Category Archives: Nature

Three Years Ago, When Hurricane Sandy Pounded USA, I Was in Ellicott City, Maryland!


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Three years ago, when Hurricane Sandy, unofficially known as the “Superstorm Sandy”, devastated the United States in October 2012, I was in Ellicott City in Maryland.

Hurricane Sandy was the second-costliest hurricane in the history of the United States. It was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. It all began on October 22, 2012.

A Timeline of Hurricane Sandy’s Path of Destruction
Monday, October 22, 2012

Developing in the southern Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua as a tropical easterly wave causing areas of cloudiness and thunderstorms, The depression strengthened and six hours later becomes Tropical Storm Sandy, with maximum winds of about 40 mph. It moved slowly northward toward the Greater Antilles and gradually intensified.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On October 24, Sandy became a  Category 1 hurricane, moved northward across the Caribbean and made landfall near Kingston, Jamaica with winds of 80 mph.

Although Hurricane Sandy’s eye does not cross the Dominican Republic and Haiti to its east, the storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Hispaniola. More than 50 people died in flooding and mudslides in Haiti.

A few hours later, it re-emerged into the Caribbean Sea and strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane. Off the coast of the Northeastern United States, the storm became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles (1,800 km).

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Detailed map compiled by NOAA on October 25, 2012, that shows the track of Hurricane Sandy (Source: gowally.com)
Detailed map compiled by NOAA on October 25, 2012, that shows the track of Hurricane Sandy (Source: gowally.com)

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Sandy strengthened as it moved from Jamaica to Cuba and made landfall in the historic city of Santiago de Cuba with winds of about 110 mph as a Category 3 hurricane.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sandy caused more devastation as it crossed the Bahamas and made a slight turn to the north-northwest.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sandy moved away from the Bahamas and made a turn to the northeast off the coast of Florida. Sandy weakened for a brief period of time to a tropical depression and then restrengthened to a Category 1 hurricane.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sandy continued moving northeast on a track parallel to the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. As it approached latitude 35 degrees north off the coast of North Carolina, the hurricane’s eye stayed well offshore. Even then, the storm still a Category 1 hurricane with peak winds of about 80 mph sent powerful tsunami-like waves onto North Carolina’s Outer Banks washing out some places in NC Highway 12.

Due to an unusual configuration of converging weather factors meteorologists warned that the storm as it churns northward would likely morph into a powerful, hybrid super-storm.

A high-pressure cold front to Sandy’s north forced the storm to  turn to the northwest toward major cities such as Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. And the meteorologists expected that in conjunctions with the effects of the full moon Sandy’s storm surge to be 11 to 12 feet in some places and a little higher as it made landfall.

Sandy expanded into a huge storm covering about 1,000 miles with strong winds.

Monday, October 29, 2012
This satellite image from NOAA shows Sandy on the morning of October 29, 2012 as it was about to begin its approach to the coast of New Jersey (Source: voices.nationalgeographic.com)
This satellite image from NOAA shows Sandy on the morning of October 29, 2012 as it was about to begin its approach to the coast of New Jersey (Source: voices.nationalgeographic.com)

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At 12:30 pm, Sandy made its expected sharp turn. It curved west-northwest (the “left turn” or “left hook”) and then moved ashore near Brigantine, New Jersey, just to the northeast of Atlantic City, as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds. The storm also has started interacting with other weather systems, gaining energy in the process. The storm dumped heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

During the afternoon, Sandy brought high winds and drenching rains from Washington, D.C. northward, toppling trees and power lines and cutting off electrical power for millions of people. The storm eventually affected more than 50 million people on the Eastern Seaboard.

At 8 pm, Sandy’s center came ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The storm was no longer considered a hurricane, but was classified as a post-tropical Nor’easter. But the storm’s unusual path from the southeast made its storm surge much worse in New Jersey and New York.

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The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is flooded after a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, on October 30, 2012 in Manhattan, New York. The storm has claimed at least 39 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is flooded after a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, on October 30, 2012, in Manhattan, New York. The storm has claimed at least 39 lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

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A high storm surge, a coastal flood or tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water occurred in New York City with a high tide of 14 ft (4.2 m),  a new record for a storm surge in the harbor, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. The surge tops the sea wall at The Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and floods parts of the city’s subway system. The surge also floods the Hugh Carey Tunnel, which links Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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Spooky gray NYC skyline
Spooky gray NYC skyline

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The wind, rain and flooding from the huge storm pounded New Jersey and New York throughout the night and through three cycles of high tides and low tides.

