Understanding the Coastal Zone: Ecology & Livelihoods

Exploring the ecology and livelihoods of the coastal zone which is gradually becoming the most contested ecological interface in the country today.

This elective should be viewed as a take off” from the core course Ecology and Development” offered in Semester 1. The coastal zone is a unique, dynamic and fuzzy land-sea interface. It is the tail-end ecosystem of the country. Historically, densely populated cities and towns have been located on the landward side and large numbers of people have been long engaged in traditional livelihoods such as fishing, salt making, coir processing. Currently an increasing share of the GDP of our country is being generated on both the land and seaward components of the coastal zone. The international and national discussions on the Blue Economy include the seaward side activities of industrial fishing, prospecting for oil, gas, ocean energy and mineral resources. On the landward side there are emerging industries such as petrochemical refining; rapid development of ports; ship breaking activity; nuclear and defence establishments and a booming tourism industry. The result has been growing conflicts and contests between these new entrants and those who pursued traditional livelihoods on the coastal zone. The coastal zone is also highly prone to unpredictable natural disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis and the inevitable sea-level rise due to climate change which put people and investments are far greater risk. The increasing infrastructural development on the coastal zone as also resulting in unpredictable alterations in the natural hydro-dynamics along the coast resulting in erosion of beaches causing damage to human habitation and natural eco-systems. Given that most of the discussions on ecosystems in India are largely agrarian and terrestrial oriented; the thrust of this elective will be to highlight the economic, social and cultural significance of the coastal zone. It is a realm where aquatic concerns dominate, and where communities, which are among the poorest in our country, eke out a livelihood, and where new industrial and service sector forays are rapidly expanding.