Changing Landscapes

Sripad Sridhar

Chennai is surrounded by a number of waterbodies. Kelambakkam backwaters, near Kovalam beach is home to a variety of birds that stop over on long migratory journeys. Some are local migrants like Painted Storks. Visitors from abroad include Flamingos, Western Reef Egrets and many species of Terns.

Storks like many birds wade in the shallows of the water bodies for catching fish and crabs, but the landscape around these water bodies is changing. With the city growing fast, an array of new buildings are being built along the East Coast Road, and the Old Mahabalipuram Road. A considerable supply of building material including sand and gravelare required to feed the demand for housing and office space. These water bodies either directly become major construction sites, or form the edges of lake view properties. The construction sites themselves are prone to flooding and the dangers of sinking into soft soil. To prevent this, bunds are erected using material dug up from the same water bodies. This leaves deep trenches near the edges where ideally, wading birds would have hunted for their food. This pattern of construction is becoming prevalent throughout Tamil Nadu. The water bodies are not spared even when they dry up. They are then at the mercy of the sand mafia. Heavily gorged up ponds and lakes make poor environments for fish and other aquatic plant life as the rich top soil with nutrients are removed while excavating the sand. These ponds in the end become dead water bodies with little or no life.

Editor’s note: Kelambakkam and other backwaters around Chennai also face threats from local hunting. This photo post captures an incident of bird poachers being caught red-handed in Kelambakkam.

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