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Tanker John B Caddell beached on Front Street, Staten Island (Photo: Jim Henderson)
Tanker John B Caddell beached on Front Street, Staten Island (Photo: Jim Henderson)

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Staten Island also was hit very hard by the storm. The Seattle Times later reported that towns such as Oakwood Beach, Midland Beach, South Beach and Tottenville — which lost many residents who were police and firefighters during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — were among the hardest-hit communities.

When I look back, I remember posting several times on Facebook on 29th and 30th October 2012 about Hurricane Sandy to benefit my friends and readers in the United States and to assure my kith and Kin in India that my family was safe:

7:00 am EDT:
From the Carolinas to Maine, Hurricane Sandy will affect 50 million people.

Hurricane Sandy is churning off the East Coast and is expected to join up with two other weather systems to create a huge and problematic storm affecting 50 million people. Here’s a snapshot of what is happening or expected, state by state.
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 CAROLINAS
The storm lashed barrier islands off North Carolina and rendered several homes and businesses nearly inaccessible. About 90 miles off the coast, a tall ship carrying 17 people was in distress; the Coast Guard was monitoring.
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CONNECTICUT
The number of power outages increased quickly in a state where utilities’ response to past weather-related failures has become a political issue. Connecticut Light & Power says hundreds of customers are without power. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked a task force to ensure fuel suppliers are fully stocked. Many residents along Long Island Sound heeded warnings and evacuated.

DELAWARE
Hundreds of people fled to shelters as the rough surf pounded the coast. Water covered some roads.

KENTUCKY
Snow is expected in mountainous areas.

MAINE
Officials predict coastal flooding and beach erosion, and utility crews have been brought in from Canada to handle anticipated power failures.

MARYLAND
Baltimore is opening six shelters; several city intersections are closed because of flooding threats. Early voting, which began Saturday and was to run through Thursday, was canceled for Monday.

MASSACHUSETTS
Utilities brought in crews from as far away as Texas and the Midwest to cope with anticipated power failures. Most schools and colleges have canceled classes. The Boston transit authority said it would continue to operate as long it was safe.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Gov. John Lynch put 100 National Guard soldiers on active duty to help with preparations. Two shelters are being set up, and some schools have closed.

NEW JERSEY
Sandy’s center is expected to make landfall in New Jersey late Monday. By daybreak, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were without electricity. Thousands of people evacuated low-lying areas, and many inland towns hit by flooding from storm Irene last year issued evacuation orders.

NEW YORK
Many residents left low-lying flood evacuation zones, and the subway system shut down Sunday night. A storm surge of 11 feet is possible, the highest of all coastal areas being hit by Sandy. The New York Stock Exchange and other U.S. financial markets shut down for at least the day. Thousands of flights were canceled at the city’s major airports.

OHIO
Residents of low-lying areas and along Lake Erie were told to watch for flooding; utilities are anticipating high winds that could blow down trees and poles. Snow is forecast in some areas.

PENNSYLVANIA
Many schools closed. Philadelphia shut down its mass transit system, and hundreds of flights were canceled at the city’s airport. Dozens of people took shelter at evacuation centers. Thousands of members of the National Guard have been told to be ready for deployment.

RHODE ISLAND
Several communities have ordered mandatory evacuations and many schools closed for the day. Big waves are expected to cause flooding along Narragansett Bay, which bisects the state. Authorities told people to be prepared for long periods without power.

TENNESSEE
Snow is expected in higher elevations, where a freeze warning has been issued. High winds are expected in many areas.

VIRGINIA
About 2,000 customers lacked power, and a utility said as many as 1 million could ultimately lose electricity. Many residents of Chincoteague Island, popular with tourists, shrugged off the idea of evacuation.

VERMONT
Gov. Peter Shumlin declared a state of emergency to provide access to National Guard troops in a state still recovering from the devastating effects of the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Culverts and storm drainage basins in some spots have been cleared of debris.

WASHINGTON, D.C.
The capital area’s transit system shut down rail service for the first time since 2003, and the Smithsonian Institution closed for the day.

WEST VIRGINIA
As much as 2 to 3 feet of snow were forecast in mountainous areas, and flooding was possible in some areas. Several shelters were put on standby, and power crews were mobilized to handle potential failures.

