Aquaculture in Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary and pollution, AP, India

What hides behind the beloved seasonal fish salad in our plates? The RAMSAR site of the Kolleru sanctuary is facing pollution and degradation due to large scale shrimp farming for export.


"This once glorious and picturesque freshwater body is now doomed to become a dead lake." [1]  Kolleru is one of Asia's largest freshwater lakes. It is located in Andhra Pradesh, and is a famous habitat for a number of resident and migratory birds, including the vulnerable grey pelican. Situated between the Godavari and Krishna river basins, it is an invaluable wetland ecosystem. The lake spans 90,100ha and the water shrinks or expands depending on the rains' many rivulets drain into the Kolleru and surplus waters run off into the Bay of Bengal. There are about 75 abutting villages who long co-existed harmoniously with the birds and resources of the lake. The government assigned lands in the lake area to Scheduled and Backward Castes, who used their areas for fish tanks and agriculture. During the 1970s the fishermen were encouraged to form co-operatives and loans were sanctioned for seasonal cultivation. Because of repeated floods, the banks and government encouraged them to convert agricultural land to fish ponds and tanks. In the early 1990s aquaculture boomed. The problem was that it needed saline water to flourish and borewells were sunk in the lake bed to pump out saline water for the aqua ponds. Consequently the lake bed and banks sank and the tides brought in more saline water. The aquaculture practice requires chemical fertilizers, manure and chicken waste. Once the harvest is over, the water stagnates and pollutes surrounding water. As a result, the drinking water of dozens of island villages has been polluted and the lake has undergone chemical and biological changes that have contributed to its depletion and pollution. The water has turned saline, fish are contaminated with pesticides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals have entered the lake, making fish and prawns unfit for human consumption. The degradation of the Kolleru has many implications for the weaker sections of the community. The poor blame the rich aqua farmers who were responsible for the shift from traditional freshwater fishing to saline prawn farming. It is ironic that the main problem is the dearth of drinking water in the neighbourhood of the largest freshwater lake in the country. [1] Four tonnes of fish died at the Atapaka bird sanctuary in 2015. Residents alleged Forest Department authorities were negligent in their management of the lake, while the Krishna district Deputy Director of Fisheries said fish deaths were due to decreased water levels and low dissolved oxygen levels. “Though the locals have been alerting the forest staff over the decreasing water levels from December, no measures have been taken for maintaining the water levels to ensure survival of the fish which are prey for migratory birds. In 2012, the lake huge quantities of fish were killed for similar reasons. But the officials, in a planned manner, have not taken preventive measures,” resident said Sita Mahalakshmi. [6]  Public conflict has been somewhat limited, with most coming in the forms of legal challenges. The lake has unlawfully been converted into a commercial fishing hub, but according to a Times of India report, there is limited local opposition. "It's not the locals but politicians and rich businessmen are involved in this activity. But fearing these political mafias, nobody is raising their voice to protest. Any government officer who would protest these illegal activities would be threatened, harassed and transferred by politicians," the newspaper reported a forest official from another district said on condition of anonymity. [3] There is conflict between conservationists and the local community over reducing the size of the lake - wildlife groups oppose the reduction, while residents support the government proposal. [4] Women and fishermen protested efforts to demolish a 607ha as part of 'Operation Kolleru'. [5]

Basic Data
NameAquaculture in Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary and pollution, AP, India
ProvinceAndhra Pradesh
SiteWest Godavari district
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe main issues concerning the lake are:

This fragile wetland/ estuarial system is under threat due to human interventions in the lake itself, in the 540,000ha upstream catchment area as well in the downstream Upputeru River estuary system;

Approximately 50 per cent of the lake area has been converted to fish ponds (42 per cent) and paddy fields (8 per cent);

86,000 ha of the surrounding agricultural land is prone to flooding due to the reduced storage capacity of the lake;

Pollution with pesticides, fertilisers, sewage and industrial waste, resulting in an excessive growth of weeds and hyacinth;

Straight-cut: Salt water intrusion due to reduced outflow and breached distributaries in the Upputeru River;

It is a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance). [2]
Project Area (in hectares)90,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population350,000
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh Forest Department

Environmental justice organisations and other supportersKolleru Fisherman Co-operative Society

Wetland International South Asia
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local government/political parties
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The waters and surrounding aquifers of Kolleru Lake continue to be polluted by aquacultural operations, while residents continue to resist moves by government to reduce the size of the lake.
Sources and Materials

Wildlife Protection Act of 1972

RAMSAR legislation


[1] Rama Rao, J., Jairath, Jasveen. and Umesh, p. 'Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary: Pollution through aqua culture', Water conflicts in India: A million revolts in the making, India, 2007.


[4] Working group to study Kolleru downsizing - November 2015
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Kolleru Lake biodata
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[3] 'Political mafia destroying Kolleru Lake' - June 2016
[click to view]

[6] Forest officials blamed for 'fishkill' in Kolleru - May 2015
[click to view]

[5] Protest delays Operation Kolleru - February 2006
[click to view]

[2] Geo-spatial technologies: Restoration of Kolleru Lake ecosystem
[click to view]

Other Documents

The Pelicanary at Atapaka Source: The Hindu, Photo. Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar.
[click to view]

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ContributorWater Conflict Forum
Last update16/09/2016