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Report of the Committee of Experts

on Ecological and Environmental

Impact of Dredging at Vaduthala Kayal
and Vaikam Kayal, Kerala

Submitted to

The Government of Kerala,


Dr. K. Ravindran
Dr. K.K. Appukuttan
Dr. V.N. Sivasankara Pillai
Dr. M.R. Boopendranath


0. Executive summary
1. Introduction
2. Background
3. Information sources
4. Area proposed for dredging
5. Dredging techniques and operational practices proposed to be used
6. Impact of suction dredging on water quality, benthic habitat, and biota
6.1 Suspended sediments and turbidity
6.2. General effects of increased suspended solids and turbidity levels
6.3 Effect of resuspension
6.4 Toxicity of mobilized sediment constituents
6.4.1 pH
6.4.2 Turbidity
6.4.3 Nutrients
6.4.4 Heavy metals
6.5 Removal of benthic species and communities
6.5.1 Entrainment
6.5.2 Recovery of benthic communities following dredging activities
6.6 Organic matter and nutrients
6.7 Contaminated sediments
6.8 Settlement of suspended sediments
6.9 Changes to hydrodynamic regime and geomorphology
7. Fishery resources
7.1 Studies on effect of dredging done elsewhere
8. Livelihood issues
9. Conservation of black clam resources of the Vembanad Lake
10. Conclusions
11. Recommendations
12. References

1. Report on Sediment analysis
2. Photographs

0. Executive Summary
Shell deposits in the proposed area lies roughly between 3m to 8m from
the estuarine bottom. Overburden is about 3m to 6 m. Deep dredging
operations required for mining the shell deposits will have impact on
benthic community in the area of dredging. The impact of increased
suspended solids, turbidity levels and nutrients is seen in near-field (< 1
km) from the dredging location which do not constitute an hazard. The
impact of dredging is observed to be localized. The recovery of the benthic
community is expected to take place within 1.5 to 3 years, after
completion of the dredging activity. As regards heavy metals, impact of
contaminated sediments was observed to be minimal, as no major
industrial establishments have been historically operating in the
dredging area. This is substantiated by the present observations in the
Vaikam Kayal. Hydrographic studies at dredging site have revealed that
turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, nutrients, heavy metals etc. do not
shootup to a hazard level and in most cases the parameters are at
normal level as for a dynamic estuary. In view of this, dredging could be
permitted with a proper environment management plan.

Good environmental management practices are recommended while
pasturing on new areas: Formulation of an environment management
plan and implementation of an environment monitoring plan. Base line
status of the diversity and population of biota of economic significance in
the proposed dredging site is to be determined. Monitoring of the area
and immediate environs spanning about 1 km upstream and
downstream may be arranged under the supervision of competent
persons, during the pre-dredging, dredging and post-dredging periods if
dredging operations continue for months.

Livelihood alternatives may be provided for fishermen dependent on the
dredged area and immediate environs, affected by dredging. The major
impact is on the livelihood of persons and families (project affected
persons - PAP) who are depending on the site for livelihood: fishing, clam
harvest etc. The proponents have to identify PAPs and formulate a plan
to rehabilitate them during the impact period. Affected stakeholders to be
made beneficiaries for mussel culture, cage culture, ornamental fish
culture, sea weed culture and freshwater and brackishwater fish culture;
value addition to fish products, under Kerala government schemes.

Measures for conservation of clam beds are given in the Report.


1. Introduction

Government of Kerala constituted a 4-member Commission of Experts, as below, to
study the impact of ecological and environmental impact of dredging at Vaduthala Kayal
and Vaikam Kayal in Vembanadu backwaters, Kerala by Travancore Cements Ltd.,
Nattakom, Kottayam, 686013, vide G.O.(Rt) No. 454/05/2005/ID dated 07.05.2005 and
G.O.(Rt) No. 606/2006/ID dated 16.06.2006:

1. Dr. K. Ravindran
(formerly Director, Central Institute of Fisheries
Technology, Cochin and currently UGC Visiting
Professor, School of Industrial Fisheries, CUSAT)
2. Dr. K.K. Appukuttan
(Principal Scientist & Head, Molluscan Division,
Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Cochin)
3. Dr. V.N. Sivasankara Pillai
(formerly Prof. & Head, School of Environmental
Sciences, and currently Honorary Director, School of
Rural Development and Appropriate Technology,
4. Dr. M.R. Boopendranath
(Principal Scientist, Central Institute of Fisheries
Technology, Cochin)
Member Secretary

2. Background

The Travancore Cements Limited (TCL), a state public sector undertaking located
at Nattakom, Kottayam District is engaged in manufacture of white cement, from 1959.
The company directly employs 600 people. The TCL started production in 1947 as
private sector undertaking with technical expertise given by M/s FL Smidth & Co.,
Denmark for producing grey cement. TCL became a state-owned public sector
undertaking in 1989. The main raw material used for cement production by TCL is lime
shell, which is dredged out of Vembanad backwaters. The required lime shell is dredged
from the Vembanad Lake by using dredgers owned by the company. The yearly
production capacity of grey cement was 50,000 t and the total requirement of lime shell
was around 80,000 t. From 1959 onwards, TCL started production of white cement. Grey
cement production was completely stopped in 1975, due to escalation in cost of raw
material. Production capacity for white cement was 30,000 t per year. This is reportedly
the only cement manufacturing industry in the country using lime shell as raw material.
The white cement made out of lime shell is considered to be highly durable and superior
in quality, due to absence of magnesium oxide. This product enjoys good reputation in
the county.

TCL is using wet process technology which has production cost higher than dry
process cement production technology used by competitors. There are also no
competitive alternative sources of raw material available for white cement production by
TCL. The required quantity of lime shell was obtained by dredging at reasonable cost and
the company was running on profit until 2000. Subsequently, due to competition from
other white cement manufacturers and insufficient supply of lime shell, the company
started incurring loss and diminished production.

TCL dredges lime shell from the Vembanad Lake where mining lease is given by
the Government of Kerala. It is sanctioned by government after getting clearance from
the Departments of Revenue, Fisheries and Irrigation and on the basis of detailed mining
plan approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines. Company can hold up to 1,000 hectares in
the lease hold. Due to proximity, Company was working during the last many years in
Kumarakaom area. As there is practically no dredgeable lime shell deposit in
Kumarakom, dredging has to be shifted areas like Vaduthala, where deposits are known
to be available. TCL is having mining lease for 200 hectares in Vaduthala from 1985
onwards. It is estimated that there is around 5 lakh tonnes of lime shell deposit in this 200
ha area. Out of the 200 has under leasehold, only 100 ha is valid now, which is in Sy. No.
98/1 in Chertala Taluk. The total estimated deposit in this area is 2 lakh tonnes which will
be sufficient for 5 years working of the company. Yearly requirement of lime shell for
white cement production by TCL is around 40,000 t.

The availability of requisite raw materials is normally the determining factor in
the location of a cement factory. The process of cement making is flexible in terms of
raw materials that can be used to achieve required chemical compositions. However, this
poses considerable obstacles while considering the quality requirements of superior grade
white cement. The Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Limited (FACT),
Udyogamandal has bulk quantities of gypsum, the hydrated calcium sulphate which is a
byproduct of phosphoric acid production. The gypsum generation is about 3 lakh tonnes
per year and the stock in yard is around 30 lakh tonnes. Chemical analysis on dry dry
basis reveals: Total Calcium Sulphate 95 % wt.; Total P
5 1.05 %
wt.; Fluorine as F
0.32 % wt.; Chloride as Cl ND.; Balance Silica, iron, Alumina etc. TCL may consider
utilization of gypsum in their works through an R&D Project entrusted to a suitable
research establishment in the field.

There is uncertainty in the production of white cement by TCL because of
hindrance in the supply of the raw material, lime shell. The Company currently procures
lime shell from co-operative societies and individual fishermen at open market price,
from the Kumarakom area. The supply is far below the requirement of the company
despite spending more money on procurement. The TCL is unable to the begin dredging
operations in the shell bearing area under lease hold in Vaduthala area, due to opposition
from the local people. If this issue is solved, according to the Company sources, TCL
could resort to dredging which would not only reduce the raw material cost by 50 per
cent but ensure a consistent supply channel. Local fishermen, opposed dredging
operations on the ground that it would destroy the delicate and vulnerable ecosystem of
Vembanad Lake. It was in this context, that a four-member Commission was appointed
by the State Government to study the issue and the company may wait until the
submission of the report for deciding on their future course of action.

The Commission had five sittings in the CUSAT and had a session with Shri V.
Dhinakaran, Ex-MLA and General Secretary, Dheevara Sabha along with his nine
Member Team and two meetings with Shri Charles George, President, Kerala
Matsyathozhilali Aikyavedu, TUCI. The Commission visited dredging areas of
Vaduthala Kayal and Vaikam Kayal three times during the course of the study for field
measurements and samplings.

