Dugongs in polluted waters on west coast face murky future
During 2017-18, the BNHS looked at 11 sites spread across 100km, covering Paga, Ajad, Pirotan and Jindra islands, and found that water and noise pollution is destroying the habits of dugongs.
Industrial pollution in the Gulf of Kutch (GoK)is degrading the last remaining habitats of dugongs, or sea cows, says a study by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
During 2017-18, the BNHS looked at 11 sites spread across 100km, covering Paga, Ajad, Pirotan and Jindra islands, and found that water and noise pollution is destroying the habits of dugongs. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. “GoK is the only area along the west coast where dugong is known to occur and our study confirms they are very much present, but the area is at risk of losing this population very soon,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS and lead author of the study.
Dugongs are herbivorous mammals that feed on seagrass and inhabit warm and shallow coastal waters along Indian and Pacific oceans. They are protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and are listed as vulnerable to extinction. An ongoing study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, estimates there are approximately 10-15 dugongs in the Gulf of Kutch.
BNHS researchers said that seagrass habitats were declining because of industrial pollution and increased shipping. Effluents from petrochemical, textile, rubber, salt and industries affect the growth of seagrass, which in turn would impact dugongs. “Our study indicates a need for restoring these sites similar to coral restoration through regular monitoring of seagrass meadows,” said Apte.
Another threat to dugong habitat is noise pollution from shipping traffic, which also obstructs the movement of the animals. “Accidents with boats, noise, vanishing seagrass beds, and improper use of ghost nets are all affecting dugongs,” said Prachi Hatkar, project assistant in the central government-sponsored study by WII of dugong habitats across India.
The state government said that pollution along the Gujarat coast is not an issue. “Pollution abatement standards are being strictly followed by all industries, especially those in coastal zones. We are carefully monitoring the protection of dugongs. Their presence is not threatened by shipping traffic or effluent discharge due to stringent norms,” said Dr Rajiv Kumar Gupta, additional chief secretary (forests and environment), Gujarat government and chairman of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board.
According to AK Saxena, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), new industry project proposals are carefully monitored by Gujarat’s forest department. “The responsibility to address pollution falls on the environment department or pollution control board. However, the forest department is playing the veto role by rejecting proposals along GoK to set up new industries considering the impact on dugongs. Mapping and monitoring of seagrass areas is now a continuous activity,” said Saxena.