3:30 pm EDT:
Here in Ellicott City, Maryland, the wind speed is 41 mph NW. Not menacing at the moment.

3:40 pm EDT:
Landfall for Sandy within 3 hours time near Atlantic City, New Jersey shore with a wind speed of 90 mph in the center. The system moves at 18 mph.

8:40 pm EDT:
In Ellicott City, Maryland, the wind speed has risen to 49 mph WNW.
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8:54 pm EDT:
Sandy landfall in Cape May, New Jersey around 8 pm.
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9:00 pm EDT:
Battery Park in New York City is now inundated with 11.87 feet high. Water might enter NYC subway. Trains and buses won’t run on Tuesday (tomorrow).
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9:30 pm EDT:
Waters from Hudson river has breached the Manhattan Broadwalk. Battery Park in New York City is now inundated with 13.7 feet high. MTA confirms that the subways are flooded.

1.5 million homes experience power outages in many states. In Maryland, 195,000 homes are without electric power. We have still not been hit by a power cut.

9:45 pm EDT:
Power surges, outages and flashes being experienced in the New York City area. Everything is dark over there. Manhattan is in darkness as well as the Statue of Liberty.

10:47 pm EDT:
All bridges were closed for traffic. Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects Baltimore-DC area with the northern parts of Maryland such as Kent Island too was closed for traffic around 4 pm.

10:55 pmEDT:
Sandy is still on its way towards us playing havoc with everything in its path.

Sandy had its landfall in Cape May, New Jersey around 8 pm. Ellicott City, MD is about 210 miles from the landfall area. The system is moving around 20 to 25 mph and I expect it to come here on Tuesday (tomorrow) morning around 6 am EDT.

Tuesday , October 30, 2012

2:10 am EDT:
Hurricane Sandy plays havoc: Widespread Power outages have occurred in all the north-eastern and eastern states. In Maryland, 391,005 homes are experiencing power cut.

2:15 am EDT:
Sandy is 10 miles southwest of Philadephia, PA.

10:50 am EDT:
Sandy has passed us. We did not incur any damages. We did not lose any power.

I thank all of you for praying for us.

However, my heart bleeds for those who have suffered and are undergoing hardships due to the havoc created by this “Frankenstorm” called SANDY.

11:00 am EDT:
Sandy: The loss to properties has been assessed between 10 and 20 billion dollars.

11:30 am EDT:
Sandy slammed New Jersey last night and early morning today. At least 16 deaths reported. Massive flooding, high winds, and widespread power outages hit the East Coast as Sandy moves inland.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy dissipated over western Pennsylvania, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its final advisory on the storm: “multiple centers of circulation in association with the remnants of Sandy can be found across the lower Great Lakes.”

Aftermath

Click on this line or the photo below to see photos of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. 

People scavenging for food in a dumpster where a Key Food supermarket has discarded spoiled food, due to power outages after Hurricane Sandy hit New York (Photo: Mr. Choppers)
People scavenging for food in a dumpster where a Key Food supermarket has discarded spoiled food, due to power outages after Hurricane Sandy hit New York (Photo: Mr. Choppers)

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The Japanese Sendai Nuclear Plant Threatened by the Sakurajima Volcano


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The lithosphere is the rigid, outermost shell on Earth. It comprises the crust and the part of the upper mantle that has an elastic behavior on, timescales of thousands of years or greater.

The scientific theory of plate tectonics describes the large-scale motion of Earth’s lithosphere. The geoscientific community accepted the theoretical model of plate tectonics developed during the first few decades of the 20th century based on the concept of continental drift. The concepts of seafloor spreading developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in the second half of the 20th century.
The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in the second half of the 20th century.

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The Earth’s lithosphere, the rigid outermost crust and upper mantle, is broken up into seven or eight major tectonic plates and many minor plates.

These massive slabs of the earth’s crust forever creep, slip, lock up and then jolt again. The typical annual lateral relative movement of the plates varies from zero to 100 mm.

Almost all creation of mountains, earthquakes, volcanic activity, and the formation of oceanic trenches occurs along these tectonic plate boundaries.

The islands that compose the Japanese nation sit on or near the boundary of four tectonic plates: the Pacific, North American, Eurasian and Filipino plates.

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The Pacific Ring of Fire
The Pacific Ring of Fire

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Also, Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” also known as the circum-Pacific belt.  –  The Ring of Fire is a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines in the basin of the Pacific Ocean, associated with a continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and  tectonic plate movements.  It has 452 volcanoes and has over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. A large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in this region.

