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

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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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