3. Information sources

Information sources for this study are mainly the following:

(i) Report on the investigation of lime shell deposits in Vembanad Lake , Alleppey
and Kottayam Districts. 1978. N. J anardhana Iyer, Geologist on Deputaion, TCL,
(ii) Report of the Technical Committee to look into the problems arising out of
dredging in the Vembanadu lake, 23 November 1985, submitted to the
Government of Kerala
(iii) Research papers on lime shell fisheries of Vembanad Lake
(iv) EIA Reports, Research and Technical papers pertaining to the impact of dredging
on ecology and environment.
(v) Field data collected and analyzed.

4. Area proposed for dredging

Revenue Survey Number of the mining lease is 90/1 and the area is 100 ha of kayal
purampokku, now under lease area of the TCL. The lease area is lying NW-SE, in
between Purumbalam Island and Arookutty, as part of Vembanad Lake lying in the NW
part of Alappuzha District. The NW boundary of the lease area is 600 m away from the
tip of Arookutty, the NE boundary is 50 m away from the northern tip of Perumbalam
Island, the SW boundary is 800 m away from the northern tip of Perumbalam Island, the
SW boundary is 800 m away from the Panavally J etty and SE boundary is 500 m away
from the Perumbalam J etty (Fig. 1).

The water column is very high in the western boundary of the lease area and is
about 4.6 m called as chaal, whereas it is very shallow (0.5 m) at the eastern boundary.
The chaal is used for transportation purpose mainly for steel barges to transport furnace
oil, etc. The clayey sand overburden is maximum at the eastern part of the shell bearing
area because of the considerable deposition from the adjacent area and erosion from the
Perumbalam Island. There are boat services from Poothotta to Panavally and from
Perumbalam to Panavally run by State Water Transport Corporation. These boat chaal is
at the southern and western boundaries of the lease area. The water column will rise and
fall by 0.9 m - 0.6 m due to tidal effect.

There are shell deposits on the northern and western portion of the lease hold
(which is almost one-fourth of the total area) but the maximum shell deposits are at
eastern and southern parts of the survey area (Fig 2). There are about 40 stake nets
(owned by fishermen) lying within the lease boundary and five Chinese dip nets are in
the eastern portion of the shell bearing area.

5. Dredging techniques and operational practices deployed

TCL uses cutter suction dredger, which has a pumping capacity of 2,500
gallons/minute. There will be 20 % solids in the dredged material and out this 30-50 %
will be lime shell. The entire dredged material is pumped by a 200 hp engine driven
pump through a rotating filtering unit, which separated lime shell from sand, clay, and
water contained in the dredged material. The clean shell is discharged to the barge which
is transported to the factory. The clay, sand and water from the filter fall back to dredged
canal. Company has got 6 barges of 60 t capacities for transportation of lime shell from
the dredger. The trenches formed due to dredging get more or less leveled with the clay
and discharges from the filtering unit. The canal portion gets deepened only to the
volume of lime shell removed. The operation of TCL dredger is limited to 20 ha per year
and the daily operation is proportionally limited to a few cents only.



6. Impact of suction dredging on water quality, benthic habitat, and biota

The potential environmental effects of suction dredging are generally two-fold,
firstly as a result of the dredging process itself and secondly as a result of the disposal of
the dredged material. During the dredging process effects may arise due to the excavation
of sediments at the bed, loss material during transport to the surface, overflow from the
dredger. The extent to which dredging might effect the environment is highly varied and
site specific, depending upon a number of factors:

Magnitude and frequency of dredging activity.
Method of dredging and disposal.
Channel size and depth.
The size, density and quality of the material.
Background levels of water and sediment quality, suspended sediment and
Tidal range.
Current direction and speed.
Rate of mixing.
Seasonal variability and meteorological conditions, affecting wave conditions and
freshwater discharges.
Presence and sensitivity of animal and plant communities (including birds,
sensitive benthic communities, fish and shellfish).

The potential impacts of dredging and disposal have been discussed in following:
IADC/CEDA (1998), ICE (1995), PIANC (1996) and others. Short-term increases in the
level of suspended sediment can give rise to changes in water quality which can effect
marine flora and fauna, both favourably and unfavourably, such as increased turbidity
and the possible release of organic matter, nutrients and or contaminants depending upon
the nature of the material in the dredging area. Settlement of these suspended sediments
can result in the smothering or blanketing of benthic communities and/or adjacent
intertidal communities. The impact of dredged material disposal largely depends on the
nature of the material (inorganic, organically enriched, contaminated) and the
characteristics of the disposal area.

The evaluation of the environmental effects of dredging and disposal must take
account of both the short-term and long-term effects that may occur both at the site of
dredging or disposal (near field) and the surrounding area (far field). The IADC and
CEDA (1998) have provided the temporal and spatial scales in which various
environmental effects of dredging might be realized (Table 4). Near field effects are
simply defined as phenomena occurring within the geographic bounds of the activity, or
less than approximately 1 km from the activity, and far field effects as occurring more
than approximately 1 km from the activity'. However, other sources suggest that caution
should be used when adopting an arbitrary distance to distinguish between near and far
field effects, due to the site-specific nature of the potential effects that arise from

In addition to the environmental effects that may occur as a direct result of
dredging and disposal activities, impacts also may occur as a result of the physical
changes to bathymetry and hydrodynamic processes that dredging makes. These effects
are listed in Table 1 (IADC/CEDA 1998).

Table 1. Timespace matrix of potential effects associated with dredging and dredged material
disposal (IADC/CEDA 1998)

Environmental Effects
Environmental Effects
Smothering/removal of organisms
Reduced water quality
None generally expected
Environmental Effects
(<1 week)

Smothering of organisms
Reduced water quality
Acute chemical toxicity
Offsite movements of chemicals by
physical transport
Disturbance by shipping traffic
Removal of contaminated sediment
None generally expected
Environmental Effects
(>1 week)
Altered substrate type
Altered community structure
Chronic chemical toxicity
Offsite movements of chemicals by
physical transport and/or biota

Potential effects from dredging and disposal may include alterations to estuarine
morphology, sediment pathways and changes to siltation patterns, which may affect
habitats and species; and alterations to water currents. Some potential effects of dredging
are discussed below:

6.1 Suspended sediments and turbidity
When dredging and disposing of non-contaminated fine materials in estuaries and
coastal waters, the main environmental effects are associated with suspended sediments
and increases in turbidity. All methods of dredging release suspended sediments into the
water column, during the excavation itself and during the flow of sediments from hoppers
and barges. In many cases, the locally increased suspended sediments and turbidity
associated with dredging and disposal is obvious from the turbidity plumes which may
be seen trailing behind dredgers or disposal sites.

Increases in suspended sediments and turbidity levels from dredging and disposal
operations may under certain conditions have adverse effects on marine animals and
plants by reducing light penetration into the water column and by physical disturbance
(Anon, 1997; IADC/CEDA 1998).

6.2. General effects of increased suspended solids and turbidity levels

Increased suspended sediments can affect filter-feeding organisms, such as
shellfish, through clogging and damaging feeding and breathing equipment (Brehmer
1965; Parr et al., 1998). Similarly, young fish can be damaged if suspended sediments
become trapped in their gills and increased fatalities of young fish have been observed in
heavily turbid water (Wilbur 1971). Adult fish are likely to move away from or avoid
areas of high-suspended solids, such as dredging sites, unless food supplies are increased
as a result of increases in organic material (Anon, 1997 Research R701 1997).

Increases in turbidity results in a decrease in the depth that light is able to
penetrate the water column which may affect submerged plants, by temporarily reducing
productivity and growth rates (Parr et al., 1998).

In many estuaries background turbidity levels are high (Parr et al., 1998).
Organisms in these environments are able to tolerate continuous exposure to high
suspended sediment concentrations, for much longer than would occur in most dredging
operations (IADC/CEDA 1998; Peddicord & McFarland 1978; Stern & Stickle 1978).
Marine plants and animals living in areas where the waters are normally clear may be
especially vulnerable to the effects of increased suspended sediments.

The degree of resuspension of sediments and turbidity from dredging and disposal
depends on four main variables (Pennekamp & Quaak 1990), viz., (i) the sediments being
dredged (size, density and quality of the material), (ii) method of dredging (and disposal),
(iii) hydrodynamic regime in the dredging and disposal area (current direction and speed,
mixing rate, tidal state), and (iv) the existing water quality and characteristics
(background suspended sediment and turbidity levels).

In most cases, sediment resuspension is only likely to present a potential problem
if it is moved out of the immediate dredging location by tidal processes (Bray et al.,
1997). In general, the effects of suspended sediments and turbidity are generally short
term (<1 week after activity) and near-field (<1km from activity).

Balchand and Rasheed (2000) who assessed the short-tem environmental impacts
of dredging in the Cochin estuary indicated that only transient changes occur mainly
during the time of dredging. They opined that precipitating or long acting perpetual
fluctuations are time-bound reversible and are environmentally acceptable. The estuary
being variant in hydrographic features, adds significance to this study in regulating the
short-term impacts.

