A World Bank-supported geo-synthetic tube is under construction in Pentha, a coastal village in Odisha, India. (1) Pentha, with a population of around 50,000 fishermen, has experienced severe erosion over the past two to three decades (3). The project, funded through the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Programme, aims to protect Pentha against increased sea erosion, especially from cyclones. Cyclones in the area often cause sea surges between five to eight metres, with at least one instance of 11 metres recorded in 1999. Oceangraphic experts from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai (IIT) claim that climate change and rising sea levels have caused changes in the circulation of the sea, resulting in additional erosion and deposition of sand. (1) This tube will be the second geotube built in India; the first was a one-kilometre tube in West Bengal constructed in 2008. The Pentha geotube will contain sediment within a geotextile ‘sleeve’ and rest parallel to the coast, rising two feet above the sea. There are two additional shields against storms in Pentha: a mud and stone wall, and a natural mangrove. (1) Though scientists from IIT studied Pentha’s morphology and the wave patterns, as well as the sand’s moisture contents prior to the project’s start (1), the Odisha State Forest Department called a halt to the project in June, 2014, because of its failure to gain forest and wildlife clearance. A letter sent by the Rajnagar Mangrove forest division to the Water Resources Department requested suspension of construction until proper authorities could assess the impact. A Divisional Forest Officer from the Rajnagar Mangrove forest division stated that proper clearance is essential, as the construction will take place close to the Gahirmatha forest and marine sanctuary. If construction agencies do not stop their work, they will be in violation of the forest conservation act and wildlife protection act, which would result in penal action, according to the Rajnagar Mangrove forest division.
(2) A ‘green activist’ named Biswajit Mohanty spoke on the subject of the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, explaining that Pentha beach is a mass-nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles. Gahiramatha has been designated as a marine sanctuary since 1997 in order to protect these turtles. Mohanty claims the government is illegally building this geotube within the designated sanctuary area without proper permission from the forest department. (2) (4) Arttabandhu Mishra, another local environmentalist, claims this project treats a symptom, not a cause, while other activists point to rapid industrialization as the root of the problem; industrialization has severely decreased mangrove forests, which has allowed increased erosion.
Within 50 years the mangroves in Odisha have decreased from 1,000 square kilometres to 219 square kilometres, with 2.5 square kilometres lost annually due to industrialization. (4) Some additional concerns have been voiced that the government has not been spending the allocated 220 million Indian rupees for the project at a fast enough rate, which has forced local villagers to gather sandbags to plug holes in the current barriers. Others have criticised the project and suggested that funding should go towards additional mangroves and other ‘bio-shields’, instead. However, supporters of the project say that bio-shields are not enough, and claim the geotube will save more than 16,000 hectares of paddy field. (1)