Coral patch being reclaimed at Haji Ali, allege Mumbai residents
Forest department warns BMC for the second time in four months, directing the civic body to avoid any reclamation before wildlife clearances were obtainedUpdated: Sep 12, 2020 13:25 IST
After residents complained against fresh reclamation towards one end of the Haji Ali coastline on Friday for a road, the Maharashtra forest department said it will revisit the site to check whether Schedule I marine species under the Wildlife Protection Act have been harmed.
The department has also written to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the second time over the last four months directing the civic body to avoid any reclamation before wildlife clearances were obtained. It added they had learned from one of BMC’s contractors about plans to reclaim sites where corals are present.
On Friday, Vivek Kumar, a resident, noticed the reclamation work for the project was getting closer to the site where the coral presence has been documented. He shared images with the state mangrove cell highlighting the alleged violation. “Since September 2, daily dumping of debris by few trucks has been undertaken towards the left side of the patch leading up to Haji Ali. As the reclamation expands, the safety of these corals is at high risk,” said Kumar.
In its letter to the chief engineer of BMC’s coastal road project last week, the cell said it has received several complaints regarding the destruction of reef-building corals, and a site inspection was undertaken with marine biologists on September 3 to check their status. “It was understood from the representative of the contractor that the area where corals are present is proposed to be reclaimed for the construction of the Coastal Road, without translocating the corals,” said the letter, a copy of which HT has seen.
Corals are marine invertebrates that attach themselves to rocky intertidal regions. They have the same protection status as that of the tiger or elephants under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. Permissions are required from the state chief wildlife warden before the translocation of coral species.
The letter said any destruction of coral species during the road construction would be considered a violation of the Act, and action would be taken against BMC and its contractor. “We received fresh complaints in this matter on Friday, and a team including forest officials and marine biologists from the Mangrove Foundation will be sent to Haji Ali to re-verify whether any species were harmed,” said DR Patil, divisional forest officer, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit, who wrote the letter.
HT reported on July 14 that Goa’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) has found the presence of six coral species along the south Mumbai coast.
Marine researcher Shaunak Modi, who has documented coral presence in Haji Ali, said despite repeated complaints, BMC contractors have continued landfilling an area with multiple colonies of reef-building corals, which are protected species. “We have already lost all the coral colonies in the Mahalaxmi Bay, and if strict action is not taken by authorities, this patch will be lost as well.”
Modi said while the NIO claims to have found only a few square feet of corals, surveys over the last three years have shown a much larger area of coral colonies across the city’s western seaboard. “Since these corals are small and the colonies are scattered, it sometimes may be difficult to find all of them in just a few surveys.”
Since March, BMC has reclaimed over 53 hectares of the sea in south Mumbai for the 9.9-km coastal road. The civic body recently informed the Supreme Court of its intention to increase reclamation at sea from the original 90 ha to 111 ha.
BMC’s deputy municipal commissioner, RS Kuknoor, said, “Allegations that corals have been reclaimed anywhere along the project site are false. Areas with coral presence are being carefully monitored and such zones have not been touched at all.”
The NIO, in its September 2019 report, said it had found the presence of six coral species along the South Mumbai coast, dolphins, 17 bird species, and rich benthic marine life while developing the marine biodiversity conservation and monitoring plan (MBMP) for the project.
NIO suggested an Rs. 2.9 crore budgetary plan for the MBMP including translocation of corals.
But BMC said the funds had not been allocated yet and it was the responsibility of project contractors.
In the report, NIO said the destruction of habitat, noise, and increased turbidity due to the movement of vessels threatened the presence of dolphins within a 10 km radius of the project site as well as the foraging behaviour of 17 migratory and resident birds. NIO said the destruction of corals should be avoided with transplantation and restoration of corals inside proposed project sites at suitable places.