Sendai Nuclear Power Plant

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The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (Source: power-eng.com)
The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (Source: power-eng.com)

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The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, owned and operated by the Kyūshū Electric Power Company, is in the city of Satsumasendai in the Kagoshima Prefecture.  It is located near five giant calderas, a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption, with the closest one about 40 km away from the plant.

Before the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, and the nuclear disasters that resulted from it, Japan had generated 30% of its electrical power from nuclear reactors. It had planned to increase electrical power production to 40%.

Nuclear energy was a national strategic priority in Japan, but there had been concern about the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand seismic activity.

The earthquake and tsunami of on March 11, 2011, caused the failure of the cooling systems at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.  Japan then declared its first-ever nuclear emergency. This caused the evacuation of around 140,000 residents within 12 miles (20 km) of the plant.

On May 6, 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered the shutdown of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant as an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher is likely to hit the area within the next 30 years.

Also, many other nuclear power plants, including the Sendai plant stopped  generating electricity.

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan set new safety standards for its nuclear reactor plants.

On September 10, 2014, the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) declared the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant safe for operation.

On August 11, 2015, Kyushu Electric Power Co., restarted its operation by bringing online the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai power station according to the new safety standards. Now it is providing power to the nearby towns again. Sendai is the first of Japan’s nuclear power plants to be restarted.

The Sakurajima Volcano

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View of Sakurajima from mainland Kagoshima in 2009
View of Sakurajima from mainland Kagoshima in 2009

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Sakurajima is an active composite volcano (stratovolcano) 990 km southwest of Tokyo. It is a former island in Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. It is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and erupts all the time. The lava flows of the 1914 eruption caused the former island to be connected to the Osumi Peninsula. The volcanic activity still continues, dropping large amounts of volcanic ash on the surroundings. Earlier eruptions built the white sands highlands in the region.

The Japan Meteorological Agency  on its website said that it believes that a larger than the usual eruption could be in the offing since it detected multiple earthquakes in the area on Saturday morning.  So, on Saturday, August 15, 2015, the agency raised the warning level for the volcanic island of Sakurajima from Level 3 to an unprecedented Level 4 (red). It has warned the residents in the villages on Sakurajima and has advised them to evacuate since stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base.

The Kagoshima prefectural government has formed an emergency response team.

The Kyushu Electric Power Company says a possible eruption on Mount Sakurajima will not affect the operation of its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant. The company made the comment after raising the alert level to 4. They said that they will collect the relevant data while proceeding with work to increase output as planned.

The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) also says any possible eruption of the Sakurajima volcano will not affect the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 2 – Now It Is a Concrete Jungle!


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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The Pallikarani wetland serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rainwater and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965).

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump almost 2,600 tonnes of garbage per day, which is over one-third of the garbage of the ever-growing metropolis, here in this climatic marshland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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Now, the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article “The mired marsh” by Shaju John. He has augmented his article with photographs captured by him in the post-Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse each day.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums, frequent the garbage dumps.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Air samples from the Perungudi garbage dumping yard registered the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample. The air contained cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.

People living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland continually inhale the omnipresent malodorous virulent air. They suffer the stifling smoke. They have no other alternative than to use the polluted and poisoned ground water. These factors subject them to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

On June 15, 2012, a concerned Jaison Jeeva uploaded the following video on YouTube. It shows the fire accident that happened at the garbage dumps in Pallikaranai. The incident caused physical and mental disturbance to the people in the vicinity.

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There is an incredible rate of development in the Pallikaranai wetland. The sanctioning of many IT parks has resulted in countless high-rise office and residential buildings.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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The campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Engineering and Dental Colleges, and Hospitals have been built on the marshland.

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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All these encroachments have led to building infrastructures such as the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland.

Sadly, all these rampant developments have shrunk the water spread.

With policies in place to crack down on encroachment, illegal waste disposal, and poaching, there is still hope for saving the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Even so, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

An official release on Friday, June 9, 2006 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) underscores the need to protect the rare species of fauna and flora in the ecologically important wetland of Chennai.

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Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.
Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.

