Abdul Wahab Khan | NT Staff Reporter
PANAJI: Sand dunes along the Miramar-Caranzalem stretch have been entirely destroyed and flattened due to human interference, with experts pointing out to careless attitude of the authorities in conservation of the sand dunes and warning against the Miramar beach turning into a sand-deficient beach.
The frequent visits to the beach by the tourists and locals have led to the flattening of the sand dunes. People destroy the dunes and the vegetation while walking down from the road to the beach stretch. As a result, the sand gets carried away with the wind and it poses a threat to motorists on the road near the beach.
Sand dunes are a significantly natural protective depositional landform and a very good hurdle that protects the inland environment from the damaging sea waves, surges, tsunamis and storms. The dunes also help in reducing the wind velocity. Erosion is a natural process wherein the sand dunes are worn away due to wind and storms, but after a storm, the dunes build up again over time. However, people erode the dunes when they visit the beaches and human activity can have a negative effect because it happens too regularly and the dunes are not given time to repair.
The Miramar beach extends about 4.5 kilometres southwards up to Caranzalem and terminates against the wooded hill slopes of Cabo promontory and the sand dunes formed are of low to medium height.
Experts have suggested that the authorities should adopt the Portugal model of protected dune system by constructing dune walkover with no direct footfalls landing on the sand dunes. They have suggested that the sand dunes along the Miramar coast be fenced.
A former National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) scientist Dr Antonio Mascarenhas, who has carried out an extensive research on sand dunes over a period of five years, told this daily that the entire dune coast of Goa needs urgent rehabilitation, particularly those stretches where the frontal pioneer dunes have been damaged due to human interferences. Continuous loss of sand throughout the year can offset the limit of equilibrium and can eventually turn Miramar into a sand-deficient beach, he said, adding that sand dunes of five metres in length came to the rescue of coastal inhabitants in Tamil Nadu during the tsunami of 2004 and villages located behind the dunes remained intact.
Dr Mascarenhas suggested that the dunes should be covered by erecting fences with a wire mesh of a minimum height of one metre. He suggested wooden or geo-textile fences perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing winds and fixing of dune plants wherever upper portions of the beach have no vegetation, which usually serves as a sand trap. “I have proposed to the government that sand dune parks be declared at various beaches including the Miramar beach. The proposal has been approved by the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) in principle,” said Dr Mascarenhas, who is also an expert member of the GCZMA.
Since the sand dunes are dynamic, geomorphologically fragile and ecologically sensitive, these geomorphic edifices have been classified as CRZ I under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification of 1991 restricting human activities, but there has been no strict enforcement of the CRZ regulation.
When reporter of this daily visited the Miramar beach, the sand dunes were found to be trampled upon and levelled to the ground for playing volleyball, organising events and making pathways. Moreover, vegetation, which is crucial to the survival and stability of the sand dunes was seen burnt at many dune patches and filled with dumped plastic waste.
In the past, the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) tried fencing the sand dunes but due to the lack of interest, the process did not continue for a longer period. A first ever experiment in the country to re-establish flattened sand dunes was conducted in April 2007 on the Miramar beach. The critical area constituted of a 160-metre long frontal beach strip, which is flat, bare, devoid of vegetation and hence, degraded. The area was fenced by the CCP with bamboo fencing at a minimal cost of Rs 38,000 for a period of one year, as a result of which well-formed dunes, about 70 cm in height and with a carpet of ‘ipomoea’ creepers were observed by August 2008.
“Unfortunately, the project was not taken up seriously as a result of which sand dune degradation continues till today and wind carries the sand and blows it towards the land,” Dr Mascarenhas said.
According to field observations made during the field research, Dr Mascarenhas has mentioned in his report that during windy days over the years, large quantities of fine sand are blown inland. This effect can be prominently felt up to the nearby school along the coast and as far as Tonca in the hinterland, and can be experienced by anyone as wind-borne sand grains often rise to the knee level. As a result, the Miramar roundabout and the road opposite the local school are covered by sand for most part of the year, creating dangerous road conditions for the traffic.
In the past, three such incidents were reported during monsoon in the years 1998, 2004 and 2008 whereby sand was carried away with wind moving at a speed of 25-60 km/hr thus spreading the sand across the traffic island.
“People have blatantly destroyed the sand dunes and burnt the vegetation, which acts as a first line of defence against coastal storms and beach erosion,” said Dr A G Untawale, a former scientist and assistant director, Biological Oceanography Division of the NIO. “Despite the warnings, neither the government nor people are prepared to conserve and protect the sand dunes,” he said.
According to him, the sand dune vegetation plays a key role in dune formation as it acts as wind breaker due to which wind is forced to drop sand along its path. “Vegetation on sand dune maintains biodiversity, this also providing habitat for microorganisms and animals. If natural vegetation is not allowed to grow on this beach, the sand will keep blowing on the road and pose danger to the traffic and human life,” Dr Untawale said.
While suggesting a management plan to protect and restore the sand dunes, the former NIO scientist said that the dunes should be fenced and declared as protected dune patch with no human interference. He also recommended that the government take up plantation of sand dune vegetation with proper zoning of the plantation. Untawale lamented that no public awareness has been carried out on importance of sand dunes.