Ignatius Pereira , The Hindu, 26 May 2006
KOLLAM: Six years ago on the banks of Ashtamudi Lake at Thevalakara in Kollam district, the local people trapped and killed an average-sized crocodile. The incident was reported in the local pages of some newspapers. The crocodile was soon afterwards forgotten. But it could have well been the last of the saltwater crocodiles endemic to Ashtamudi Lake.
Senior citizens living on the banks of the lake recall that Ashtamudi Lake was home to crocodiles too. But, today there are none. They have gone completely extinct.
A comprehensive study being conducted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) since April will comprise a chapter not only on the saltwater crocodiles of Ashtamudi Lake but several other aquatic species of the lake that have now vanished. The purpose of the KSSP study is to create awareness at all levels concerned on the need to conserve Ashtamudi Lake.
As per records, Ashtamudi Lake is a 37 sq. km. expanse of a water body linked to the Arabian Sea through the estuary at Neendakara. The lake attracts both marine and freshwater species. In fact, the lake functioned as a junction where marine and freshwater species mingled through the medium provided by its brackish waters. The main purpose of this attraction was spawning. In the past, the vast expanse of mangrove forests that brimmed the banks of the lake provided the ideal location for spawning.
Thrust of the study
According to K.K. Appukuttan, chairman of the Academic Committee for the KSSP study, the thrust of the study would be one that does not propose to deny the traditional livelihood provided by the lake to the people who live around it. The final report of the KSSP would be submitted to the State Government and it will help in research and be used as a guideline while preparing schemes for the lake.
The study will cover topics such as the evolution of the lake, resources, species extinct and existing in the lake, environmental details, including water parameters sand and clay-mining, over-exploitation and depletion of resources, encroachment, destructive fishing methods and pollution, mangrove forests, impact of the Thenmala Dam, etc.
The study conducted so far notes that the local "thoopum padalam" method of illegal and destructive fishing that is being resorted to by people living along the banks of the lake can soon choke the lake into less than half its size within a couple of years. This method of fishing comprises dumping large quantities of fresh branches from trees into a big area along the banks of the lake. The branches look like an artificial mangrove forest and attract fishes for spawning.
However, these fishes are not only doomed but are unable to spawn. It means they are even denied the opportunity to create another generation of their kind. After two or three years of fishing in this manner, the area used for the purpose becomes muddy and highly polluted. This area is soon reclaimed by those who had used it and through this method the lake has alarmingly dwindled. This method of fishing is then shifted to another area in the lake.
The study also noted that following the construction of the Thenmala Dam, the salinity of the water has extended to almost 40 km. inland through the Kallada River to reach almost Enath.