6.3 Effect of resuspension

During dredging process the shell is recovered by washing down the dredged material.
Sand and other heavier particles settle immediately at the washing site which is only 6-
10 m from the suction head. The shell volume varies from 5- 10 % of the dredged
material. This wash debris slides back into the dredged trench thus leveling it to small
extent. Particles less than 100 microns migrate in the direction of current. Depending on
the magnitude of the current, particles finer than 100 microns settle slowly while particles
less than 2 microns do not settle under natural conditions and causes a mild turbidity in
the whole water column. This usually affects the passage of light through the water
column only mildly as indicated by Secchi Disc measurements. In strong currents
particles above100 microns are also mobilized due to turbulence. To delineate the
migration of suspended solids and their settling characteristics and consequential effects
on surrounding water body of the dredging site samples were collected with spatial and
temporal distribution upto 1.6 km. The results are presented in Table 2

Table 2. Details of Stations and Test results Date: 12.01.2006
Parameters Stn1 Stn2 Stn3 Stn4 Stn
GIS position 9 4219 N
76 2235 E

9 4238N
762227 E

9 4341 N
76 2233 E
9 4439 N
76 2243 E
9 x

1 m
Time of sampling,h 1155 1235 1315 1345 144
Temp. C Atmos 31.5 30.0 31.0 32.0 33.
Surface C 28.5 28.5 30.5 31.5 31.
Bottom C 29.5 28.0 30.0 31.0 31.
Depth of water column, cm 4.50 4.50 4.35 5.0 6.0
Turbidity, cm 30.0 60.0 77 90 76.
Water current, cm s

and direction (degree)

Surface 10; 358 9; 285 9;250 10; 010 35;
Middle 12; 340 11; 015 17; 050 10; 280 29;
Bottom 4; 080 10; 015 18; 315 10; 330 20;
Dissolved oxygen, ml l

Surface 6.2 5.8 6.4 - -
Bottom 6.0 6.2 5.4 6.8
Salinity, ppt
Surface 0.000 0.391 0.572 0.933
Bottom 0.391 0.391 0.572 0.933 0.2

Surface 7.15 6.99 7.14 6.92 -
Bottom 7.07 6.40 7.05 7.03 6.9
Sediment 7.34 6.26 6.74 6.09 7.2
Turbidity, NTU
Surface 12 10 8 7 -
Bottom 12 80 10 9 9
Phosphorous, ppm Surface 0 0.037 0.010 0.030
Bottom 0.100 0.045 0.140 0.165 0.1
Nitrite, ppm
Surface 0.015 0 0.03 0 -
Bottom 0.015 0.04 0.045 0.02 0
Toxic elements in water
Fe, ppm
Surface 0.395 0.087 0.067 0 -
Bottom 0.115 0.040 0.011 0 0.0
Cu, ppm
Surface 0.004 0.006 0.003 0.007 -
Bottom 0.014 0.005 0.007 0.007 0.0
Pb, ppm
Surface 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 -
Bottom 0.26 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.0
Zn, ppm
Surface 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 -
Bottom 0.065 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.0

Cd, ppm
Surface 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 -
Bottom 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.0
Toxic elements in sediments
Fe, ppm 48540 83422 47740 41280 405
Cu, ppm 61.75 60.66 48.87 26.00 26.
Pb, ppm 21.91 37.81 17.95 16.00 13.
Zn, ppm 87.65 127.28 76.80 48.00 42.
Cd, ppm 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.0

Particle size analysis of
sediment (separately given)

Station 1 Dredging site, Southern end of marked area for dredging
Station 2, 3 and 4 approximately 1mile [1.6 km], 2 mile and 3 mile apart from the
dredging site towards northern side.
Station 5: 1 mile south of the dredging area

It was observed that 95 % of the TSS settles within 60 min at the zone of dredging
and at the vicinity of dredging. This becomes very near to 100 % at 1.6 km indicating that
the sediment has only negligible concentration of particles less than 2 (microns). Under
moderate conditions of water current particles from 2 200 microns may be mobilized.
However, the expanding cone of dilution renders its impact negligible.
During the rainy season, the natural turbidity as well as velocity of flow are fairly
high and dredging has only negligible cumulative effect. During the transitional season
and lean months tidal effect increases salinity. As salinity increases settling of suspending
solids becomes faster as the electrostatic effect offsets the density effect on the
sedimentation of finer particles. In conclusion it is inferred that the physical effect of
dredging on the quality of adjoining water body is minor and limited to the immediate
vicinity. This minor impact cannot be further amended since it is due to the natural
forces. The impact would be slightly different depending upon the chemical composition
and distribution of particle size of dredge sediment.

6.4 Toxicity of mobilized sediment constituents
6.2.1 pH. The pH in the water body in the sampled site varied from 7.0 to 7.3 which is
normal. This range does not exert any adverse impact on the biodata.
6.2.2 Turbidity. [A measure of total suspended solids]
Dredging usually affects turbidity of water column by forced re-suspension of material
only near the bottom of the dredging site where abnormal turbidity is observed. In the
surface waters it is below 12 NTU and reduces to 7 at a radial distance of 1.6 km. It is
concluded that the sediment effect is predominant at the bottom of the dredging site.
6.2.3 Nutrients.
Phosphorous and Nitrogen are two nutrient constituents which are critical in primary
productivity. Both these constituents are found at very low concentrations(0 to 0.14 mgl

for phosphate and 0 to 0.045 mg l
in the case of nitrogen. The water body is
oligotrophic at the time of this study. Dredging does not alter the trophic status.
6.2.4 Heavy metals.
One of the predictable impact of dredging is mobilization of toxic heavy metals from the
sediments. Five heavy metals were investigated of which iron is found in the highest ratio
in the sediment (table 3). Copper and Lead have moderate presence in the sediment
whereas Cadmium is not detected. Mobilization of heavy metals in the soluble form in
water was also investigated. The results are given in Table. It is found that all except iron
are far below the risk-based concentration levels permitted even in potable water.

6.5 Removal of benthic species and communities

During all dredging operations, the removal of material from the seabed also
removes the animals living on and in the sediments (benthic animals). With the exception
of some deep burrowing animals or mobile surface animals that may survive a dredging
event through avoidance, dredging may initially result in the complete removal of
animals from the excavation site.

Sorting and re-deposition of substrata moved through a dredge were expected to
alter the estuarine geomorphology and create "dredge piles" downstream of the dredges.
This type of physical disturbance of benthic substrata generally reduces periphyton
standing crop, and macroinvertebrate density. Thus, substrata moved through the dredge
were expected to support less periphyton than substrata in undisturbed areas of the river
(Peterson 1996). Abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrates also were expected to be
sharply reduced in dredged areas, as physical tumbling of substrata is known to kill
and/or dislodge associated organisms (Resh et al., 1988), in addition to reducing the
available food base.

6.5.1 Entrainment

Entrainment is theaccumulation or drawing in of substrate material and aquatic
organisms by current, such as at a nozzle intake. While adult fish did not show a
sensitivity to entrainment it is unlikely that they would be sucked into a dredge in the first
place. They have the ability to avoid entrainment in a suction dredge by moving to a safer
location. All of the investigators who examined the impacts of suction dredges on adult
fish concluded that this life stage was not acutely affected. Molluscs could suffer
mortality during entrainment (Harvey et al., 1995).

6.5.2 Recovery of benthic communities following dredging activities

Certain marine species and communities are more sensitive to disturbance from
dredging than others. The recovery of disturbed habitats following dredging ultimately
depends upon the nature of the new sediment at the dredge site, sources and types of re-
colonising animals, and the extent of the disturbance (ICES 1992). In soft sediment
environments recovery of animal communities generally occurs relatively quickly and a
more rapid recovery of communities has been observed in areas exposed to periodic
disturbances, such as maintained channels.

A review of dredging works in coastal areas world-wide showed that the rates of
recovery of benthic communities following dredging in various habitats varied greatly
(Nedwell & Elliot 1998; Newell, Seiderer & Hitchcock 1998) (Table 2)

Table 3. Recovery of benthic communities following dredging activities

Location Habitat type Recovery time
Coos Bay, Oregon Disturbed Muds 4 weeks
Gulf of Cagaliari,
Channel muds 6 months
Mobile Bay, Alabama Channel muds 6 months
Goose Creek, Long
Lagoon muds >11 months
Klaver Bank, North
Sands-gravels 1-2 years
Chesapeake Bay Muds-sands 18 months
Lowestoft, Norfolk Gravels >2 years
Dutch coastal waters Sands 3 years

Recovery rates were most rapid in highly disturbed sediments in estuaries that are
dominated by opportunistic species. In general, recovery times increase in stable gravel
and sand habitats dominated by long-lived components with complex biological
interactions controlling community structure.

