Mumbai coastal road: More corals to be tagged, shifted than originally identified, permitted

The marine species were falling in the project’s way and needed to be shifted for further reclamation, according to BMC
The exercise of shifting the marine species began on Thursday.(HT Photo)
The exercise of shifting the marine species began on Thursday.(HT Photo)
Updated on Nov 15, 2020 11:32 PM IST
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By, Mumbai

During the exercise for shifting coral colonies for further reclamation for the coastal road project, marine biologists said the number of coral colonies visually identified was much more than what was originally identified for translocation. However, the exact area would be calculated post final translocation of the coral species.

The exercise of shifting the marine species began on Thursday.

The Union environment ministry and Maharashtra forest department granted permissions under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for shifting two species of corals from the Rhizangiidae family (Oulangia and one unidentified species) with 18 colonies documented across 0.251 square metre (almost 3 square foot) in Worli region of the project site, and another species (Dendrophylliidae family) along with Rhizangiidae across 1.1 sqft area at Haji Ali. The marine species were falling in the project’s way and needed to be shifted for further reclamation, according to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

Since March, BMC has reclaimed over 65 hectares of the sea along south Mumbai for the 9.9-km coastal road, an eight-lane highway connecting Princess Street flyover to the southern tip of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

Between Thursday and Saturday, 16 colonies from Worli were removed from their original locations while loose boulders (with corals) were removed from Haji Ali. There are two more coral colonies at Worli that need to be translocated. The process is likely to continue over the next five days.

“During the on-going survey during low tide, visually we found many more coral colonies, especially at Haji Ali. Overall, we need to calculate the total coral expanse versus what had been originally identified,” said Harshal Karve, a marine biologist appointed by the state mangrove cell to oversee the translocation process.

Vivek Kulkarni, independent coastal ecologist appointed by BMC to overlook the safety of marine biodiversity for the project, said, “The original survey was carried out two years ago. During the lockdown there had been improvement of seawater quality and project construction was at a standstill. As a result, new colonies had also been established since they are living organisms. However, we are taking all care and will ensure no corals are harmed.”

Karve explained that coral colonies may be found on boulders or rocks across isolated patches within tide pools at both areas but the total expanse is calculated based on only the length of each coral colony and not considering the extent of one boulder to another. He added that these colonies may have been missed during the original survey in monsoon as such corals were located towards the deeper end of tide pools which were submerged. “However, all such colonies at both Worli and Haji Ali have been identified, tagged, and will be shifted carefully as mandated by the forest department and Centre,” he said.

While National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) officials refused to comment on the issue, BMC officials said the translocation work was being handled by NIO and monitored by the mangrove cell. “We have asked for a final report which will be submitted to the state government and the environment ministry post translocation,” a senior BMC official said.

The corals from Haji Ali will be shifted to Navy Nagar in a protected zone while the corals at Worli will be shifted to a site less than 200 metre away, outside the coastal road project area. “These sites were cautiously selected considering their proper safety and feasibility of transporting the coral species using crates and other equipment which may not have been possible at other zones like Geeta Nagar, Colaba or Marine Drive,” said Karve.

Environmentalists said the original biodiversity study was a rushed job. “We actually have no clue on the actual presence of corals, how many were shifted or already dead along the alignment. Large numbers of these marine organisms have already been destroyed due to reclamation and excess sedimentation prior to the first biodiversity assessment,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust, that is petitioning against the project.

Mangrove cell said that each and every aspect of the translocation was being scrutinised in detail. “Firstly, we must realise that not all corals are Schedule I species under the Wildlife Act. Thus, the mandate is to protect mainly the reef building corals. Secondly, the window to apply for post-facto clearance for some of the additional coral colonies identified during the current exercise can be done by BMC,” said Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell).

Goenka countered the claim highlighting a Supreme Court order that does not allow post facto-clearance for any projects either under the Environment Impact Assessment, Coastal Regulation Zone or Wildlife Protection Act.

CORALS AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Corals are protected marine species sporadically spread across rocky intertidal regions along the Mumbai coast. They garner the same protection as a tiger or elephant under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), 1972, and permissions are needed from the principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF-wildlife) before translocation of the species.

Corals along Mumbai coast

Marine biologists from Mangrove and Marine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation of Maharashtra, an autonomous body that assists the state in coastal marine conservation, found the presence of 11 coral species along Mumbai coast. HT had, on June 27, 2019, reported that some of these 11 coral species may be lost owing to the coastal road project.

- Nine of the 11 species identified were stony or hard corals, which extract calcium from surrounding seawater to create a hardened structure, while two species were soft corals that grow woody cores similar to plants for protection.

- Among the hard corals, five species were identified from Rhizangiidae family, one species each from Caryophylliidae family and Dendrophylliidae family, and two others identified as reef-building corals from Siderastreidae family called False Pillow coral and one species from Poritidae family, Goniopora. Both the species of soft corals are from Gorgoniidae family.

- The corals were identified across eight locations — Haji Ali, Geeta Nagar in Colaba, Marine Drive, Nepean Sea Road, Worli Sea Face, Bandra Bandstand, Carter Road and Juhu — as part of a four-month study.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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