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To retain the groundwater recharging potential the TNPCB banned the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the Pallikaranai marshland. The TNPCB directive states that untreated sewage should be discharged only into the sewage treatment plant operated by Metrowater at Perungudi. The TNPCB warned that violators of its directions would be Penalized without prior notice under section 15 (1) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

On June 10, 2006, The Hindu in an article titled “Dumping banned in Pallikaranai marsh” said:

The punishment under this section involves imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.1 lakh, or both. In cases of repeated violation, the penalty involves additional fine, which may extend to Rs. 5,000 for every day during which the contravention occurs, after the conviction for the first violation.

Further, if the violation continues beyond a period of one year after the date of first conviction, the offender is liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend to seven years. According to the press note, the basis of the directive is a routine inspection of the Perungudi dump site and the marsh zone by the TNPCB, which found that unsegregated garbage along with other wastes emptied into the marshland by the Chennai Corporation and other local bodies as well as private agencies. This garbage is burnt by ragpickers, causing nuisance to the residential areas and setting off air-pollution. The inspection also observed that untreated sewage collected from nearby areas in tanker lorries was being discharged into the marshland.

The TNPCB has also constituted a Local Area Environment Committee to protect the marsh. The public can refer any complaint on discharge of sewage or solid wastes into the marsh area by any agencies to this committee through the District Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, Tambaram (Phone 22266239). The Pollution Control Board’s announcement comes just days after a non-governmental initiative released the results of a recent study on air quality.

In April 2008, the Madras High Court directed the State Government of Tamilnadu to remove all encroachments on the Pallikaranai marshlands. The Madras High Court also directed the Chennai Corporation not to allow the four municipalities – Pallavaram, Madipakkam, Kottivakkam and Valasaravakkam – to dump garbage at Perungudi after April 30, 2008.

On April 3, 2008, The Hindu in an article titled “Court directive on Perungudi garbage dump” said:

Passing interim orders on two writ petitions, the Bench said the State Government should not permit any construction activity on the marshlands. The court appointed a six-member expert committee, with Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, TIIC, as its convener to inspect the Perungudi Municipal Solid Waste Yard, CMWSSB treatment plant and the surrounding areas and submit a report regarding the suitability of the present site for usage and the continuance as a municipal solid waste ground and sewage treatment plant; to review compliance of various legislations, guidelines, rules and regulations in relation to dumping of solid waste and discharge of sewage; to review the earlier studies done by various agencies, and the measures taken and proposed to protect the Pallikaranai marsh and render suggestions for restoration and protection of the marsh.

The committee would also suggest measures for remediation of the land, ground water, flora and fauna in the marsh and Seevaram, Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Perungudi villages. It would also consider the cumulative aspects of dumping of garbage, discharge of sewage and conversion of the marshlands to other use and suggest scientific alternative methods of dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage in the light of the methods in other countries.

The committee would conduct public hearing to ascertain the views of the residents of the four villages. The report should be made within six months, the Bench said.

Pending receipt of the report, the Chennai Corporation was directed not to permit their trucks to dump garbage on either side of the road and to remove the garbage already dumped on either side of 60 Feet Road abutting the residential areas and also the 200 feet road, within four weeks. It should demarcate the area of 200 acres which had been allotted to it by CMWSSB and further demarcate 106 acres which was actually used for dumping waste. Security at the dumping site should be increased to prevent incidents of fire. Appropriate scheme for segregating biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes should be evolved and submitted to the court within three months.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in its report in respect of the landfill at Perungudi submitted that the Chennai Corporation had not complied with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.

Seven years have passed since then, but even now, dumping of garbage and sewage in the Pallikaranai marshland by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)
Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

What is a wetland?

A wetland is technically defined as:

An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.

Wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions  and the fauna that inhabit it

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.  (Read my article: Save the Wetlands)

Wetlands of Tamilnadu, India

There are three wetlands in the state of Tamilnadu, in India: Point Calimere,  Kazhuveli, and  Pallikaranai.

In 1985-86, the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India listed Point Calimere, Kazhuveli Wetland, and the Pallikaranai Marsh among the 94 identified wetlands in India.

Point Calimere, Kazhuveli  wetland, and the Pallikaranai wetland are three of the 94 identified wetlands under

The forests of Point Calimere 

Point Calimere, also called Cape Calimere (Tamil: கோடியக்கரை Kodiakkarai), is a low headland on the Coromandel Coast, in the Nagapattinam district of the state of Tamil Nadu, India.

The forests of Point Calimere are also known as the Vedaranyam forests. They are the last remnants of the East Deccan dry evergreen forests.