These findings are supported by studies of Stickney & Perlmutter (1975) in the
Georgia Estuary system, USA, which suggest that maintenance dredging has only a short
term effect on the animal communities of the silt and clay sediments. Although almost
complete removal of organisms occurs during dredging, recovery begins within 1 month
and within 2 months the communities were reported to be similar to pre-dredge
conditions. Other studies suggest that dredging impacts are relatively short term in areas
of high sediment mobility (Hall et al., 1991). Complete recovery of benthic animals in a
channel in the estuarine Dutch Wadden Sea occurred within 1 year of the removal of
sediments from this highly mobile sand environment (Van der Veer et al., 1985). Since
the study area lies in tropical estuarine area, recovery time after dredging can be
reasonably be expected to be a year or less.

Results of the field study conducted at Vaikam Kayal are presented in Table 3.

6.6 Organic matter and nutrients

The release of organic rich sediments during dredging or disposal can result in the
localized removal of oxygen from the surrounding water. Depending on the location and
timing of the dredge this may lead to the suffocation of marine animals and plants within
the localized area or may deter migratory fish or mammals from passing through.
However, it is important to stress that the removal of oxygen from the water is only
temporary, as tidal exchange would quickly replenish the oxygen supply. Therefore, in
most cases where dredging and disposal is taking place in open coastal waters, estuaries,
bays and inlets this localized removal of oxygen has little, if any, effect on marine life
(Bray et al.,1997). However, despite the temporary nature of the effect, if oxygen
depletion were to occur during important life stages of sensitive species in the estuary and
bay habitats, the effects could be adverse.

The re-suspension of sediments during dredging and disposal may also result in
an increase in the levels of organic matter and nutrients available to marine organisms.
This can result in two main effects. In certain cases, such as environments adapted to low
nutrient conditions or sensitive to the effects of eutrophication which can simply be
described as nutrient enrichment leading to the formation of algal blooms. These blooms
can reduce the surrounding water quality by causing the removal of oxygen as the blooms
break down or occasionally by the release of toxins which may disturb marine wildlife.
The potential formation of algal blooms in coastal and estuarine areas is generally limited
by high turbidity levels and tidal flushing (Anon, 1997). In other cases, increased organic
material, nutrients and algal growth may provide more food for zooplankton and higher
organisms, with possible knock-on effects on the productivity of the marine ecosystem.
For example, there is evidence of increased productivity of benthic communities
surrounding a disposal site in Liverpool Bay that receives considerable amounts of
dredged silts. The beneficial effects are reported to be a result of organic enrichment from
the dredged material and due to the stabilization of sediments through the incorporation
of fine organic matter (Murray 1994).

6.7 Contaminated sediments

Although generally not heavily contaminated, much dredged material is subject to
some contamination (Murray 1994). A variety of harmful substances, including heavy
metals, oil, TBT, PCBs and pesticides, can be effectively locked into the seabed
sediments in ports and harbours. These contaminants can often be of historic origin and
from distant sources. The dredging and disposal processes can release these contaminants
into the water column, making them available to be taken up by animals and plants, with
the potential to cause contamination and/or poisoning. The likelihood of this occurring
depends upon the type and degree of sediment contamination; however, some
remobilisation of very low levels of pollutants would be expected during many dredging
operations. The highest levels of contaminants generally occur in silts dredged from
industrialised estuaries. If low level contaminants are released into the water column
during disposal, they may accumulate in marine animals and plants and transfer up the
food chain to fish and sea mammals.

In the present study in the dredged area of the Vaikam did not indicate hazardous
levels of copper, lead, zinc and cadmium. The levels of nutrients were also with in

6.8 Settlement of suspended sediments

Sediments dispersed during dredging may resettle over the seabed and the animals
and plants that live on and within it. It may prevent the development of stable benthic
communities, and may result in partial or complete loss of benthic production (Murray
1994). The finer the material and the greater the energy at the disposal site, the greater the
possibility of increased suspended sediments and of far-field effects. However, as
mentioned previously, these far-field effects of turbidity and smothering are generally
only of high concern in areas of low background levels of suspended solids.

This blanketing or smothering of benthic animals and plants, may cause stress,
reduced rates of growth or reproduction and in the worse cases the effects may be fatal
(Bray et al., 1997). Generally sediments settle within the vicinity of the dredged area,
where they are likely to have little effect on the recently disturbed communities.
However, in some cases sediments are distributed more widely within the estuary or
coastal area and may settle over adjacent subtidal or intertidal habitats possibly some
distance from the dredged area.

The sensitivity of marine animals and plants to siltation varies greatly. In areas
with high natural loads of suspended sediments, the relatively small increases in siltation
away from the immediate dredging area are generally considered unlikely to have adverse
effects on benthic populations. Animals with delicate feeding or breathing apparatus,
such as shellfish can be intolerant to increased siltation, resulting in reduced growth or
fatality (Anon, 1997). In important spawning or nursery areas for fish and other marine
animals, dredging can result in smothering eggs and larvae. Shellfish are particularly
susceptible during spring when spatfall occurs.

6.9 Changes to hydrodynamic regime and geomorphology

The impact of dredging on the hydrodynamics and geomorphology of a site are
site-specific and very difficult to isolate from other 'forcing effects'. Although all
dredging activities can cause some change to the hydrodynamic flow, the magnitude and
type of effect will be related to the overall size of the excavation compared to the overall
size of the system. The magnitude of dredging related alterations of dredging on the
hydrodynamics and geomorphology, in many cases, may fall well within the range of
naturally occurring phenomena and probably impose little or no additional stress to
marine features (IADC/CEDA 1998).

7. Fishery resources with particular reference to clam and the impact of shell

The Vembanad Lake as it is know today was formerly a part of the Arabian sea
and the separating land between sea and land was not extant centuries back. It is reported
(1913) that in the year 1341 as a result of deluge, part of Alleppey and Ernakulam
Districts arose, this separating a large island water body with openings to the sea at
Thottappally, Andhakaran Azhi and at Cochin. This conversion of originally marine
environment into a brackishwater one is evidenced by the existence of a large quantity of
the marine shells in the lake. (Rasalam and Sebastain, 1976).

The Vembanad Lake having water spread of 22,750 km
in three coastal districts
of Kerala, spanning between latitude 928 and 1010 N and longitude 7613 E is the
biggest backwater in the State. The lake is narrow and sinous in the north while much
broad to an extend of 14.5 km in South. Running to a length of 96 km parallel to the sea
from Azhikode to Alleppy the lake is connected to sea in Azhikode and Kochi. Seasonal
sea water incursion occur through Thottappally spillway, situated 20 km south of Alleppy
and a small spillway at Andakaranazhi in Cherthalai about 25 km north of Alleppy. It is
a complex water body comprising estuary, lagoons, marshes and mangroves with number
of manmade canals in between and the Thanneermukkom barrage in the middle of the
system, preventing sea water incursion to the southern part of the water body. (Unnithan
et al., 2001)

Vembanad is a wetland ecosystem with an area of over 24,000 ha, largest
backwater of the State contributing more than 7000 t of fish, shellfish and producing
annually 30,000-40,000 t of black clam. Approximately 20,000 fishermen are directly or
indirectly involved in the exploitation of the aquatic resources earning Rs.100 million
annually. The Vembanad Kol wetland system and its associated 10 drainage basins are
situated in the humid tropical region on the southwest coast of Indian peninsula. The
Vembanad-Kol wet land was brought under The Ramsar List of wetland on 1

November, 2002.
Estuarine oceanography of the Vembanad Lake between Pallippuram and Thevara
showed that during pre monsoon and post monsoon periods the surface bottom
differences in salinity is much less than those found in monsoon indicating that the
holocline has become weak and by a process of mixing there is more or less isohaline
water column in the estuary. It is significant that the velocity of the surface sea water
flow during the pre and post-monsoon is much less when compared to that during
monsoon. But the reversing of currents associated with the tides could still greatly
enhance the exchange between the surface and bottom waters. Thus during the pre and
post monsoon seasons southern arm of the Vembanad is a partially mixed type owing to
this turbulent mixing which enhance exchange process in the vertical. During the pre and
post monsoon seasons shallow regions south of Arukutty belongs to a well-mixed
sectionally homogenous type because of the reversing tidal currents and greater
turbulence resulting in increased fluxes of salt in the horizontal as well as vertival,
leading ultimately to homogenous conditions. The salinity distribution of the estuary
reveals that the variations in longitudinal plane are from 5-30

down the estuary

indicative of a laterally homogenous type of estuary. (Ramamritham et al., 1986).
The Kuttanad water Balance study (1989) showed that the average rainfall in
Kuttanad is 3,250 mm. The wet season is from J une to November. The average tidal
range in the bar mouth is 0.9 m. The maximum water temperature of more than 30

