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Is There A Way To Contain The Damage Tourism Has Caused India’s Coastal Ecosystem?

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

Earth is under the grip of climate change, which, in turn, is the result of increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere due to deforestation, urbanization, industrialization, pollution, expanding tourism and increasing human population. The melting polar ice caps, ocean acidification, increasing global temperatures, floods, droughts, rising sea level and depleting biodiversity are some of the most critical impacts of climate change. Anthropogenic activities are raising the level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere by about two parts per million a year.

India is not far from the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. India’s ecological balance, which was maintained due to ponds, wetlands, lakes, coral reefs, trees and forests ecosystems, is being gradually destroyed due to increasing population pressure, agriculture pressure to feed large populations, urbanization, unsustainable development and industrialization. These factors are responsible for global warming and climate change. India is facing floods, melting roads, melting Himalayan glaciers, droughts, depleting biodiversity, rise in the sea levels and falling groundwater levels. This situation is leading India towards a ‘Climate Emergency’.

Tourism stands amongst the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors worldwide due to its significant contribution to the economy, employment, revenue generation and cultural promotion of the host country. Globally, the tourism sector generates 11% of Global Domestic Product. It employs about 200 million people and transports nearly 700 million international travellers per year. These figures are expected to double by 2020, and this is a big challenge for the future of coastal ecology.

Coastal ecosystems are beautiful. Therefore, coastal tourism is more attractive comparatively and points towards the growing international tourism for centuries. Coastal tourism includes tourism activities like swimming, surfing, sunbathing and other recreational activities on the coast.

Plastic pollution is proving to be a grave threat to marine life and coastal ecosystem worldwide.

People have been living in coastal areas for thousands of years. Enormous cities and megacities have grown over the past 100 years. Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of the coastline. Coastal places are also easily accessible locations for travel and business, which makes them even more vulnerable.

The coastal ecosystems are highly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts, natural disasters and invasive species. They include bays, estuaries, mangroves, salt marshes and wetlands. These are biodiversity-rich areas and have distinct landforms like beaches, cliffs and coral reefs. Many fish, turtles and birds nest in coastal areas because of the large amount of food and protection from the dangers of the deep ocean. Here, the organisms get sunlight and a sustained supply of nutrients very easily. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean is one such biodiversity hotspot.

Tourism is not a ‘smoke-free industry’. Rather, it’s a very carbon-intensive one. Tourism contributes about 8% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Each year, a huge number of tourists visit the coastlines around the world, where they leave an adverse impact on marine ecosystems. Tourists increase pollution, wastes, plastic pollution, leading to the destruction of habitats and fragile ecosystems.

Plastic pollution is an eyesore which threatens the survival of the endemic species. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam together contribute more to ocean plastic pollution than the rest of the world combined. Amongst the most vulnerable islands, the Galápagos Islands, beaches are littered with plastic bottles that are trapping and killing marine life, especially sea turtles, iguanas and crabs.

Marine life is facing danger and is under severe stress due to the detrimental impact of tourist activities in coastal areas.

Marine life is facing danger and is under severe stress. The plastic bags float throughout the ocean; whales eat these—feeling full while they slowly starve to death. According to the United Nations, more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste is flooding our oceans every year, accounting for up to 80% of all the litter in the oceans. According to Trucost, the overall social and environmental cost of plastic pollution is $139 bn a year, and by the year 2100, ocean acidification could cost $1.2trn a year. The cost of anthropogenic ocean warming is likely to be very high than our imagination. This situation is alarming.

Apart from the above challenges, another is the clearing of forests for the land to create open beaches. Construction of tourist facilities such as beachfront homes, hotels, restaurants, roads, biodiversity-unfriendly artificial lights, shops, factories, airports and ports have completely replaced the natural habitats and are continuously destroying the coastal ecosystems. In addition, estuaries, deltas and their rivers are often disturbed and deepened to provide better space for shipping. Due to such ‘development’, the nesting sites of marine animals like turtles are destroyed.

Globally, India has the 18th longest coastal length. Indian coastline stretches over 7516.6 kilometres of land, including 2094 km coastal length of all Indian islands, and the Arabian Sea binds this area on the west and Bay of Bengal in the east. The western coastal states are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The eastern coastal states are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

The four Union Territories lying on the coastline are Daman & Diu, Puducherry, Lakshadweep Islands and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Apart from this, there are mainly four sites of coral reefs in India the Gulf Of Kachchh, Lakshadweep, Gulf of Mannar, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

According to Census-2011, about one-third of India’s population lives in coastal areas, and the population density is increasing at an alarming rate. India is facing ‘household explosion’; the average size of households in India, as per 2011 census was 4.8 members per household, while in the 2001 Census, the size of household was 5.3, which will have negative impacts on the environment. More than 60% of the total factories in India exist in the coastal states. The rapid growth of coastal tourism, local population density and economic activities near coastal areas are significantly increasing the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems in India.

Plastic pollution at Juhu Beach, Mumbai

The issues of climate change are a major concern for coastal regions of India. India has been identified as one amongst the 27 countries, which are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming related sea-level rise (UNEP, 1989). The sea level has been rising at a rate of 2.5 mm per year along the Indian coastline since the 1950s. A mean sea level rise between 15 and 38 cm is projected by the mid of 21st century along the Indian coast.

This rise will result in the loss of land due to submergence of coastal areas, an inland extension of saline intrusion, groundwater contamination and ecological repercussions. The vulnerability of the Indian coast can be characterized by a low-lying coastal area, high population density, frequent occurrence of cyclones and storms and a high rate of coastal ecology degradation.

Indian coral reefs are in danger and facing impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Bleaching, periodic dredging for boat passage, sewage discharge, water pollution, terrestrial runoff, shore erosion, intensive fishing, illegal harvesting of protective resources, earthquakes, tsunamis, developmental activities, eutrophication and algal blooms are main challenges before coral reefs. All these factors are resulting in the loss of species, alteration of species dominance, disease and stress-induced mortality and coral reef area loss.

Our daily life and actions are not eco-friendly. Humans are destroying their future to fulfill their current unsustainable needs and ambitions. We are witnessing a period of ‘Climate Crisis’. The ‘Future Developed Nations’ will need high ‘Green Governance’, ‘Carbon Negativity’, ‘Forest Cover’, ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Household Size’, ‘Education’ and ‘Health’ to avert this crisis.

Reducing carbon, water, plastic and pollution footprint is essential to protect the tourist spots many of us want to visit. Immediate action is needed at local and national levels through policy implementation, sustainable development and awareness campaigns to save the ecology of tourist places from climate change.

Featured image via Flickr
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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