VISAKHAPATNAM, India — Barely 30 years ago, playful Bottlenose Dolphins were among the plethora of sea creatures that used to happily cavort and thrive in the waters off the Vizag coast. Today, this mammal along with the Olive Ridley turtle is among the over 21 species including the whale shark, Pristis fish, Zygaena (a variety of shark) and even the local variety of Hilsa that are vanishing at an alarming rate from Vizag's waters and are now staring at extinction.
Increased mechanised fishing and rapid industrialisation are wreaking havoc on the delicate marine ecosystem of the region and in the bargain, changing the face of Vizag's coastline for worse.
Experts cautioned that the dissolved oxygen levels in Vizag waters were fast approaching the minimum point of 4 mg per litre and had even reached the 4.48 mark in certain polluted zones. In non-polluted zones, oxygen levels are as high as 5.61 mg per litre.
"The entire coastline right from Appikonda and beyond to Rushikonda is a threatened zone," said Professor U B Reddy of the department of environmental sciences at Andhra University (AU).
According to officials of the fisheries department, the Bay of Bengal is home to over 215 species of fish in addition to dolphins and 20 species of shrimp. They admitted that though the local fisherfolk catch at least 20 species of fish and the Tuna population remains relatively stable, many of the just off-shore fish face extinction as their nesting and spawning areas are being wiped out.
In fact, a report submitted by the Pariyavaran Samrakshana Samithi (PSS), warned that fishing activity would be forced to a total halt in the next ten years if immediate steps to prevent pollutants from entering the sea were not taken.
The PSS report observed that industrial units across the coastline had already ruined the livelihood of fisherfolk right from Appikonda to the beaches closer to Bheemili and made it clear that further industrialisation would permanently spell doom for those dependent on the coast.
Experts are now also raising an alarm over the waters off the Vizag coast witnessing another alarming phenomenon - the rapidly falling presence of Phytoplankton in the waters. "Phytoplankton, being a primary producer, affects the food chain. Its depleting presence and the growth of pollution-resistant microbes and bacteria is a clear sign of the balance going for a toss," cautioned Reddy, pointing out that there were basically two types of plankton - Phyto and Zoo, both of which play an equally important role in maintaining harmony and balance in sea water.
"We need to understand that marine ecology when tampered with is damaged beyond repair. We are not just talking about a few species dying out. The effects of sea pollution are anything but local because after all the waters carry everywhere," said P Jagadish, a research scholar at AU department of environmental studies.
Experts pointed out that the sea pollution plaguing Vizag can be categorised into industrial pollution, pollution through sewage and pollution resulting due to material leakages. "In the Visakhapatnam zone, the main culprits are industries, the harbour and the ports. Despite the best efforts of the port and some of the industrial units, a lot of material and industrial waste finds its way into the sea. For instance, water from some of the heavy industries has temperatures of close to 1000 degrees Celsius and when released directly into the sea, they have an immediate effect on fish spawning," Jagadish explained.
Speaking on material leakage and industrial pollutants finding their way into the sea, professor Reddy said, "No matter how hard they try, there is a lot of industrial pollution and material leakage in the sea waters off Visakhapatnam. While material leakage occurs mainly due to oil spills and during cargo loading and unloading, its effects are obviously painful oil leaks that prevent oxygen from penetrating the water surfaces and suffocate marine life forms by preventing them from breathing. Cargo pollution results in silting and prevention of generation of plankton."