occur during pre-monsoon and minimum of 24

C in August. Dissolved O
is high in
monsoon. The total flood discharge of about 2500 m
/s is there to Kuttanad from
Meenachal, Manimala, Pamba and Achankoil rivers. Maximum salinity measured in
Vembanad Lake were 10 ppt during February 1988 in relatively deep (5 m) restricted
areas south of the barmouth and in the shallow areas 1-2 m. Salinities did not exceed 4
ppt in NW of lake and 2 ppt in south coast. (South of the barrier). The zone parallel to
the southern and eastern borders of Vembanad lake remains fresh (less than 0.5 ppt) even
in the dry season. During peak monsoon, freshwater near the surface and at depth below
3 metres it varies from 5-18 ppt. Salinities north of barrier is greatly affected by flow
from the water from Muvattupuzha river. Before the construction of the barrier the
salinity in the entire backwater was isohaline in the dry season ranging from 18-31% .
Although the barrier has contributed to improvement of crop production in the Kuttanad,
the adverse effects, particularly on the aquatic environment and fisheries have been
significant. Reclamation is high in Northern part by both public and private sector.
Large scale dredging is carried out in Vaikom and Alleppy in Vembanad Lake using
cutter suction dredgers to collect subfossil of lime shells upto a depth of 7 m. The
procedure of disposing of clay-water slurry into the lake has resulted in uneven
settlement of sediment. This has resulted in the destruction of live clam beds and fishing
grounds. In southern part of lake explosives and poisons are used for fishing. Aquatic
weed, water hyacinth is flushed out into the backwater during monsoon months and
spread prolifically over the water surface impending fishing gear. Low fishing intensity
from J uly to October is owing to this reason.
Contamination of Cochin backwaters by pesticides flushed into the water
from agricultural lands occur mainly in Vembanad lake area. Significant concentration
of organochlorine pesticides were detected in black clam samples from the lake. The
highest value of Y-HCH (Lindane) in sediment samples occurred in south-eastern part of
Vembanad lake where agricultural activities are high. In 1983 pH value below 5 were
recorded resulting into mortality of fish, clam and crustaceans.
Industrial wastes cause pollution in the lower reaches of Cochin estuary.
Sewage pollution from urban and semi-urban township along the banks also causes
pollution especially coliform bacteria was detected in fishes and clams. (Kuttanad Water
Balances Studies, 1989).
The estuarine fish fauna consists of species originating from the sea, freshwater
species and true estuarine species. The latter reproduce in the estuary, where as the
marine fish and prawn reproduce in the saline, cooler water of sea, but migrate back to
estuary after completing the pelagic development. Fish distribution in Cochin backwater
is thus directly related to salinity. (Kuttanad water balance study) Final Report Vol.1,
Vembanad lake was subject to a lot of studies particularly on its
environmental details, the estuaries part of the lakes and the impact of Thannermukkam
barriers on the aquatic resources and studies on the water resources significant
observations were on Fish and fisheries of the Vembanad backwaters (Shetty, 1965)
Kurup and Samuel (1985, 1987) Kurup et al (1993) Unnithan et al (2001) Padmakumar et
al. (2002, 2004). Rasalam and Sebastian (1976) Achary (1988) Laxmilatha and
Appukuttan (2002) have studied in detail the clam fishery of Vembanad lake and brought
to light various problems related to both white clam and black clam fishery. Various
other studies by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Cochin, Central Island
Capture Fisheries Research Institute, Barrackpore, Kuttanad water Balance study (Draft
Final Report) Govt. of Kerala (1989) and Report of the Technical Committee on the
problems Arising out of dredging in the Vembanad Lake submitted to Govt. of Kerala
(Thampi (1985) throw light on the aquatic resources of Vembanad and the problem it
faces through environmental degradation, human interference, over exploitation,
pollution problems, dredging and other related issues.
Commercially important species of fishes, crustacean and mollusks reported from
the lake are:
Fishes : Grey mullets (Mugil, Liza), Sciaenids (Daysciaena albida) sea bass or cock-up
(Lates calcalifer), Milkfish (Chanos chanos) Marine catfish (Tachysurus), Half beaks
(Hyporamphus), Tarpon (Meglops cyprinoids) Pearl spot (Etroplus suretensis)
Crustaceans: Penaeid prawns, palaemonid prawns (Macrobrachium) Edible crab (Scylla
serrata) Mollusc: Black clam (Villorita cyprinoides)

The Vembanad aquatic ecosystem is noted for its biodiversity. In
Vembanad more than 20,000 fishermen are directly dependant on aquatic resources,
fishing 7000 t of fish and shellfish annually. The growth and distribution of fish in the
backwaters are greatly affected by the changes is salinity. In monsoon due to decline in
salinity estuarine fish catch dwindle and in post monsoon to premonsoon period marine
fishes move even upto the upper reaches where good salinity prevails. After the
establishment of Thanneermukkam barrage in 1975 the salinity range in southern part of
the backwaters declined from 20-23 ppt to 6-11 ppt. The stagnation of water in canals
and water ways in southern part of barrage during summer resulted in serious pollution
and health hazards in the area. The fish catch in southern stretches before
commissioning the barrage in Kottayam and Alleppy were fish 2,500t, Clams 89,000t
Prawns, 1700 t Macrobrachium 429 t, others 1500 t whereas in 1990-2000 it was Fish
1,084 t , clam 18,800 t, prawn 1,150 t Macrobrachium 741 t others, 200t. This clearly
indicate that the major aquatic resources of south of barrage before the commissioning of
barrage and after showed drastic decline. The same is reflected in the studies of Kurup et
al., 1990, Unnithan et al., 2001, Padmakumar et al., 2002, where they have indicated the
total fish catches after partial commissioning of barrage as around 415 t 584 t.

The general shallowness and protected nature of the backwater system permit the
fishermen to do fishing throughout the year Major fishing activities in the lake are
during night when more catches are obtained. Approximately 21,000 fishermen in the
study area use stake and dip nets. Marketing is done through auction in the main landing
centres or by direct sales by fishermen where as the larger sized penaeid prawns,
Macrobrachium and Sylla serrata are taken by agents of fish exporters. Shell co-
operative societies play a major roll in the collection and marketing of live and subfossil
shells of clams in the lake.
Fish production:
The historic data on catches of prawn at Cochin Harbour shows a downward trend since
early 1970s coinciding with the closure of Thanneermukkam barrier and commissioning
of the Idukki hydro-electric Project (1976). Downward trend is also correlated with
overfishing. However 70% of the prawn catches at Cochin consists of species that spend
part of their life cycle in the Cochin backwaters. The value of this is estimated around
Rs.100 million per year.
The studies made by Fisheries College of Agricultural University of Kerala
during 1988-99 period showed a total annual production of 7,200 t worth Rs.96 million of
which fish catches are 3,300 t, prawn 3500 t, paleamonid 100 t, crab 300 t from north of
barrier with a total of 6,700 t and south 500 t. Stake and dipnet accounted 70% of total
catch and premonsoon period contributed the maximum catch of 45%. Clam fishery was
contributed by live and dead clam deposits, where the live clams gave shell and meat for
trade. In 1976 the subfossil deposit of clam in Vembanad was estimated as 4.5 million
tones while shells are exploited at the rate of 1,35,000 t year
while annual production of
black clam is 18,000 t year
. The production of black clam could be increased by
adoption fishery management measures, but at the present rate of mining, white shell will
not be present leading to the natural depletion of the deposits.
The Report of the Technical Committee on Operation of Thanneermukkam
Barrage Govt. of Kerala, 2002 has highlighted the problems related to fisheries sector
due to Thanneermukkam barrage. The commissioning of Idukki hydro-electrical project
in 1976 has increased the dry season freshwater flow in the Moovattupuzha river and
reduced sanities.
Over past 15 years increased fishing pressure in both marine and estuarine prawns
were observed. The sub adults were caught by stake nets and post larvae were filtered
and used as seed for farming. Sub adults prawns are caught from inshore areas of coastal
waters on their way back to breeding ground in deeper part of the sea. The decline in
catch per unit effort accompanied by reduction in the size of prawns in the catches.
There is marked depletion on the number of live clams, due to over fishery in
some part of clam beds of Cochin backwaters. The average size of clams diminished and
undersized clam in large numbers are removed from the backwaters. Sources of pollution
of the backwater system are domestic waste, fertilizer residue, pesticide residue,
Industrial pollution, coconut retting.
Clam Fishery Studies
Apart from the fish and crustacean resources in the lake, immense quality of live
clams and subfossil `white clam form a major resource of the lake. Ever since industries
based on shells as raw material started establishing in this locality, the demand for live
and deadshells increased and by dredging, the white shells were exploited regularly from
the lake badly affecting the traditional live calm fishery. The main factories which utilize
shell were M/s.Travancore Cements Ltd., Pallam and The Travancore Electro Chemical
Industries Ltd., Chingavanam. The annual requirement of these factories was around
1,30,000 t. In addition The Hindustan Paper Mills, Velloor, Gwalior Rayons, Mavoor,
FACT, Alwaye and Punalur Paper Mills, Punaloor also were consuming around 80,000 t
annually and 30000 t for agriculture and building sector. Unlicenced shell collection
activities are also going on, which is beyond the control of the Government. The shell
deposit collection is controlled by licensing system and in shallow areas collection is
done manually whereas in 8-9 m deep water dredges are used for exploitation. The live
clams in the surface are regularly fished out manually both for their meat and for the

The traditional fishermen feel that due to dredging considerable damage is done
to live clams and consequent deposition of silt prevent recolonisation and growth of
clams. Further, inconvenience of bottom created by dredging leaving deep furrows in
one hand and mouth of discharged clay on the other affects the flow of water and
operation of fishing nets. They also feel that the fish fauna move away from the dredging
areas causing reduction in catch.

