New Delhi, September 25, 2017: What if we told you that our landmasses are shrinking and disappearing under water? The earth’s climate is rapidly changing and life is at risk. Human impact on the environment, which first began when our ancestors began to stalk and collect the natural resources. It is now of such intensity that it threatens to radically amend the planet’s ecology – its climate, water, air, and even life.
The highly-dramatized Hollywood fiction film ‘2012’ left deep impressions on our minds, opening us to the possibility of a possible catastrophe. Rising sea levels that submerge complete islands were thought of as a distant possibility of this apocalyptic future. But in the idyllic Indian subcontinent, it seems that the destruction is here already.
The ‘Disappearance’ of Parali I
A report by PTI in early September revealed that the Parali I island, a biodiversity-rich uninhabited island of the Lakshadweep archipelago, has completely vanished due to coastal erosion.
R M Hidayathulla, a PhD scholar from the Calicut University in Kerala, made the revelations in his study titled “Studies on Coastal Erosion in Selected Uninhabited Islands of Lakshadweep Archipelago with Special Reference to Biodiversity Conservation.”
“We can say Lakshadweep now is not an archipelago of 36 islands,” Hidayathulla was quoted as saying.
In the study, Hidayathulla assessed the biodiversity confining to five uninhabited islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago – Bangaram, Thinnakara, Parali I, II and III.
Parali I, part of the Bangaram Atoll, that stretched across 0.032 km2 in 1968, has now eroded to a 100 per cent extent thus, resulting in its complete inundation.
Hidayathulla, in his study, has further claimed that a general trend of erosion has been noticed in almost all islands that were studied. Thus, while we have already lost one island, another four stand at risk of similar inundation.
According to distinguished climate expert, Mr Chandra Bhushan, the research by Hidayathulla is one of the few studies carried in India to establish the erosion and complete inundation of an island.
“India’s coasts and islands, which are densely populated, are highly vulnerable,” told Mr Bhushan, who is currently associated with the Centre for Science and Environment as deputy director general.
The Ghoramara village in the Sunderban delta, West Bengal, was the first region of the Indian territory to face the brunt of the rising water levels. More than 50 per cent of the village was inundated in the mid-2000s.
— Debsuddha Banerjee (@Debshuddho_19) August 19, 2017
However, erosion of the Ghoramara was never paid much attention to by the media or the government as it was not of immediate economic interest to the larger population.
While Ghoramara continues to shrink and Parali I has already inundated, with another four islands expected to follow the route, our land masses are at risk. But the issue has remained largely ignored.
Reporter Soha Kala of NewsGram brings you an exclusive conversation with Mr Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi where he shares his insight about the fate of the world’s vanishing islands.
“Banishing of Parali I is just the beginning and
We are going to see much more devastation.
The US has just suffered two hurricanes and three are in line.
The Caribbean has been devastated. India has been
experiencing extremely bad weather. In such a scenario,
The media has been unable to understand and prioritize
the important issues of all times and, therefore, they are
not reporting them.”
Media coverage of the world’s vanishing islands’ plight has been comprehensive. Around the world and in a variety of languages, the tiny country Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and several others in the Pacific region have been a topic for discussion in the last few years.
These islands have become the poster child for the impact of the greenhouse effect and global warming, and have definitely provided a definite face to climate change and its repercussions. Journalists have extensively covered the story of Tuvalu’s sea-level rise. The inundation of the Solomon Islands also received due coverage with The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and The Washington Post being some of the media outlets that reported on the issue.
However, the Indian media is yet to take into account the fate of the Parali I island, with the attention paid to the issue ranging from scanty coverage to mere ignorance.
— Baptiste Gombert (@BaptisteGomb) August 1, 2017
“I think one of the reasons is because Parali I is an island somewhere in the Indian ocean- out of sight, out of mind. Parali I was not habituated, which means the absence of an economic interest. And, therefore, it has not been of much interest to the mainstream media,” believes Mr Bhushan.
Mr Bushan agrees that the question NewsGram is raising is absolutely important – Indian mainstream media seems to be losing sight of some of the most important issues of our time. Environment and climate change are one of them.
Why is Sea Level Rising?
Mr Bhushan asserts that the threat of rising sea levels has been previously drastically underestimated. The sea level continues to rise at more than 3 mm per year; a trend Mr Bhushan suggests is only going to hasten because of global warming.
“About two-thirds of the global warming is currently being absorbed by the oceans. As the water warms, it expands and therefore, the sea level rises”, he explained.
