Sahyadri ENews: LXVII

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The coast being the interface between land and sea are very dynamic in nature. They provide a unique environment that nurtures diverse, rich ecosystems. By the virtue of their physiology, the coastal ecosystems are attributed with unique natural resources and biodiversity. They provide a wide range of goods and services through their functioning that have made them an integral component of economic development along the coastal regions around the globe. They include ecosystems like mangroves, coral reefs, estuaries and beaches among others. Mangroves are a community of salt tolerant plants usually found in the intertidal zones and stagnant swampy coastal waters. Their dense network of roots gives mechanical support to the plants and also traps sediments that flow from the draining rivers. This makes mangroves very effective coastal stabilising agents. The region where a river meets the sea is an estuary. Since freshwater and brackish water are mixing in these regions, they are biologically very active and are understood to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They help in the retention of excess storm water, mitigating floods and serve as natural water purification systems. Estuaries also have mudflats, an ecosystem formed out of the deposition of fine inorganic material and organic debris. Mudflats are rich in invertebrate life and are ecologically very important as they serve as nesting and feeding grounds to many migratory birds. Coastal ecosystems are also considered to be one of the most effective carbon sinks in the world. The beaches are structures located between the lowest low tide level and a landward limit and are formed by the accumulation of unconsolidated sediments transported to the shore by the wave motion. Often found along the landward limit are sand dunes, formed when the sediment transportation through air is obstructed by surface vegetation or any other barrier. Sand dunes are stable structures that provide security to the people living near the coast by acting as a shield against natural calamities that can arise because of climate change. The diversity in their environmental conditions enables them to produce a variety of natural resources that provide beneficial to humans apart from the functions mentioned above. The extraction and utilisation of these natural resources including fishery, fertile soil, bivalves, etc. have helped in securing the livelihood of coastal communities through times. While some of these goods and services have a direct market value, the rest have values that are indirect but are of productive in nature. Owing to these reasons, the coastal regions are of high ecological and economic significance. The coastal ecosystems, if maintained in good health can provide safety and security of livelihood for the local communities and people living further away who are dependent on the resources. The high economic value of coastal ecosystems has attracted human settlements and over-extraction of resources for centuries now. The continued unsustainable extraction of natural resources accompanied by the degradation of their health through polluting having regressive effects on the human population was popularly understood only a few decades ago. Since then, many countries have tried to regulate and mitigate the impact imposed on coastal ecosystems by the anthropogenic pressure exerted.
The coastal districts of India alone contribute to 15.5% of the nation’s wealth with about 18.8 crore population along the coast and has only been growing. In order to keep these benefits intact, it is important we maintain if not improve the habitat suitable for such ecosystems to thrive. Measures towards a sustainable development framework can only be adopted at large if the measures are to be implemented by an authoritative body that has the power to regulate the coastal development activities and at the same time, punish the ones that violate the rules enlisted in the Coastal Zone Notification. Since 1970s, the India government has been continuously working for the betterment of coastal health by the issuing of rules and regulations to carry out activities along the coast. The Coastal Regulation Zone notification first released in 1991 and later revised in the years 2011 and 2019 and serves as an umbrella framework governing all activities and restrictions imposed along the Indian coast. This article looks in detail the evolution of coastal regulation legislations, internationally and in the context of India specifically with reference to the Coastal Regulation Zone notifications. Its chronological revisions have been tabulated to facilitate a structural understanding of their attempts at addressing the issue at hand. To understand the effectiveness in its implementation, the violations made in the regions where the notification does not allow any development with a very few exceptions are also visualised and listed with their geographic co-ordinates. A total of 823 instances of violations have been identified spread across an area of 56.34 ha. Estuaries being highly productive regions are under severe threat because of the increasing growth of urban sprawl in and around them, often accompanied by increasing rates of fishing and conversation of mangroves into aquaculture/agriculture fields. Though the notifications have been issued in good faith, their enforcement on ground is found to be poor. The reasons for this are identified to be the understaffing of the coastal regulation authority and the absence of nation-wide pro-active initiatives for the protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems. Recommendations on sustainable pathways that can be taken up by the authorities in collaboration with the local communities and other stakeholders including the general public and NGOs have been made towards the end of the article considering the socio-economic and the ecological dimensions that need to be balanced.



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