Villorita cyprinoids (Black clam)
Black clam contribute the shell fishery of Vembanad lake. This species belong to
the family Verniridae of class Bivalvia and phylum Mollusca. Usually found in the
freshwater zone of estuaries lake tolerating salinity upto 2-10 %. The colour of the live
clam Villorita cyprinoides is black - Length range 10 42 mm, - Peak mode are
18 22 mm & 24 28 mm, of which the earlier dominated the catch. 18 22 mm is the
dominant size group for the entire year, 30-42 mm size were contributed much less, 10-
14 mm were found in most of the month indicating continuous spawning, peak in
November-December and February-April. The wet meat average percentage ranged from
9.19 in December to 14.07 in April with an average of 10.95 %.

Clam fishery is carried out for 15-16 days a month involving 2,200 active fishermen
representing the clam societies around the lake. The average catch per day is 25-35 kg
especially from Vaikom-Pallipurathussery area registered under Kuthiathode society.
The clam fishery site varies from year to year according to the spat settlement due to
environmental variations. In Nettoor, Kumbalangi, Cheppanam and Arookutty
transplantation of clam seed is practiced. This simple method of clam culture by
relaying is practiced by several fisherman to augment the shell production. Though
independent exploitation of undersized clams (mallikakka) is done cladestinely, for
using it as duck feed and for industrial purpose, there is an emerging practice of relaying
of seed calms for increased production by certain groups of fishermen. If scientific
backing for selection of site for relaying and optimum level of stocking is taught to the
fishermen, these practice can be made more popular through societies and increase the
clam production of the lake.

In the northern part of the lake where marine condition prevails throughout the
year, Meretrix casta population is available where as in the southern part Villorita is
predominant. In the south the clam beds were subject to the south-west and North-east
monsoon rains and the flood water carry large quantities of mud and silt into the lake
from rivers Pamba, Achancoil, Manimala, Meenachal and Moovattupuizha. This causes
mortality to the live clams. This and the natural mortality of clams have contributed for
centuries to the accretion of a wealth of live-shell deposits in the lake.

The white-shells are found as sub-soil deposits to a depth of 2- 4 m below the
surface of the soil and these shell deposits accumulated through centuries as dead remains
are found in puramboke lands, coconut plantations and paddy fields adjoining the lake.
Live Villorita is known as black clam and this forms a fishery, the meat is sold locally
and shell is marketed for shell based industries.

Analysis of the total annual production of live clams for the past 26 years is given
in Table 4. The annual catch fluctuated from 1,1652 t to 42,026 t, the minimum is 1985
and maximum in 2004. The monthly average also fluctuated from 971-3,502 t during this
period and the average per year is 27,615 t.

The clam exploitation in the lake is being done in an organized manner by 7 co-
operative societies located in different parts of the lake. The co-operative societies buy
the clam shells from these members at the rate of Rs.600-700 t
. They are also
requested to pay an amount of Rs.25 t
as royalty to the Govt. The shell is sold in bulk
to the merchants of Kerala and Tamilnadu at the rate of Rs.800-1000 t
. The shell is
sold for industrial purposes viz lime industry, Cement, Pharmaceutical and Carbide

Clam meat as food: Out of the live black clam exploited annually, only 20-30% is used
for extraction of meat and for consumption. The meat weight is roughly estimated as 8-
11% of the total weight of the clam. Mostly the meat is heat shucked and separated and
sent to the local markets @ Rs.7-9 kg
and they earn Rs. 50-70 per day by this trade. The
nutritional value and other parameters of the meat are given in Table 5.

The lime shell fisheries of Vembanad Lake
The lime-shell deposits and live clam shells in various estuaries are the main
source of calcium carbonate in Kerala as the occurrence of lime-stone is scanty. Rasalam
and Sebastian (1976) made a thorough investigation on the lime shell resource from
Vembanad which contributed the bulk for commercial utilisation. According to one
report the sub-soil shell deposit of Vembanad are concentrated in beds varying in
thickness from 22 cm 50 cm under a silt burden of 20 cm 60 cm. Seven zones of
abundance of shell deposits were recorded by Associated Cement Company in
collaboration with the Department of Research of the erstwhile University of Travancore
in 1941 and estimated the area of deposit as 108 million m
with a deposit of 4.5 million
t. M/s. Rudinger, Engineer, Bombay estimated the deposit as 3 million t in 1946 and
Bijawat and Sastry 1957, Macedo, 1958 estimated the deposit as 2 million tons. Kunju
Panicker (1957) stressed the need for a survey to be conducted by the Fisheries
Department. Geology and industrial experts in consultation with the officials of the lime
shell co-operative societies to formulate necessary steps for increased and sustained
fishing of lime shells. Lime shell was considered as a natural resource, though live clams
were being exploited from these areas from time immemorial. Industries using lime shell
as raw material were given license for exploiting lime shell using mechanical means.
The clams which enjoy an ideal habitat for growth were subject to the south-west
and North eastern monsoon yearly and during these periods flood water from Pamba,
Achancoil, Manimala, Meenachal and Moovattupuzha carry large quantities of mud and
silt and freshwater with the lake leading to mortality of large quantity of live clams. This
annual process have contributed over the centuries might have lead to the accretion of a
wealth of live-shell deposits in the lake.
The lime shell that contribute to the fishery are white shells and blackshells in
the lake. The so called white shells are subsoil fossil deposits of clam known to extend at
places upto 2.1 m below the surface soil (Loganathan, 1962). In dredging conducted by
the Travancore Cement Factory shows that deposit is found more than double the above
depth in several places. Such deposits of shell are found also in the purambok lands also
in the adjoining areas of the lake.
Clam Fishery
The annual average production of Villorita cyprinoids from the lake from 1979 to
1984 was 21,490.5 t. The subfossil deposit `white clam being ranged from 41,445 to
69306t. The Travancore Cements Ltd., Nattakam, Kottayam, Travancore
Electrochemicals, Chingavanam and the Pallathura Bricks and Tiles Ltd., Sherthallai
were the three factories utilising lime shell at annual average of 98,000 t. First two
factories collect their shell by dredging from the lake. The first factory consumes
50,000 t, second 43,000 t and third 4000 t earlier.
Achari (1988) stated that the clam resources, both live and subsoil deposits are
categorized under minor minerals and as such the licensing and general policy decision
are being formulated by the Department of Mining and Geology of the respective states.
Eventhough the meat of the clam is consumed in certain areas of the country, the clams
are collected as raw material for lime and related industries like cement, calcium carbide,
textile, paper etc. It is observed that the production of clam shells from Vembanad lake is
about 2,00,000 t annually comprising of shell deposits and live clams. The clam
resources of the country need immediate attention for conservation and replenishment to
meet future demands of the lime based industry. In addition generation of employment
opportunities and programmes for the fishermen also can be tackled by establishing co-
operatives for these fishermen and activities can be coordinated by an autonomous
administration agency.

Fishing for live clam in the lakes
Simple method of hand picking of clam is done often and sometimes they use
toothed iron rack (Varandi or Kolli) and collect shells from the bottom. Hand picking
is done by women and children in shallow water where depth is m in low tide. 1-2
baskets are collected duty women do fishing in slightly deeper water of less than 1-5 m
without diving, using the feet they accumulate the live clams and collect them in baskets
(bamboo or aluminium unda) 3-4 baskets 6-8 kg per women are collected. Fishing in
mostly done by operating hand dredges (Varandi or Kolli) operated from canoes by
men (usually two) at deeper water. The hand dredge consists of a rack with metal tooth
and a conical met of mesh size 15 mm and a metal or wooden handle of 4.5 meters
fixed to the metal frame of the rack. The tail end of the conical bag net is attached with a
long nylone rope. When one fisherman push the rack into the clam bed bottom the other
person in the canoe will drag the dredger through the bottom by pulling the foot ropes
attached to the conical frame of the dredge, clams are thus collected in the net bag. After
washing the mud & sand the clam is deposited to the canoe. Usually a canoe can bring
150-300 kg of clam, depending on the area of operation.
White shell exploitation
Rasalam and Sebastian (1976) rightly reported that lime shell was continued to be
looked upon as a mere mineral resource and completely overlooking the biological source
and the renewable nature of the this resource. They have also indicated that in the
beginning mechanized dredging resulted in the exploitation of the shallower and early
exploited beds, that too from the upper layers resulting in the serious disturbance of the
environment of the living clams. Added to that indiscriminate fishing of undersized live
clam also became rampant. Under these conditions only a complete evaluation of the
lime shell fishery was done by the Department of Fisheries with financial support from
the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi in 1976.

