Friday, January 2, 2009

Reclaiming the land

About fifteen years ago, a friend and I were sitting late into the night on the beach - rather, on a ledge of sand that passed for a beach - at Tiruvottiyur. After a while, we noticed that the soil of the ledge under us was crumbling; the coastline of India, as my friend put it, was changing before our eyes! Within a year of that evening, the sea had gobbled up about 300 metres of beach, caved in part of the Ennore Expressway and then washed off another 100 metres or so of the land on the other side of the road. Though sea erosion had for long been a problem in North Madras, this rapid re-drawing of the coastline hastened action to stop further loss of the land.

Residents of Tiruvottiyur have always contended that it was the construction of the Jawahar Dock at the Port of Madras in 1964 that marked the beginning of their woes and that it was exacerbated by the Bharati Dock coming up in 1970. It is likely that these docks contributed to a minor change in the pattern of sea-currents and their effects. Normally, the currents would change their direction roughly every half-year therby alternating between erosion and accretion along the beaches. With a localised disturbance around the port, the effects were imbalanced along the coast to the north, resulting in the erosion. One estimate has it that almost 350 acres of land in Tiruvottiyur - another says 2800 acres along the Royapuram-Tiruvottiyur stretch - has been lost since 1970.

Since the late '70s, there have been several recommendations and some action on protecting the shoreline. Boulders along the shore, rubble-mound seawalls and several other measures have been tried, modified and tried again. The one measure that seems to have had reasonable success is the construction of groynes - there are 9 of them, of varying lengths, along the coast from Royapuram to Ennore. This is the second one (the first can also been seen in the distance), just north of Royapuram Fishing Harbour. All told, the groynes have helped to reclaim about 20 acres of land since they were built in 2004 - there's a long way to go before the sea gives up all that it has taken!


Jane Hards Photography said...

Not only a beautiful image but so interesting to read. All the best for 2009

Shantaram said...

@ Babooshka: Thank you!