Paper Brief Details

GS 3: Env : 18/11/18

  • 18/11/2018

Ganga waterway project cleared after overruling expert panel

  • India’s longest waterway project, one terminal of which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was made possible only after a high-power Committee of Ministers and senior officials from multiple Ministries overruled the recommendations of experts appointed by the Environment Ministry.
  • Plan to make stretches of the 2,500-km-long Ganga suitable for transporting containers, it decided to make navigable a 1,390-km stretch of the river between Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Haldia in West Bengal.
  • The project entails construction of 3 multimodal terminals (Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia); 2 intermodal terminals; 5 Roll On–Roll Off (Ro-Ro) terminal pairs; a new navigation lock at Farakka; assured depth dredging; an integrated vessel repair and maintenance facility; a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS); a River Information System (RIS); and ‘river training’ and river conservancy works.
  • The Rs.5,369 crore project is partly funded by the World Bank. However, to enable container barges and ships to carry at least 2,000 tonnes, the project requires the river bed to be dredged to enable a minimum draft of three metres along the river, as well as to make the river channel at least 45 metres wide.
  • Since early 2016, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), which is attached to the Union Shipping Ministry, have been at odds over whether this dredging required environmental clearance (EC).
  • This process involves a consultation with locals likely to be affected by the project and residing at locations along the river, where major constructions would be executed.

India gets its first dedicated elephant hospital

  • The result of a U.P. Forest Department and Wildlife SOS collaboration, the modern facility will treat treat injured, sick and geriatric elephants.
  • India’s elephants now have their first dedicated hospital near the Taj Mahal, complete with wireless digital X-Ray, laser treatment and dental X-ray facilities. The ‘jumbo’ hospital is the result of a collaboration between the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and conservation NGO Wildlife SOS.
  • The veterinary hospital has modern medical facilities for the treatment of elephants in distress, including thermal imaging, ultrasonography, hydrotherapy, tranquillisation equipment and quarantine.
  • Located near Agra, the facility is in the Farah block of Mathura, near the Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) run by Wildlife SOS.
  • In 2010, Wildlife SOS established the ECCC, which currently provides lifetime care for over 20 rehabilitated pachyderms, rescued from illegal captivity and circuses, where they were subjected to cruelty.

Carbon sinks

  • Wood density of forest trees indicates their capacity to store carbon.
  • A recent study published in Journal of Ecology found the density of trees in disturbed forests of eastern Amazonia was much less than the undisturbed forests.
  • This reflects the diminished ability of tress to function as carbon sinks.

Black kites :Threats

  • Black kites – birds of prey that are at home in concrete jungles – have a close association with people.
  • Studies show that they choose to live near areas of poor sanitation, thriving on associated small prey such as rodents and pigeons.
  • The raptors also accept pieces of meat tossed to them by religious Muslims for whom kite-feeding is a centuries-old ritual.
  • Yet, the main threats these birds face are human-made too: people sometimes collect kite chicks from nests for the illegal bird trade, while maintenance workers remove nests that pose a threat to electric wires or light poles
  • This ability of kites to discriminate between positive, neutral and negative human attitudes spells their urban success, said lead author Nishant Kumar.

Kerala flood opened the gates to invasive plants:Landslides, overflowing  rivers helped in spreading them