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Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Map (Author: Marcus334/Wikimedia Commons)
Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Map (Author: Marcus334/Wikimedia Commons)

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On June 13, 1967, the Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary with an area of 24.17 square km was created. The sanctuary includes the cape with its three natural habitat types: dry evergreen forests, mangrove forests, and wetlands.

The Kazhuveli wetland

Kazhuveli the second largest brackish water lake in South India lies adjacent to the Bay of Bengal along the East Coast Road. It is located about 18 km north of Pondicherry in the Tindivanam Taluk of Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu.

Once a mangrove forest, Kazhuveli, has degraded over a period of time. It encompasses about 15 villages with a catchment area of 4,722 hectares. A total of 196 minor irrigation tanks and ponds drains into the Kazhuveli wetlands.

Now, the entire ecosystem of Kazhuveli wetland is completely destroyed and denuded by human inference, chiefly, due the growth of salt pans and aggressive fishing. It is one of the prioritized wetlands of Tamil Nadu.

The Pallikaranai wetland

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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The Pallikaranai wetland is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India.

Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 square km). It is the natural primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city.

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Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au
Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au

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The Pallikaranai wetland situated adjacent to the Bay of Bengal, is about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre. Bounded by Velachery (north), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), Medavakkam (south) and Kovilambakkam (west), the Pallikaranai wetland is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city.

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Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.
Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

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The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

The original expanse of the Pallikaranai wetland, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares. This vast area has now been reduced to about 600 hectares.

Flora and Fauna

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District in Tamil Nadu, India, is 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai. It hosts more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world during the migratory season every year.

Now, Pallikaranai wetland is almost four times the size of the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary and is literally a treasury of bio-diversity.

The Pallikaranai wetland has several rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. The marsh acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the Pallikaranai wetland is definitely more than what they get to see in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity and studies in wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan
Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned to Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components – to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)
Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)
FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

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Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

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Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)
Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

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The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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To be continued…

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Do Not Cut Trees, Relocate Them!


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Due to the rapid increase in world population, infrastructure projects such as housing, offices, highways, etc., have become a necessity. Often one can hear someone saying, “Cut those trees!”

Felling trees is like cutting off the breasts of a nursing mother.

The solution?

Relocating a full grown tree in minutes (Source: pcbheaven.com)
Relocating a full grown tree in minutes (Source: pcbheaven.com)

Don’t cut the trees, instead move them, even full-grown trees, to a new site. Replant those trees in parks, home gardens, schools, universities, wherever there is space for a tree to grow.

World governments spend billions of dollars to send satellites to arid Mars and beyond. Do you think these space explorations are of use to ordinary people like us who hunger for clean air to breathe? Why won’t the powers that be, invest on essential equipment to move plants?

There are equipment such as a truck mounted tree spade that digs out the root ball and tree. Then, the tree is lifted and tilted on to the back of the truck for safe transportation to its new site.

More trees will help all creatures on earth, now and in the future, by purifying the foul air we breathe now!

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Dhanushkodi – Fifty Years After the Cyclone of 1964


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.

On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town  with heavy casualties.

On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.

 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964
The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22 – 25, 1964.

More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.

The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)
The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.

The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.

Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)
A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.
Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.

The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.

After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.

The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.

The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.

After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.

An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.

We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.

St. Antony's Church at Dhanuskodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
St. Antony’s Church at Dhanushkodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.

Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)
Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

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Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965). It serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rain water and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump over one-third of the garbage, almost 2,600 tonnes per day, of the ever-growing metropolis here in this climactic wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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At present the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article The mired marshby Shaju John. This article was augmented by photographs  captured by him in the post Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums frequent the garbage dump.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Continual inhaling of the ever-present malodorous germ and virus bound air, the stifling smoke, polluted and poisoned ground water subject the people living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

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The incredible rate of development, such as the rampant construction of sanctioned IT parks, the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) campus, Hospitals, Colleges, high-rise office and residential buildings, the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland also have immensely contributed to the shrinking of the water spread.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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With policies in place to crackdown on poaching, encroachment and illegal waste disposal, there is yet hope for the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

However, even now, dumping of garbage by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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← Previous: The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions. Primarily, wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

The Pallikaranai Wetland 

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 sq Km). It is the Chennai city’s natural primary aquifer recharge system.

