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Chilka Lake faces the danger of submergence

"The mouth occurred at Gabakunda has now become the greatest threat to over ten nearby villages who are anticipating a quick submergence of their villages in the Bay of Bengal and, also, to the livelihood of lakhs of fishing folks living in thousands of villages in and around the lake as Chilka is the only source of their livelihood. Be it submergence of the lake or increase in salinity level of Chilka water, the fishing communities will suffer the worst as their main source of living wouldn’t remain reliable."

Basudev Mahapatra : August 27, 2008

Chilka Lake of Orissa in India - the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia and the famous winter home for lakhs of overseas avian guests - is now facing the danger of getting submerged in the Bay of Bengal. The danger has become imminent as a breach on the sand embankment near Gabakunda has expanded unexpectedly to 700 feet wide mouth that is believed to be an impact of global warming and rising sea level which has resulted in frequent high tides on the coast. Change in the climatic pattern during last two decades in the coastal region of Orissa has placed the state in the frontline to face the wrath of global warming.

Just two kilometers away from the Nua Muhana (New Mouth) that was dredged few years ago by Chilka Development Authority (CDA) – an autonomous government agency set to look after the conservation and development of Chilka lake Area – to create a free flow channel between the lagoon and the Bay of Bengal to keep the salinity level balanced, the fresh natural breach is fast expanding towards the artificial mouth. ‘If the natural breach expands upto the artificial mouth, the salinity level of Chilka lake water will go close to the sea water. This would have devastating impact on the under water world of the lake and the unique species now growing in it. The lagoon would no longer have its identity as a lake but only a part of Bay of Bengal leading to a complete geographical change’, apprehends noted geologist professor Manmohan Mohanty adding that, ‘the human habitations in the islands dotted inside the lake and the peripheral villages will also face the wrath of frequent high tides and sea storms as there will be a distinctive change in the local climatic pattern like most other parts of Orissa Coast line’.

The origin of Chilka Lake dates back to about 9000 BC, expects the geologists and experts. As per Geologists, Chilka Lake was separated into a lake because of huge sand deposit on the coast of Bay of Bengal that gradually formed a 60 KM long embankment with three mouths. From the three natural mouths, only two exist now – one at Arakhakuda and the other at Baliharachandi. As the third one ceased to exist, CDA dredged the new mouth near Sipakuda Village almost a decade back. The objective was to maintain the salinity level of the lake water. However, the long run effect of the new mouth was never thought about even though environmentalists and marine biologists expressed there apprehensions regarding the damage to the flora – fauna and variety of species that are unique to Chilka.

Few other aspects like change in the tidal pressure on adjacent sand embankment and its possible effects were not given a serious thought also. The tidal pressure would have played its role in widening of the new mouth from 200 meters in 1999 to 750 meters now and also in breaching the natural sand embankment that has now taken shape of another mouth making itself a threat to the existence of the lake.

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'The mouth occurred at Gabakunda has now become the greatest threat to over ten sorrounding villages who are apprehending a quick submergence of their villages in the Bay of Bengal and, also, to the livelihood of lakhs of fishing folks living in thousands of villages in and around the lake as Chilka is the only source of their livelihood. Be it submergence of the lake or increase in salinity level of Chilka water, the fishing communities will suffer the worst as their main source of living wouldn’t remain reliable', says Dr. Niranjan Biswal - a local intellectual and civil right activist.

Chilka itself is more than a large-scale industry for the state. The unique variety of species like Pisces, Crab and prawns grown in Chilka water are high in demand in the country and abroad. Many of the species have made their market abroad. The lake has a major share in the local and state food market. In case the production of fish and other species goes down, the state will have to incur heavy financial loss and also will have to face the scarcity of fish, crabs and prawn in the market which would force it import more fishes at a higher price.

Apart from being the center of million dollar prawn and fish business generator, Chilka is one of the highest revenue generating destinations in the tourism map of Orissa. Being the most famous winter bird sanctuary and having more than hundred dolphins to amuse tourists, Chilka Lake attracts Lakhs of visitors every year and provides ample business opportunities to three government run Panthanivas and many small rest houses and hotels in the small towns on the banks of Chilka. After Puri - Konark, Chilka is, perhaps, the next revenue earner for the State tourism department.

So, the threat posed to Chilka must be taken seriously and quick action must be initiated to save the valuable gift of nature from submergence. The CDA that has always been blaming other government departments to shift its own blames should accept the fact of negligence from its own when the conservation of Chilka is taken into consideration.

 

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