Kerala’s Kadalundi wetland is sustained by its native species that thrive in the unique environment. A land rich in biodiversity, Kerala is breathtakingly picturesque; a rarity that can be claimed only by a few other places in the world. The Western Ghats and their vast wetlands areas sustain Kerala’s natural beauty. The state’s farming culture and folk songs were formed in the wetlands. It was the wetlands that nourished the availability of underground water that has made Kerala the green state of the country.
The wetlands have ensured that in God’s own country the average median weather stays stable throughout the year. Kerala has 217 vast wetlands that comprise one-fifth of the state’s total area. Some of the wetlands are world-famous. The Western Ghats and the wetlands play a vital role in keeping the climate balanced in the state.
In Kozhikkode district, the Kadalundi River is a tributary of the Olipuzha and Periyar rivers. The river shares its border with Malappuram. Wetlands located near and adjacent to seashores play an important role in sustaining the natural conditions of the sea and the neighboring land. The wetlands at Kadalundi, Chaliyam and Vallikkunnu, the areas where the Kadalundi River merges into the Arabian Sea, have an ecosystem that balances the climate and is rich in biodiversity.
However, the wetlands are being destroyed by the irrational interference of human beings, who have a skewered perspective for developing a modern society. Man somehow has a wrong notion that social progress comes with endless development. Humans, with their unlimited greed for lavish spending and huge profit, have depleted the natural resources of soil, water, and biowealth.
This has a big impact on the ecosystem and climate of the region. As a result, there is a crisis in the living and survival of a variety of species. The reality is such that people who depend on the wetlands for survival are also in a crisis situation. They keep talking about the destruction of the wetlands, the resultant decline in marine wealth, change in the structure of wetlands, and the ensuing change in climate.
Kadalundi wetland is one of the coldest regions in the Western coast of India. Eight hectares at the mouth of the river area is filled with mud, three hectares are comprised of mangrove forests, and there is a shallow depth area of one and a half hectares. Three square kilometers of wetland area here were declared as a Community Reserve in 2008 under the National Wetland Conservation Program.
Kadalundi is one of the five major Community Reserves in the country. It is the wettest place in the Malappuram district. The Community Reservoir is located at a height of two meters above sea level.
Climate change and marine wealth
The climate change in the region could simply be described in the words of 62-year-old Ayyappan, a local man of Kadalundi. “Ten years before, it was impossible to go out during winter without covering your body. During ‘Makaram’ (the winter month) the cold weather was at its peak. Water in the Kadalundi River used to be frozen. The cold weather was the same during the day and at night. It was a usual sight to see people keeping themselves warm by lighting fires in their homes and shops. There was no need to use air conditioners or fans. But now climate change has become so marked that ACs and fans are used even on rainy days and in the winter.”
A rise in mercury levels and an increase in water temperatures have adversely affected animal species. Those who advocate for irrational development are not aware of the ill effects of what they do. But people like Ayyappan, who eked out a living from fishing in the Kadalundi River and in the wetlands for the past 45 years, are a worried lot. He can testify to the destruction of the wetlands, the subsequent decline in marine wealth, and the disappearance of fish species every year.
He also bemoans the changes in his own life. In the 1960s and 70s, more than 100 families in the wetland areas were dependent on fishing for their daily sustenance. Now the number of such families has shrunk to less than ten. The disappearance of fish from the river and the futile hours spent in fishing has forced them to look for alternative employment. The decline in the harvesting of fish has led to skyrocketing of their market price.
Mussels, tiger prawns, and a variety of other fishes and crabs (with medicinal value) were available in plenty in the Kadalundi wetland till about 20 years ago. The crabs were exported to foreign countries because of their medicinal value. But now there is a considerable decrease in the availability of fish, crab and prawn. If the present trend continues, they will totally disappear in the coming ten or fifteen years. One variety of fish called ‘Muru’ is on the verge of extinction now.
Plastic, chemical, and bio waste and the decline in rainfall have led to a rise in water temperature in the wetland. This has led to alterations in the natural quality of water that in turn pose danger to the survival of fresh water fishes in Kadalundi. The decline in the level of water in the wetland has led to a rise in mercury levels and the reduction of its pH value. The cascading effect has been the destruction of microorganisms. It is the natural cooling of fresh water that creates favourable conditions for fishes to lay eggs. But at present the situation is such that it is not possible for fishes to breed or lay eggs in the sea during high tides. This in effect destroys the marine wealth.
One of the main reasons for the absence of migratory birds in the region at present is the sharp decrease in the availability of fish, which is the birds’ staple food. Many snakes and frog varieties are also on the verge of extinction. Clam farming is being carried out every year in the Kadalundi River. But the yield from this farming has been declining over the years. The micro-ecosystem has been adversely affected by the destruction of the biological species. The ecological impact at the micro and macro levels has resulted in a climate imbalance in Kadalundi.
Climate change and mangrove forests
The depletion of wetlands due to the destruction of mangrove forests has resulted in a large increase in the emission of carbon. The mangrove forests have contributed substantially to maintaining ecological sustainability in the region. The tremors of the tsunami in 2004 were also felt on the Kadalundi coast. But the mangrove forests prevented the tremors from affecting the region. A group of people led by Ayyappan had planted mangroves in the region months before the tsunami hit the coast. But the youth in this area had destroyed the new fledgling plants. The devastating effects of the tsunami in other coastal areas of the country made people realize the enduring importance of mangroves.
