coastline has been affected by coastal erosion. The threat to the coastlines is increasing by the day.

Coastal erosion is a seemingly simple term but it can be a little tricky to picture. How would am eroded coastline look like? Does this mean that our coasts are shrinking and water is seeping in or does it mean that the coastline has lost its quality at a rapid pace? Coastal erosion, also known as shoreline retreat, is a process of loss of coastal lands due to the removal of bedrock and sediments from the shore. This is a naturally occurring process due to the actions of waves and the ocean over the years. However, what is important to note in the Indian scenario is that the process is a rapid one, occurring at a rate faster than the natural one, indicating the existence of human intervention.

Human intervention has speeded up the natural process of the transformation of the coastal landscapes. Construction, especially of dams, and the problem of global warming and climate change have been the major forces that speeded up the process of change. The lack of sediments and silt in the coastline has made them vulnerable to the actions of waves and salt water. There are many dams that have been constructed and are being constructed at the moment. The sediments deposited in the coastal and delta regions serve the process of rejuvenating the coasts and maintaining the landscape. The construction of dams obstructs the natural flow of sediments along with the water in rivers.

Secondly in terms of construction, the ports are another factor that needs to be reconsidered. There are 13 major ports, 46 fishing harbours and 187 minor ports located along the coast of India. These ports are an integral part of India’s trade and transport. However, there is a downside to the construction and constant maintenance of the artificial ports and harbours. For ensuring passage of massive freights, large amount of sediment is removed from the coasts and is not being restored to the coastlines, thereby making them vulnerable to the forces of nature.

The most important and threatening of the factors is the global warming. The ocean levels are rising at haphazard rates so that we are revising our estimated levels each year as the world temperatures shoot up. The consequences are tangibly felt with respect to coastal erosion. This is undoubtedly a huge problem and the urgency of it cannot be stressed enough. But the fact that we need to keep in mind here is that the impact of this is going to be very disproportionate. If the coastal regions are affected, the farmers and the fishermen will face the brunt of it. With their livelihoods already hanging by a thread, these environmental adversities make the battle even more difficult for them to face.

Problems as huge as this cannot be dealt with individual efforts but require coordinated collective action. Government expenditure and action plans need to be implemented and we have to rethink the ways in which we have come to visualise development and environmental management. A change in approach is necessary, especially when we are tackling environmental issues. The problem here is that the asymmetry of the burden borne by the vulnerable classes. Our policies need to be revamped. From mega dams, we need to think about smaller sizes, keeping in mind the fact that small doesn’t mean ineffective. The effectiveness has nothing to do with size and small efforts can come to have powerful outcomes. An alternate perspective needs to be formulated, to involve the community and bring about sustainable results in protecting the coasts and every beautiful landscape that earth has given us.

Picture Courtesy- DHI Reservoir

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