.Microplastics – a scourge stalks the sea

  • Asia’s voracious appetite for disposable plastics and poor waste management systems are devastating the marine environment
  • Using less, wasting more
  • Plastics are widespread in the marine ecosystem today, and countries across the globe are contributing to it. But several estimates suggest that Asia is the larger debris-producer. Even though the U.S. and Europe manufacture most of the plastic, Asia seems to be leading in marine debris because of its population density and poor waste management.
  • In a 2015, the researchers estimated that India had dumped 0.6 million tonnes of plastic into the ocean in 2010. China was the top dumper, while India ranked 12th and the US ranked 20th. This was despite the fact that Indians generated only around 0.34 kg of waste per person per day (ppd), while Americans threw away 2.58 kg ppd.
  • The problem was that India was mismanaging over 80% of its waste, while in the U.S. it was only 2%.
  • The impact of plastic debris on marine life is just emerging. The commonest way in which plastic hurts is entanglement. Fishing nets lost at sea, and plastic bags can trap fish and mammals, preventing them from swimming, foraging for food and mating.
  • In October 2011, CMFRI researchers on-board the research vessel FORV Sagar Sampada sighted a group of about 400 Olive Ridley turtles at sea, likely travelling towards their mass nesting sites on the Odisha coast. One of the turtles was entangled in a plastic buoy, while another had a plastic bag around its neck. While swimming, Olive Ridley turtles dive periodically to find food, but the plastic was preventing them from doing so. The ultimate fate of these turtles may be death by starvation.
  • The biggest culprit in entanglement is “ghost nets”. Ghost nets are nylon fishing nets that are either deliberately discarded, or lost. They remain in the water for years. Ironically, fisherfolk are not spared the impacts of plastic debris either.
  • A major problem they face when using stake nets – a vertical mesh in the water that intercepts fish and guides them to traps – is plastic litter. Bags, bottles and other items get caught in the net, reducing the catch. Fishermen throw the litter back into the sea.
  • In 2017, the Kerala government began a programme called Suchitwa Sagaram to prevent dumping of nets, and to bring back plastic litter as well. Fishermen can now sell their damaged nets in a buyback programme. Also, when nets trap litter, the fishermen bring it back to the shore. Until June this year, 28 tonnes of plastic was recovered and used for surfacing roads. Unfortunately, few such programmes exist in India.
  • If entanglement with plastic hurts marine species, so does ingestion.Plastic can block and perforate the digestive tract. This gives the animal a feeling of fullness, reduces its immunity and leads to starvation. Some of the earliest reports of this phenomenon come from large seabirds called Laysan Albatrosses in the North Pacific Ocean’s Midway Island.
  • Researchers found that up to 90% of the albatross chicks had plastic pieces in their stomach. Adult albatrosses normally collect floating fish eggs from the ocean’s surface and regurgitate them to feed their chicks. But by the eighties, albatrosses were also plucking bottle caps and cigarette lighters out of the sea, and their chicks were gorging on them.
  • The researchers found no obvious health effects in chicks which ate little plastic, but those which ate over 150 gm had partially blocked digestive systems.
  • If large birds eat larger plastic pieces, small fish tend to swallow microplastic: particles measuring less than 5 mm, which large plastic disintegrates into. Microplastics settle in phytoplankton, or the microscopic organisms at the base of the marine food chain. So, phytoplankton-eating fish are at risk.
  • CMFRI researchers have found such particles in the guts of anchovies and sardine. These fish are filter feeders: they eat by keeping their mouth open, so that phytoplankton in the flowing water is trapped in filter-like structures called gill-rakers.
  • In one experiment, algae, which are at the base of the food chain, were not able to photosynthesise efficiently when exposed to 20 nanometre polysterene beads. Higher up in the food chain, mussels, when fed microplastics in a lab, developed a type of inflammation called granuloma, and grew slower than usual.
  • Still higher, the Japanese Medaka, a fish species, has been shown to suffer from liver stress when it ingests marine microplastics. In the experiment, the researchers fed the fish three types of food – regular food, virgin microplastic and microplastic that had been left in the San Diego bay for three months.
  • The researchers found that marine microplastics had higher levels of pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls than the virgin ones. Further, when the fish were fed all three feeds, the ones that ate plastic ended up with liver damage.

What next?

  • Microplastics are more abundant in the water. Yet, few countries, including India have policies to minimise microplastic waste. Most Indian bans focus on large plastics.
  • What’s the best way to target microplastics? synthetic clothing was the largest contributor, given that each garment shed over 1900 fibres per wash. Yet, the U.S. plans to phase out microbeads in cosmetics by 2019, but has no policy on clothing yet.