Mangroves maintain the temperature of the water at an even level, cooling the water and helping the fishes lay their eggs. The mangroves also prevent salt water from the sea from merging with the fresh water during high tides. Fishes lay eggs and look after them in the roots of the mangroves. Crab, frog and clam also use mangrove roots for breeding. The destruction of mangroves and rise in water temperature has affected the roots where the marine species breed. The deposits of chemical, bio and solid waste in mangrove forests have also seriously impacted the ecology and health of the environment.
Suhara Beevi, a 67-year-old local woman from the region, says that when mangrove forests were thick and there was abundant water, the wetland was full of fresh water. “The area was full of mangroves, with high quality water and an abundance of fish. We used to bathe in the water. Water in the nearby wells also had fresh water. But now we can’t even walk there.”Kadalundi was one of the main water bodies in Kozhikkode district. Now the people in the area have to depend on water-supplying schemes to get water, as water levels in wells have also come down. The water salinity has also increased. Ninety percent of water sources have been contaminated. People who once had an abundant supply of fresh water now have to pay for it. Falls in underground water levels reduce water levels in wells. The soil is drying, which leads to rises in mercury levels.
Climate change and migratory birds
Migratory birds come to Kadalundi from September to March every year. As many as thirty-five varieties of birds from outside the country and forty-three varieties from inside the country reach Kadalundi during this period. Birds arrive from the Himalayas, Siberia and Mongolia. The Kadalundi bird sanctuary has recorded the highest arrival numbers of migratory birds in Kerala. Bird varieties arriving here are Blackhedger, Brownhedger, Golden Flower, Lisersant Flower, Gimberal, Karloyooredchanga, Sandwicha Turn, Greenchanga and Baskatta Bushi. The arrival of foreign birds has now dropped by 70 percent and Indian birds by 48 percent. Research done in the past ten years has confirmed that climate change is the main reason for the present reduction in the number of migratory birds.
Kunjhali, the guide of Community Reserve, says that some of the birds have died due to rising mercury levels. Salinity in water, the changes caused by contamination, and depositions of mud in the mouth of the river have also adversely affected the survival ability of birds. Southern Railway has one of its tracks passing over the Kadalundi Bridge. Throwing of garbage by train passengers and dumping of slaughterhouse waste by locals have also adversely affected birds and negatively impacted biodiversity in the region.
Birds dying with plastic stuck in their throat while collecting food have become a regular sight. Every year, birds leave Kadalundi in search of greener pastures. Categories of birds arriving have been reduced to seven or eight. Once, five percent of the global population of Lisersant birds used to come to Kadalundi. The present dire situation is such that they may stop coming at all.
The impact of climate change on Kadalundi wetland
Wetlands play an important role in Kadulundi for sustaining biodiversity and maintaining climate balance. A sharp decline of fresh water in the wetlands, the destruction of mangroves, rises in water temperature, the depletion of wetlands, and dumping of bio, chemical and solid waste have adversely affected the micro-ecosystem of Kadalundi wetland. This has a huge impact on climate in the region. No study has yet been conducted on the climate change of Kadalundi. An exhaustive scientific study should be done to document the present destructive scenario.
- It is a Herculean task to sustain the wetland. The first step in this direction is to reduce the present mercury level, which would help balance the ecosystem. But it would take years to get the intended result.
- The water body should be fully conserved by strictly banning pollution. The government should take steps to prevent dumping of slaughterhouse waste and other solid waste into the wetland.
- Steps should be taken to remove the plastic waste from the water body and at the mouth of the river.
- Steps should be taken in cooperation with the railways to stop throwing of waste from trains.
- More mangroves should be planted in addition to conserving existing mangroves.
- The Forest Department, which is in charge of wetlands and mangroves, should have an effective monitoring mechanism in place.
- At present, there are three guides in the bird sanctuary. There is a demand to have a permanent officer to supervise the bird sanctuary. The government should take note and come to an early decision on this.
- Gramasabhas should be convened to discuss the threats to the wetlands.
- Seminars and study classes on climate change should be conducted for locals and officials.
- Those who have done study on Kadalundi wetland should raise awareness within the local population on climate change.
- Short plays and camps on climate change and its impact should be organised in association with National Service Scheme and National Cadet Corps units of schools in the region.
According to scientists, wetlands are the kidneys of the earth, and they help in maintaining equilibrium in the midst of sweeping change in climate. Reports ascertained from Kadalundi have echoed these words. The conservation of wetlands in the region, protection of the local culture, and helping to balance the climate is of utmost importance. The ecological wealth of Kadalundi should be sustained. The people and the government should work together for this. The fauna and flora of the region and its ecosystem have prevented the complete destruction of the culture developed in wetlands.
- Phytosociological Analysis of Mangrove Forest Kadalundi
- Vallikkunnu Community Reserve, Kerala
- State Action Plan on Climate Change
- National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resource
- YOJANA Magazine
- Arifali K.M. (Research Scholar in Kannur University) – Zoology and Foreign Behavior of Shore Birds, East Coast India –Especially Kadalundi – Vallikunnu Reserve
- Santhan Krishna – Conservation Significant of Kadalundi – Vallikkunnu Community Reservoir
This article was originally written in Malayalam. Translated to English by Saritha S. Balan, and edited by Suresh Mathew.