For the white shell exploitation a canoe, a bench or vechukettu, a basket and a
spade is used. On reaching the site in the canoe, the wooden platform with pointed
wooden legs or bench is faced down into the mud. The fishermen stands on the bench,
heaps up the shells with help of the spade and collect the shells periodically in the basket
and empty them in the canoe. This type of fishing is still practiced but now the main
method is hand dredge or drag net with a long handle attached to the semicircular metal
frame to which the net is attached. Mouth portion of the net has got the toothed
horizontal portion. The net is operated by fishermen standing in a canoe forces the metal
frame down into the bottom and another man in the canoe dragging the net along putting
the rope attached to the cod end of the net. Mechanised suction type dredging are used
by Travancore Cement Ltd.
Company has got mining lease for 200 hectares in Vaduthala Kayal south
of Kumarakom from 1985 onwards. So far they have not exploited this. During 2000 an
attempt was made to dredge this area for white shell and due to opposition from local
fishermen and local people, this was abandoned. Another attempt made recently in
October, 2005 have also lead to opposition from local people, forcing the company to
abandon this venture. Company made an indication that around 5 lakh tonnes of shell
deposit is available in this area.
In the Report of the Technical Committee on the Problems arising out of
the dredging in the Vembanad lake (2002) it is stated that it is difficult to contend from
the available data that there has been significant decline in this major living resource on
as a result of dredging. They also observed that eventhough dredges are employed
primarily to collect the shells occurring in the deeper layers of the mud which the manual
effort cannot exploit, the removal of the live clams from the surface of the mud is
inevitable in the initial process before the suction penetrates the deeper layers. The
dredgers collect the shell-layers mud creating a deep pit extending an area of
approximately 1000 sq. ft., strain the mud and separate the shell. This process it leaves
not only a depression in the area but also creates mounds all around and causes
temporarily turbidity to the water in that particular spot. The average time taken for
complete settlement is around 20-40 h. This may vary from place to place depending
upon the cutting area and the percentage of silt in the deposit strata. The washed out
mud and sand naturally spread over the surrounding and cover the clam beds and can
cause mortality to animals and plant population. Young clams cannot come out of the
surface because of their restricted movement. But clams can survive outside a radius of
0.5 km from the dredging point. The penetration of light in dredged area ranges from 15-
25 cm. The sound of dredger also disperses the animals around dredging point.
As regards the apprehension that breeding of these fishes is hampered because of
the disturbances escalated by the dredgers, the committee is inclined to discount this on
the basis of scientific fact that except for few commercial species like the pearl spot
(Karimeen) many of the other fishes or prawns do not breed in these surroundings
(prawns, chanos, mullets, etc.) since many of them are of marine origin and breed in the
It has also been brought to the notice of the Committee by the fishermen that
recolonisation by clam does not take place in areas where the dredges had once operated.
Such phenomenon is not unlikely as dredging and depositing of a different type of sand
and mud at the surfaces could greatly alter the conditions, otherwise favourable for the
settlement and growths of clam spats. However, since clam larvae are free swimming, it
will settle in other favourable areas in the lake and form beds, may be in another area,
thus not affecting the total production.
The committee opined that considering the view that any harm caused to the
fisheries wealth of this southern region of the lake is not wholly due to dredging, which
is only one of the factors, but is the result of other causes of which the protracted closing
of Thanneermukkam bund during the crucial periods in the lake ward movement of the
fishes is more important.
A study on the effect of dredging in Vembanad made by the Committee observed
that the suspended sediment transport caused by dredging area spreads around 1.5 km
down the direction of water flow. A detailed Report on the Sedimentation Analysis is
given in the Annexure I.
Sedimentation characteristics of the dredged material depend on the texture of the
cut material. Particles larger than 2 microns settle within 24 h if left undisturbed. The
penetration of light ranged from 15-25 cm during bright sunny days around dredged area
where as in undisturbed areas it was 50-80 cm which is the normally observed values in a
dynamic estuary. It was also observed that the clam can survive beyond 0.5 km radius
from the dredged area. The washed out sand and silt during the dredging make the lake
bottom uneven and the superficial layer formed by the settlement of silt make the layer
very smooth covering the settled larvae of clam which may induce stress. However the
dredging process may not affect the total production of clam since the larvae are capable
of moving to favourable areas for forming the clam bed and where the total are of the lab
is considered, the silted area due to dredging is negligible.
Table 6. Harvest of live Villorita cyprinoides from Vembanad lake from 1979-2004
Year Average monthly
production (t)
Total production
1979 1623.1 19,478.1
1980 1885.5 22,625.5
1981 2031.5 24,378.6
1982 2082.0 24,985.0
1983 1972.6 23,671.4
1984 1150.3 13,804.5*
1985 971 11,652.1*
1986 1628 19,533.8
1987 1716.6 20,599.0
1988 2292.2 27,507.0
1989 2336.8 28,041.0
1990 2753.7 33,044.7
1991 3204.6 38,455.6
1992 3105.8 37,269.1
1993 2842.7 34,112.3
1994 3006.5 36,078.1
1995 2450.0 29,400.0
1996 2632.5 31,589.9
1997 2661.3 31,935.5
1998 2400.5 28,805.8
1999 3272.7 39,273.0
2000 2619.2 31,430.54
2001 1490.0 17,879.0
2002 1712.5 20,550.5
2003 2487.3 29,848.51
2004 3502.1 42,026.71
* Mass mortality and over exploitation of small sized clams in the clam beds

Table 5. Average chemical composition of shell and meat are as follows:
CaO Si0
Total C

% range 52.2 - 0.8 - 0.6 - 0.1 - 0.4 - 93.3
53.7 2.3 1.4 0.3 1.0 95.8
Clam meat Protein Fat Ash Calcium Phosphorous Iron Moisture
Percent 14.4 7.8 2.9 1.01 0.48 0.06 72.0

Table 6. Major size groups contributing fishery of Villorita cyprinoids 2003-05 period

2003 14-22 mm in April-J une
20-30 mm in J uly-September
18-28 mm in October-December
2004 18-30 mm in J anuary-March
14-24 mm in April-J une
14-30 mm in J uly-September
16-24 mm in October-December
2005 14-22 mm in J anuary-March
14-22 mm in April-J une
14-24 mm in J uly-September

Table 7. Fish landings of Vembanad Lake (Quantity in Tonnes) 2000-2003 period
Fish landings 2000-2001
1 Prawns 2,758 2,550 2,511
2 Etroplus 2,343 3,305 2,075
3 Murrel 5,522 1,161 1,202
4 Mullets 1,493 1,048 1,286
5 Catfish 1,530 1,309 1,266
6 J ewfish 1,026 808 893
7 Tilapia 2,309 1,902 2,062
8 Labeo fimbriatus 586 887 445
9 Barbus 115 94 95
10 Mrigal 836 806 716
11 Crabs 221 170 192
12 Common Carp 792 940 787
13 Catla 728 648 680
14 Gourami - - -
15 Chanos 143 80 162
16 Eels 17 21 14
17 Labeo rohitha 1,645 1,302 1,401
18 Miscellaneous 1,018 737 878
Total 18,992 17,768 16,671
* Landings of Alleppy and Kottayam District pooled.
Source: Inland Fisheries Statistics of Kerala 2004, Department of Fisheries, Kerala

7.1 Studies on effect of dredging done elsewhere

Parulekar et al., 1986 while studying effect of mining activities on clam
fisheries and bottom fauna of Goa estuaries observed that besides the overall decrease in
the dissolved oxygen concentration, other obvious reason for decline in the clam
resources are due to the immense increase in the quantity of suspended solids and
structural deformation of bottom deposits and blanketing of bottom deposits by mining
rejects leading to 70% reduction in clam production, near extinction of resident fauna and
the appearance of low diversity bottom fauna, comprising of tolerant but vagrant species.
Increased water depth and reduced current velocity can act in concert to lower the
flushing rate within the dredged waterway which can increase the impact of pollutants
entering the system.

Recovery from the effects of dredging can take a few weeks to a number of years
(Taylor and Solomon, 1968, Kaplan et al 1974 Pfitzenmeyer 1975, 1978, Van DeDolah et
al 1984). The impact of dredging may be compounded if shallow water habitat is
converted Deeper water, particularly, if submerged aquatic vegetation beds are
eliminated. Current policy in Maryland discourages dredging in waters shallow than-3
feet (meanlow water).
In summary, the effect of dredging upon the benthic community of tidal
waterways found to be mild and short duration when less than 2% of the bottom are
disturbed. The impact becomes severe and recovery can take more than one year when
2% to 7% of bottom is disturbed. Reduction in benthic organisms can be severe and
long lasting when dredging causes a substantial shift in bottom composition from sand to
clay and a reduction in current velocity sufficient to impede the return of course
sediments. The loss of shallow water habitat, particularly vegetated areas, also results in
an unusually high degree of impact.

