Seabed dredging near Mormugao port to facilitate the expansion of its coal-handling berths may sound the death knell for the popular dolphin-sighting tours that are a hit with tourists, a marine conservationist has said.
Over the last few days, Mormugao, Goa's only major port, has been conducting public environmental hearings that will eventually influence the central environmental clearances required for redevelopment of berths 8 and 9 operated by Adani Ports and the JSW-operated South West Port Limited.
The proposed redevelopment of the coal-handling facility is expected to increase import of coal, currently 12 million tonnes, to 51 million tonnes by 2030. Coal imported into Goa is expected to be utilised by steel manufacturing units in neighbouring Karnataka, through a road and rail network that is also under expansion.
"Dolphins have been regularly sighted near Dona Paula bay area (4.5km from the project site). The increased turbidity and noise levels may drive away these highly sensitive species," Puja Mitra of NGO Terra Conscious said in her presentation at the hearing.
"There is significant pressure due to tourism on the Humpback dolphin and the coral reefs surrounding Grande Island, which is the focal species for these activities and also come in the influence zone of impact due to its vicinity to the Mormugao Port," Mitra also said.
Apart from increased coal pollution in the port town of Vasco, where the berths are located, caused by the expansion of the coal-handling berths, the dredging would also affect Goa's flourishing tourism and water sports industry, she added.
"The tourism industry in Goa comprises water sports, pleasure boat cruises for picnics, scuba diving, snorkelling, line fishing... Reduction in water quality in the estuarine region, at nearby beaches and coastal zone, decreases visibility at the dive sites and wrecks at the islands, thereby impacting tourism," she said.
Dolphin-sighting trips are immensely popular with the hundreds and thousands of tourists who visit Goa for its beaches. Small boats ferry tourists to small patches in the Arabian Sea, where dolphins are known to frequent and surface.
The redevelopment issue has also taken a political turn, with the Goa Congress demanding the relocation of the coal-handling facility to Karnataka's Mangalore port.
"The additional coal import will only pollute the city of Vasco, which is already reeling under coal dust pollution. Since Goa has no use for the imported coal, we are demanding that the coal-handling facility be shifted to New Mangalore Port," Congress spokesperson Sankalp Amondkar said.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has maintained that proper precautionary care should be taken as far as coal-handling mechanisms are concerned, and that the companies responsible should ensure that these measures are in place.
Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) Chairman I. Jeyakumar has said that the agency had stood for sustainable development over the years and stringent green-friendly measures would be pursued.
"We are maintaining the standards. We are going for sustainable development. We cannot take things for granted. So, as a port also, we are a responsible entity in the local environment," he said.