Environmental implications of the Sethusamudram project Effect on marine life

Though there has been a demand from various quarters for the implementation of the project, there is also opposition to it from environmentalists. They point out that the dredging of the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar could affect the ecology of the zone by changing currents, which could:

� cause changes in temperature, salinity, turbidity and flow of nutrients

� cause oil spills from ship and other marine pollution to reach the coastal areas and specifically the sensitive ecosystems of the Gulf of Mannar

� lead to higher tides and to more energetic waves, and hence to coastal erosion.

� affect the local sea temperature and thereby alter the pattern of sea-breezes and hence affect rainfall patterns.

They also point out that dredging the canal could stir up the dust and toxins that lie beneath the sea bed, affecting marine life. The emptying of bilge water from ships traveling through the hitherto impassable areas could disperse invasive species through the ecosystems of the area.

These effects could endanger precious marine species and wealth. The Gulf of Mannar has 3,600 species of plants and animals and is India's biologically richest coastal region. Mammal species which abound in the area are sperm whales, dolphins and dugongs. The Gulf of Mannar is especially known for its corals: the portion in Indian territorial waters has 117 species of corals, belonging to 37 genera. Associated with these ecosystems are many varieties of fish and crustaceans. Marine life on the Sri Lankan side, which is better protected, is even richer. The Bar Reef off the Kalpitiya peninsular alone has 156 species of coral and 283 of fish; there are two other coral reef systems around Mannar and Jaffna. There are extensive banks of oysters, as well as Indian Chank and Sea Cucumbers, especially in the seas adjacent to Mannar. The pearl fisheries south of Mannar, which inspired Georges Bizet's opera Les P�cheurs de Perles, have not been productive for many years, indicating the fragility of these ecosystems in the face of overfishing and of relatively minor changes in the habitat.

The Indian government has conducted various environmental studies which ignore some of the above issues by claiming that such issues have already been addressed. Nevertheless, the fundamental environmentalist objections based on facts remain:

� the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out by the Indian government was done by a body inexperienced in projects of this nature, was insufficiently detailed and did not consult with all the stakeholders, which included the government and people on the southern side of the proposed project,

� no proper survey has been carried out of the sea bed to be dredged, and

� no proper scientific modelling of the effects of the project has been carried out.

After environmental objections were made in Sri Lanka, the Indian government belatedly decided to carry out modelling, but this had not been done before clearance was given for the project. A modelling exercise carried out by Sri Lanka's National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) indicated that the project would increase the water flow from the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Mannar, disturbing the inland water balance as well as the eco-systems in the Gulf. [1] There have also been judicial observations against this project

[2]. Fishing and livelihood

On July 2, 2005, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project amidst protests from fishermen and environmentalists. Nearly 600 were arrested. The fishermen protested because they feared that the dredging would deepen the sea waters and prevent them from venturing into deep sea (which is currently shallow), where their livelihoods lie.

Legendary

Some claim that this land bridge is the site of the famous Rama's Bridge, making it a historical, religious and cultural monument of great significance. For this reason, many, including chief ministers of states[3], oppose the project.

Several claims and estimates have been made regarding the age of Rama's bridge and its relation to the Indian epic Ramayana.

a)Rama's bridge is 3,500 years old: CRS {Source: Indian Express}: "Ramasamy explains that the land/beaches were formed between Ramanathapuram and Pamban because of the long shore drifting currents which moved in an anti-clockwise direction in the north and clockwise direction in the south of Rameswaram and Talaimannar about 3,500 years ago. ... But as the carbon dating of the beaches roughly matches the dates of Ramayana, its link to the epic needs to be explored, he adds.

"[4] b) NASA Images Find 1,750,000 Year Old Man-Made Bridge {Source: [HindustanTimes-http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_81164,0003.htm (DeadLink)], Reported by PTI}: "The bridge's unique curvature and composition by age reveals that it is man made. The legends as well as Archeological studies reveal that the first signs of human inhabitants in Sri Lanka date back to the a primitive age, about 1,750,000 years ago and the bridge's age is also almost equivalent.