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Coastal Water Quality

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Our Oceans and seas are crucial for sustainable development as they provide numerous economic, social and environmental benefits. Since the industrial revolution, the oceans and seas are facing a multitude of challenges caused by human activities such as overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution. in addition, climate change, inclusive of rishing sea temperature and ocean acidification are altering the marine ecosystems. Such ecological changes will have a negative impact on the oceans, the resources and the communities who depend on the oceans and seas.

Marine pollution is a global challenge for both the developed and developing countries. Economic development and population growth, much of it along the world’s coasts, and increasing agriculture and livestock production, industrial and municipal waste all contribute to marine pollution. Some of the marine pollutants end up in the marine environment and can cause harmful effects on aquatic species, human health through food web transfer, reduce biodiversity and productivity and depletion of the marine living resources. The global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050. The pressure to intensify agricultural output to cater for a growing population is likely to increase further. Agricultural sources of pollution, such as run-off of fertilizers and pesticides are a major threat to water quality. Coastal hypoxia is a complex problem as the low dissolved oxygen concentrations change the nutrient chemistry and exert severe stress on benthic and pelagic ecosystems. Additionally, there is a growing scientific evidence that ocean warming and acidification will impact marine ecosystems and the health of the oceans. The increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide will affect the ocean chemistry and hamper the life sustaining and regulating functions of the oceans.

India’s long coastline spans across nine maritime States and five Union territories including Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands. The coastal areas of India are densely populated and ~30% of its human population are dependent on the rich exploitable coastal and marine resources. However, the coastal waters are subject to a high rate of pollution due to population growth, settlements, rapid development of industries, expansion of harbors and ports, tourism related activities in the coastal zone. The disposal of municipal, industrial wastes and numerous recreational and commercial activities along the coast not only degrade the water quality but also pose a serious threat to marine biota, food chain and human health.

To identify the periodical changes in seawater quality, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) erstwhile the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) has been implementing a nationally coordinated research programme on "Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System (COMAPS)" since 1990 which is presently called "Sea Water Quality Monitoring (SWQM)" Programme.  The data generated under this program is probably the only long term dataset on the coastal water quality available in the country.

In addition to the regular SWQM program, an additional program was designed to understand the transport, dispersion and quantification of pollutants in the coastal waters and predict the pollution level based on the indicative water quality parameters like  i.e., temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, nutrients and pathogenic bacteria.The program aims at assessing the spatio-temporal variability of the coastal water quality and develop a prediction system with 5-day forecast for the benefit of beach goers and other coastal stakeholders.

The Marine Ecotoxicology program is being implemented to study the effects of toxic chemicals on biological organisms for pollution mitigation and regulatory measures for the sustainable maintenance of ecosystem or components of the ecosystem. Toxicity bioassay experiments are being conducted on marine organisms for priority chemicals like metals and organics. The data generated from the laboratory based experiments are used for deriving the numerical seawater quality criteria as ‘safe levels’ for the designated best use classes of the coastal and marine waters of the country.

The problems of marine debris or marine litter are now recognized internationally alongside other major global challenges facing the marine environment as it causes a wide spectrum of environmental, economic, human health and aesthetic problem. It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic waste are finding its way into the oceans each year. The  slow rate of degradation of most marine litter items, mainly plastics, together with the continuously growing quantity of the litter is leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea, on sea floor and on the shore posing a complex challenge.

 In the face of these challenges, the "Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below water" commits countries to be united over what is a truly global responsibility – the protection of our oceans and the lives that depend on it by significantly reducing marine pollution of all kinds.

In order to achieve the above, the following activities are being taken up

  • To monitor the coastal water quality and alert the government and other stakeholder on the status of coastal health.
  • To detect periodical changes in coastal water quality, predict pollution levels and provide real-time information of water quality and status of the coastal waters.
  • To develop  numerical model for the prediction of coastal water quality and dissemination of water quality information via web and mobile application.
  • Conduct coastal clean campaign for Indian beaches in line with the Coastal Clean Seas campaign of United Nations and Environment Agency (UNEA).
  • To develop Seawater Quality Criteria (SWQC) for coastal waters, waste disposal zones, fishing ports, harbours and ecologically sensitive habitats for protection of marine life.
  • Derivation of environmental quality indices through ecological risk assessment of metals in estuarine and coastal waters.

In addition to the above, NCCR is also conducting studies on Marine Litter and Microplastics. NCCR along with South Asia Co-operative Environment Program (SACEP) prepared a Country Report on Marine Litter -India which serves as a baseline report for further actions against marine litter in the country. The basic goal is to create a clean coastal seas and beaches by 2022.