The Lakshadweep group of islands covering an area of 32 sq km has a total population of 64,429 as per 2011 Census, with a population density of 2,013 per sq km which is much higher than the national average of 382 per sq km. The main occupation of the people here is fishing, coconut cultivation and coir twisting. Tourism is an emerging industry and there is a need to promote tourism such that it is consistent with the rising ecological concerns.
Changing lifestyle coupled with population pressure is leading to an increased generation of sewage and solid wastes. It is also placing an enormous strain on the availability of freshwater, resulting in saline water ingress and contamination of the fresh water aquifer. Coastal erosion results in loss of land of these fragile realms. Maximum erosion observed over a period of 35-40 years was in the range 28 to 44 m in Lakshadweep.
The coral islands are considered an important ecological asset in terms of marine biodiversity. As many as 103 corals, over 695 species of fish including 300 varieties of marine ornamental fish are reported from these waters. Today, however, resource harvest from the lagoons have brought many reefs in the Lakshadweep under various degrees of stress. Developmental activities and land based pollutants have resulted in eutrophication, degradation of the lagoon and coral ecosystems.
Between 50,000 and 1,00,000 litres of untreated sewage waste is reportedly let into septic tanks or cesspools, which ultimately finds its way to the coastal waters. A commonly followed practice – most households construct soak pits for disposal of latrine waste. Owing to acute pressure on the land, the soak pits are considerably close to open wells. The soil being sandy and porous and the soak pits having been constructed rather unscientifically, amounts to faecal matter finding its way into the freshwater aquifers.
Solid wastes from households are dumped on the narrow shore line, behind each household. It is estimated that about 1.2 million litres of solid waste per day is generated at Kavaratti alone. The non-degradable solid wastes are dumped at one end of each island by the local bodies. In the absence of systematic sewerage system, the disposal of solid waste is a major concern.
Coral mining is a major threat to the marine ecosystem, along with destructive fishing activities, coastal development and pollution. Lakshadweep falls along the maritime route of middle east and south/south-east Asia for the passage of oil tankers, cargo vessels and passenger ships. Untreated waste dumped and waste oil discharged into the sea around the Lakshadweep group of islands by the vessels/tankers cause pollution. In the event of an oil spill it can cause havoc for the marine biodiversity. Few oil spill incidences occurring in the past have extensively damaged corals and associated fauna and the seagrass.
A study conducted by the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) in the islands of Kavaratti, Kadmat, Kiltan, Andrott, Agatti and Minicoy in the year 2004 has revealed that the coral reef system in the Lakshadweep Islands is facing a severe threat from oil-spillage and fuel discharge caused by an increase in the passage of vessels; and the number of generators being used by the islanders for power generation. A high concentration of heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, aluminium, zinc and vanadium has been recorded in the reefs here. The anti-fouling bottom paints used by boats contributed to the formation of toxic concentrations of tributyl tin and other harmful chemical compounds. Another study conducted by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), on the state of the environment of the union territory, has found that rising sea level and climate change are as much of a threat as human activities to the marine biodiversity and the associated ecosystems such as coastal lagoons, beaches, and sand dunes of Lakshadweep.
Fishing activities are reportedly generating nearly 2000 tonnes of waste, posing a health hazard for the islanders as well. The use of chemical detergents (cleaning and washing) and the application of artificial fertilisers and chemicals cause leaching of excessive nutrients into the lagoon resulting in eutrophication and smothering of corals. Plastic dumping is another hazard of increasing magnitude which kill sea turtles, crabs, shrimps and other crustaceans.
Strict laws need to be put in place to ban plastics, metals and batteries on the island. A foolproof liquid and solid waste management plan needs to be evolved and put in place for protecting and conserving the fragile lagoon and coastal marine ecosystems of the islands and their biodiversity.