8. Livelihood Issues
Livelihood alternatives may be provided for fishermen dependent on the dredged area
and immediate environs, affected by dredging. The major impact is on the livelihood of
persons and families (project affected persons - PAP) who are depending on the site for
livelihood: fishing, clam harvest etc. The proponents have to identify PAPs and formulate
a plan to rehabilitate them during the impact period. Affected stakeholders to be made
beneficiaries for mussel culture, cage culture, ornamental fish culture, seaweed culture
and freshwater under Kerala government schemes.

9. Conservation of black clam resources of the Vembanad Lake

1. The indiscriminate removal of clam by hand dredge and removal of subfossil
deposit by dredger causes damage to living resources. It is suggested that
conservation measures such as, limiting the dredging to few months of the
year, avoid fishing when spawning of the aquatic animals are profuse,
repopulating the dredged area by relaying of clam seed and to meaningfully
manage the lake, monitor the environmental changes of dredged area regularly
to assess the damages made during the time of dredging
2. Removal of juvenile clam from natural bed in huge quantities for industrial
purpose is a real concern leading to over exploitation and depletion of stock.
Being an annual renewal resource, live clam fishery has to be well managed
for increased and balanced production. The shell of the clam can ultimately
be used for cement production by the company. Chempu, Vaikom, Vechoor,
Muhamma, Kumarakom and Komalapuram are the nerve centers of live clam
fishery in Vembanad lake. Incidentally in all these centers clam co-operative
societies have licence for fishing and they have an effective control over the
clam pickers. It is suggested that clam conservation programme such as clam
relaying, seed ranching etc can be effectively done through these societies.
The research institution like CMFRI, Agricultural University, CUSAT, State
Fisheries Department and TCL can jointly implement these programmes in
future years. It is also suggested that CIFT can help the clam pickers in
developing value added products from clam meat, which is now discarded.
3. To increase the black clam production, new areas in the lake, especially
deeper areas are to be fished. At present the fishers find it difficult to reach
far off places in small canoes and do the fishing operation. If a mechanized
boat is made available to groups of fishermen, as it is being done by
Komalapuram. Clam co-operative society, access to clam bed is possible and
production rate also increase. It is suggested that all co-operative societies
need help the fishermen for easy fishing activity by providing mechanised
boat for taking clam pickers in group to clam beds & back.
4. Deep pits made by mechanized dredges tamper the bottom topography.
Redeposit of silt and sand from the excavaded subfossil deredged area is to be
made mandatory by the TCL and this has to be regularly monitored after
completion of dredging activity. Otherwise the repopulation of this area is
either impossible or will be considerably delayed to 3 to 7 years. It is
suggested that the entire black clam shells collected by the fishers in an year
(about 20-30 thousand tonnes) can be utilized by the TCL for cement
production. This has to be done through the co-operative societies on
competitive rates. The Company can also explore the possibilities of getting
bivalve shells from Ashtamudi estuary, Kayamkulam kayal, Chettuva,
Korapuzha and Chandragiri. An approximate 20,000 tonnes of shells of
Meretrix casta, Paphia malabarica and Villorita are harvested every year
from these estuaries. Now the entire shell is transported to neighbouring
states for Calcium carbide, lime and other industrial purposes. This will help
to obtain required quantity of raw material for the Company.
5. For conservation of aquatic life of the Vembanad it is suggested to have
i) regulated opening of the Thanneermukkam bund/barrier/spillway for
making the water conducive for breeding of aquatic organisms, especially
Macrobrachium, shrimps and Etroplus
ii. mesh size regulation of 35 mm for fishing nets for avoiding
destruction of juveniles.
iii. Declaring selected areas in the lake of 100 m
as clam sanctuaries for
replenishment of the clam stock. This has to be declared as protected
areas (atleast 5-7 areas).
iv. Issue of lease right for dredging for subfossil deposits and collection of
clams may be issued jointly by the Department of Fisheries and Dept.
of Mining and Geology with a Committee of experts monitoring the
whole activities. The right to control the living organisms in the lake
should be given to the State Fisheries Department.

6. It is also suggested that value addition of clam meat is an urgent requirement.
It is estimated that every year 20-30 thousand tones of live clams are exploited
from the take. Ultimately the meat yield is almost 2-3 thousand tons and out
of which only 3-4% is utilized for human consumption. Another 3-5% is used
for duck feed and shrimp feed. The rest is simply discarded and wasted. If
this meat is properly processed and made into value added products, this will
generate addition income and employment for fisherfok. In this context,
appropriate depuration techniques are to applied before extraction of meat for
consumption. Govt. has to establish common depuration facilities for this
purpose, as this is done for shrimp peeling.
7. It is also suggested to initiative integrated farming of clam and fish and clam
and paddy by which production can be increased many fold for both the
8. As pollution of the water body occurs through industrial discharges cases of
illegal dredging and large-scale pesticide application, the polluter-pay
principle has to be implemented, where the agencies which cause damage to
the aquatic life may have to compensate the loss to the affected people, as
well the expenditure for restoration of the original condition.

10. Conclusions
1.Shell deposits in the proposed area lies roughly between 3m to 8m from the estuarine
bottom. Overburden is about 3m to 6 m. Deep dredging operations required for mining
the shell deposits will have impact on benthic community in the area of dredging, due to
entrainment and physical removal. The impact of dredging is observed to be localized, as
only a few cents will be covered during dredging operations per day and about 20 ha per
year. The recovery of the benthic community is expected to take place within 1.5 to 3
years, after completion of the dredging activity.
2. The impact of increased suspended solids, turbidity levels and nutrients is seen in
near-field (<1 km) from the dredging location which do not constitute an hazard.
3. As regards heavy metals, impact of contaminated sediments was observed to be
minimal, as no major industrial establishments have been historically operating in the
dredging area. This is substantiated by the present observations in the Vaikam Kayal.
4. Settlement of suspended sediments is expected to cause blanketing or smothering of
benthic animals and plants may cause stress, reduced rates of growth or reproduction and
in the worse cases the effects may be fatal. However, the effect is expected to be near-
field, as in estuaries background turbidity levels are high and estuarine animals are
generally adapted to such conditions.
5.Changes in geomorphology are expected to be localized in the dredging area and its
immediate vicinity and changes in hydrodynamic regime is expected to be minimal.
6.Fishing by stake net, Chinese dip nets and gill nets in the dredged area and immediate
environs is expected to be affected temporarily by the dredging operations, due to the
movement of fishes away from the area of disturbance.

11. Recommendations

1.Ecological and environmental impacts during suction dredging in the dredged area
and in the immediate environs are inevitable. However, such disturbances are found
to be minimal and localized in the dredged area and in the immediate environs
spanning about 1 km up and down stream and reestablishment of the fauna is
expected within a period of 1-3 years. In view of this, dredging could be permitted
with a proper environment management plan.

2.The following good environmental management practices are recommended while
pasturing on new areas: Formulation of an environment management plan and
implementation of an environment monitoring plan. Base line status of the diversity
and population of biota of economic significance in the proposed dredging site is to
be determined. Monitoring of the area and immediate environs spanning about 1
km upstream and downstream may be arranged under the supervision of competent
persons, during the pre-dredging, dredging and post-dredging periods if dredging
operations continue for months.

3.Environmental windows may be provided, during the intensive breeding periods of
estuarine organisms.

4.Possibility of providing silt curtains around the dredged area may be explored, if the
prevailing current pattern is favorable.

5. Livelihood alternatives and welfare measures may be provided for fishermen
dependent on the dredged area and immediate environs, affected by dredging. The
major impact is on the livelihood of persons and families (project affected persons -
PAP) who are depending on the site for livelihood: fishing, clam harvest etc. The
proponents have to identify PAPs and formulate a plan to rehabilitate them during the
impact period. Affected stakeholders to be made beneficiaries for mussel culture,
cage culture, ornamental fish culture, sea weed culture and freshwater and
brackishwater fish culture; value addition to fish products, under the extensive aqua
parks envisaged under schemes of the Fisheries Department of the Government of

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Annexure I

Sediment analysis









Fig.3 Dredging Site at Vaikam Kayal


Report of the Committee of Experts on Ecological and
EnvironmentalImpact of Dredging at Vaduthala Kayal
and Vaikam Kayal, Kerala

Submitted to

The Government of Kerala,


Dr. K. Ravindran, Chairman Sd/

Dr. K.K. Appukuttan, Member Sd/

Dr. V.N. Sivasankara Pillai, Member Sd/

Dr. M.R. Boopendranath, Member Secretary Sd/

Dated 12 SEPTEMBER 2006
This Report contains numbered pages


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