‘Beach shacks may cause harm to turtle nesting sites’Updated: Jun 28, 2020, 00:04 IST
Two days after the state cabinet cleared a proposal to enhance tourism by setting up shacks at eight beaches across four coastal districts in Maharashtra, the move has drawn criticism from environmentalists and marine biologists.
Mumbai-based environment research agency TerraNero Environment Solutions wrote to environment and tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray on Saturday, saying enhanced tourism would come with increased risk of harmful plastic and glass (in the form of alcohol bottles) being dumped at Olive Ridley turtle nesting sites. Marine biologists and turtle conservationists said the decision may destroy nesting sites completely.
“We must ask the state whether enhanced tourism is worth the risk to which our precious and already-threatened biodiversity will be exposed to. Eco-tourism is a middle path between nature and recreation, but it is also a tightrope walk which can lead to irreversible damages,” said Deepti Sharma, founder and director, TerraNero.
On Thursday, the cabinet approved setting up a maximum of 10 shacks of the permitted size (15ftx15ft with a 20ftx15ft shade in front) across Kelwa and Bordi in Palghar; Varsoli and Diveagar in Raigad; Guhagar and Aareware in Ratnagiri; and Kunakeshwar and Tarkarli in Sindhudurg. An official government resolution for the policy is yet to be published.
“Guhagar has been witnessing some of the highest Olive Ridley turtle nests along Maharashtra with 40 nests in 2019 and 28 this year while Diveagar has been witnessing seven to eight nests every year. A spurt in sporadic turtle nesting across various sandy beaches along Konkan is being observed but the present proposal will change this,” said turtle conservationist Mohan Upadhyay.
A 2012 study by the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri, had highlighted how Kunkeshwar and Tarkarli in Sindhudurg used to be turtle nesting sites until tourism increased. “Once the combined effect of noise pollution due to water sports and high tourist footfall happened, turtles stopped nesting on these sandy beaches completely,” said one of the authors requesting anonymity.
Sanjai Jalla, from the Society of Integrated Coastal Management (SICOM) under the Union environment ministry and mission leader for the Blue Flag certification (international standards for beaches), said, “If turtle nesting sites have been declared as ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs), then introducing beach shacks could be dangerous. But if there is no such tag, then the state would have taken due cognisance of such issues.”
Marine biologist Deepak Apte said, “Some of these beaches, especially from Raigad to Sindhudurg, are ESAs but they have not been notified on paper. Any such tourism, allowing inclusion of alcohol, will not only destroy the habitat but also the culture of these beaches.”
A senior official from the tourism department said, “During the proposal stage itself, we had consulted various stakeholders, including the forest department, for suggestions to ensure local ecology would not be affected. Those suggestions have been made part of the policy. Additionally, all activities would be undertaken only after receiving consent from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority.”
HT had reported TerraNero’s study in January this year that alcohol and expired medicine bottles account for almost three-fourth of the total waste littered across Velas, Anjarle and Kelshi beaches (recognised specially for turtle nesting). “We fear a much worse scenario for these selected beaches,” said Sharma. “We must underscore the importance of keeping our beaches cleaner and safer for species who are dependent on them for their feeding and reproduction.”
RATNAGIRI LOCALS HAD REJECTED BEACH SHACK PROPOSAL IN 2009
A similar proposal by Maharashtra Tourism and Development Corporation (MTDC) was rejected by Ratnagiri locals in 2009, said Upadhyay. “We had highlighted the threat to turtles and had rejected the plan. On one hand, only sandy beaches have been selected where sporadic incidents of turtle nests are observed while some of these beaches already have homestays. These homestays should be given licenses and taxed by the state rather than bringing in shacks, which will lead to economic losses for locals since conflict with investors (who are not natives) is bound to happen,” he said. Tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray had tweeted on Thursday that 80% employment from the shacks must be for locals.