Additionally, as the temperatures continue on an upward trend, the glaciers and sea ice continue to melt, which normally increases the sea level.
“Global warming is going to continue and sea levels are going to rise because of the past carbon dioxide emissions, the current emissions and the future projected emissions. Even if we reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which is highly unlikely, we will see the temperature increase of about 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era”, believes Mr Bhushan.
This spiralling trend signals that the low-lying islands and coastal areas will be susceptible to inundation and some islands will vanish.
The list of which has already begun.
“There is a very clear prediction that some of the
important islands of Maldives are going to get
reduced in size or even completely inundated. Similar things
will happen in Lakshadweep as well as some parts of
Andaman. Also, Bay of Bengal and Sundarbans are
extremely vulnerable. In the worst case scenario, about a third
of Bangladesh will go down.”
The Key Drivers of Climate Change
The Earth is home to millions of species. But only one dominates it and i.e Humans.
Our attitudes, inventiveness and practices have a profound impact and have in fact, modified most parts of our planet. Looking at the current trend, it won’t be wrong to say that we are the drivers of several global problems the world is currently facing.
A research by the Australian National University (ANU) had revealed in February that humans are forcing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.
For the last 7,000 years, the principal forces to drive changes in the climate have been astronomical in nature – changes in the orbital parameters and the solar intensity, and the nature and activity of volcanoes. According to Professor Steffen of the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Climate Change Institute at ANU, these factors when combined drive a rate of change of 0.01 degrees Celsius per century.
However, “human-generated greenhouse gas emissions in the last 45 years have increased this rate of temperature rise to 1.7 degrees Celsius per century,” he said in an official report.
We are not implying that the damage by geological processes or the astronomical forces of the solar system has minimized. But, in comparison to their impact in a mere 45 year period, they are now negligible in comparison to the influence exercised by us.
Such is the destruction caused by humans and this does not cease to stop.
What Can Be Done To Save Our Islands From Vanishing?
Mr Chandra Bhushan believes humanity still has a chance to delay, if not prevent, catastrophic climate change, but time is rapidly running out.
During our conversation with him, the environmental expert highlighted the necessity to immediately undertake coastal and island protection measures- bio-protection being the first line of defense.
He asserted the importance of maintaining healthy mangroves and deciding against mindfully modifying the coastal areas.
Mangroves are known to reduce wave energy as waves travel through them; thus, a healthy practice would be to maintain at least 200 metres of mangrove belts between the embankment and the sea to protect the landmass from eroding.
While this may seem like a practical alternative against erosion, the mangroves themselves are susceptible to erosion when the soil under their root systems is destabilized by wave action.
To counter the damage, seawalls and other man-made protection measures have been built in some areas of the country- the most notable being the sea walls in Marine Drive and in Pudducherry.
These concrete structures called tetrapods have been used to reduce the impact of the sea. But if you think these are sufficient to help us wage a war against the strength of Nature, then you should probably reconsider your stand.
The tetrapods in Mumbai require to be replaced annually, or a certain area of the well gets inundated. Similarly, the rising water levels have been eroding the sea walls in Pudducherry as a result of which the walls are collapsing.
Mr Chandra Bhushan told our reporter Soha Kala that all these are temporary solutions till we address the fundamental issue of reversing the global warming. Without this, it will be a losing battle.
He suggested that we look at temporary short-term measures as well as long-term measures to counter the loss of land masses.
“The world today is talking about how to reduce
emission but reducing emission is not going to
You have to start talking about negative emission
– of sucking carbon dioxide from atmosphere and
storing it somewhere.”
Is there nothing that can save our islands from erosion and subsequent inundation?
“As I see, looking at the global trend right now, I am not very optimistic,” said Mr Bhushan.
While we are yet to witness the mainstream media tend to the inundation of Parali I, what is equally upsetting is to see no reaction from the government either.
“Climate change is the gangrene that the
world is facing right now. I tell this to everyone,
it is as if you have gangrene and the
governments are putting a bandage on it.
They are not thinking about surgery.”
We are currently facing a very grave crisis, the gravity of which has not been sufficiently recognized by the Central government which is yet to release any official statement on the issue. And Mr Bhushan agrees. He told NewsGram that as far as his information, the Indian Government, or for that matter, governments across the world are not serious enough- serious to the proportion of the crisis that we face.
Analyzing the current trend, Dr Bhushan said, “A number of areas will get devastated. I think the world will have to be ready for losses that we are going to face because of climate change.”