Protecting India's Coastline
October 11, 2012
- India’s coastal and marine ecosystems include a wide range of mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, salt marshes, mud flats, estuaries, lagoons, and unique flora and fuana.
- Yet, despite their ecological richness and contribution to the national economy, these resources have not received adequate protection, and are under stress.
- The World Bank-financed Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project – part of the national coastal zone management program – seeks to balance development with the protection of vulnerable ecosystems.
India’s coastal zone is endowed with abundant coastal and marine ecosystems that include a wide range of mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, salt marshes, mud flats, estuaries, lagoons, and unique marine and coastal flora and fauna. The Sundarbans – shared between India and Bangladesh – are the largest contiguous mangroves in the world. India also has major stocks of corals, fish, marine mammals, reptiles and turtles, sea grass meadows, and abundant sea weeds. Coastal fishing employs a million people full time, and the post-harvest fisheries employ another 1.2 million.
However, in spite of their ecological richness and contribution to the national economy, India’s coastal and marine areas have not received adequate protection and are under stress. About 34% of India’s mangroves were destroyed during 1950-2000 (although substantial restoration and conservation has taken place over the past 10 years); almost all coral areas are threatened; marine fish stocks are declining; and several species of ornamental fish and sea cucumbers are fast disappearing. Such rapid depletion and degradation, unless arrested, will impact the livelihood, health and well being of the coastal population, affecting in turn prospects for India’s sustained economic growth.
India’s coastal and marine environments are threatened by the lack of integrated development planning, especially given the large concentration of towns, petrochemical complexes and industries along India’s coasts. Only 9% of wastewater from India’s coastal towns is treated before entering coastal waters, adding to their already heavy chemical burden from the huge volumes of agricultural run-off that routinely flow into them. In addition, large numbers of coastal people remain dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, in the absence of alternative livelihood opportunities. However, the returns from traditional fishing are diminishing due to environmental degradation and over-exploitation. Risks from climate change will only accentuate these challenges.
Resources for the conservation of these sensitive coastal and marine ecosystems remain scarce, and the capacity, skills, and knowledge for managing them in a sustainable manner remain inadequate.
To reverse this trend, India began implementing a number of measures in 2005. The most important of these initiatives is the World Bank-financed Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Project (2010-15). The project – a part of the national coastal zone management program – seeks to balance the diverse needs of development with the protection of vulnerable ecosystems. The ICZM project ($286 million, aimed to directly benefit 1.1 million people) is the Bank’s largest in the Blue Agenda and one of its largest ever to finance knowledge generation and capacity building.
The project’s multi-sectoral and integrated approach represents a paradigm shift from the traditional sector-wise management of coastal resources where numerous institutional, legal, economic and planning frameworks worked in isolation, at times with conflicting aims and outputs. The project puts equal emphasis on conservation of coastal and marine resources, pollution management, and improving livelihood opportunities for coastal communities.
At national and state levels
The project is working at the national level and in three states: Gujarat, Odisha, and West Bengal. At the national level, the project is working to expand the knowledge base and build institutional capacity for the integrated management of coastal zones. This will include the mapping, delineation and demarcation of hazard lines and ecologically sensitive areas along the mainland coast of India, in addition to setting up a new National Center for Sustainable Coastal Management.
Investments in the three coastal states – which were chosen for their varying levels of development and their unique set of challenges – will pilot ICZM approaches with a view to replicating them in all the coastal states in future.
In the three states, complementary pilot investments will be carried in small coastal stretches (on 3% of India’s coastline) to support capacity building. Each of these pilots was selected on the basis of wide stakeholder consultations.