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Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au
Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au

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The original expanse of the marsh, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares, which has now been reduced to about 600 hectares. Situated next to the Bay of Bengal, about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre, it is bounded by Velachery (north), Kovilambakkam (west), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), and Medavakkam (south). It is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city and is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India. It is one of the three in the state of Tamilnadu, the other two being Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

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Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.
Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

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The Pallikaranai wetland is one of the 94 identified wetlands in India under the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India that came into operation in 1985–86.

The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

Flora and Fauna

This wetland is literally a treasury of bio-diversity that is almost four times that of Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai where more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world visit during the migratory season every year.

The Pallikaranai wetland contains several rare and endangered species of plants and animals. It acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the wetland is definitely more than in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity, and studies wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan
Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned her the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components — to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)
Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)
FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

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Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

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Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)
Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

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The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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Next → Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!

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View of the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island.


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Niagara Falls as seen from the observation deck at Prospect Point. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Niagara Falls as seen from the observation deck at Prospect Point. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever seen.

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that sprawl the international border between the United States and Canada. It is located between the international twin cities of Niagara Falls, in the state of New York, in the United States, and Niagara Falls, in the province of Ontario, Canada. These falls form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario.

The international boundary line separating the United States and Canada was originally drawn through Horseshoe Falls in 1819 has long been in dispute due to natural erosion and construction.

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Panoramic View of Niagara Falls (Source: niagarafallslive.com)
Panoramic View of Niagara Falls (Source: niagarafallslive.com)

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From the largest to the smallest, the three waterfalls are:

On the Canadian side:
The Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls) on the right between Goat Island and Table Rock.

On the American side:
The American Falls on the far left between Prospect Point and Luna Island and the Bridal Veil Falls mid left between Luna Island and Goat Island.

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On board the Maid of the Mist. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the background. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
On board the Maid of the Mist. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the background. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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The breathtaking bluish-green colour of the Niagara River is caused by

  1. refraction of sunlight and reflection of the blue sky
  2. dissolved minerals picked up primarily from the limestone bed
  3. from the shale and sandstone under the limestone cap at the falls
  4. microscopic plants such as algae and plankton in the water.

Around 60 tons of dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls every minute.

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At Luna Island located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
At Luna Island located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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Though these three falls are not exceptionally high, they are very wide. The American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls have a crest line of 1,100 feet (335 meters) and a height of 176 feet (54 meters).

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Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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More than six million cubic feet (168,000 cubic meters) of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet (110,000 cubic meters) on average. The summer daytime flow at the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls is 75,000 gallons/sec (285,000 liters/sec).

About eight million tourists visit the American side and about 20 million tourists visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls every year.

On August 2, 2012, our son Subas Raj took me and my wife to Niagara Falls, in the state of New York. We were there for three days. We enjoyed the magnificent views of the three falls.

Here is a short video of the breathtaking view of the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island.

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Since 1925, every evening beginning at dusk, the Niagara Falls are lit in the colours of the rainbow, financed and operated by The Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Also, year after year, the Niagara Parks Commission, an agency of the government of Ontario which maintains the Ontario shoreline of the Niagara River, hosts Canada’s longest-running fireworks series in Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls in the province of Ontario, Canada.

The unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night illuminated by strobe lights from the Canadian side, and the spectacular fireworks display before an unforgettable backdrop captivated us. I captured this video “Niagara Falls by Night – Illuminations & Fireworks” using my Canon Powershot camera from Prospect Point in Niagara Falls, New York. I regret that I did not have a high-end camera with high-resolution to capture the unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night.

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Ever wondered what the falls on the American side would look like when dry?

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Dry Niagara - This photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969 (Photo: Wikipedia)
Dry Niagara – This photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969 (Photo: Wikipedia)

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The above photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969.

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Hats off to the owner of this house!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Tree house

I proudly shared the above photograph of a house I came across on facebook.

The owner of the house, I presume, must be a lover of nature and a “Save the Trees” activist because he has built the house including the tree that was obstructing the frontage of his house.

Clever thinking, isn’t it?

Impressed by this builder’s feat, I chipped in and wrote: “Hats off to the owner of this house.”

However, my friend Joe Croos from Germantown, Maryland, USA, cut my ego down to size with his wise quip:

If I were the local thief the owner would be my sweetheart.

I realized my folly for not thinking about the security and safety of the people living in that house and so, I acknowledged Joe’s shrewdness:

Joe, I did not think from your angle. You are indeed a genius …

The Tree house

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