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Sea gets a breather from toxic industrial waste amid lockdown

April 03, 2020

HYDERABAD: After lockdown started on March 15, 2020 – following the coronavirus pandemic- marine species, plants and the coastal communities started breathing safer air and witnessed betterment in the seawater.

At least 11 main sewage channels and rainy rivers, including Lyari, Malir and Sukhan, flowing from different parts of Karachi city, enter the sea. Now, either they have been closed or are carrying low water, which the experts term a better sign for turning black water into blue water.

Reports gathered from coastal area activists and marine experts show that it might take at least one-two months to witness a complete change in seawater.

During regular days, toxic waste and effluents received in the sea through these sewerage channels, affect the coastal area people, while threatening the overall environment in the surrounding area as well.

The activists from Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts believe that even this little change would improve the water and air quality, which might not only benefit the people, but also the marine species and the mangrove plants.

Akhtar Shaikh, a community activist from Ibrahim Hydri, said coastal communities were breathing some fresh and safe air, free of the toxic fumes as factories were shutdown and traffic a mere trickle because of the lockdown in urban and suburban areas.

Almost all the beaches had turned into dumping sites, receiving solid waste from the city areas, causing marine pollution. Korangi creek and its adjoining areas were one of the worst affected areas. Many marine species have disappeared from the area because of waste dumping and effluent discharge, he added.

The coast, reportedly before the lockdown was receiving around 500 million gallons daily (MGD) waste, mainly flowing from both industries and municipal sewerage lines. That has almost stopped because of the economic, as well as social lockdown.

Shaikh pointed out that the sea has been under pressure for a long time because of overfishing by commercial fishing vessels, including factory trawlers, increasing exploitation of resources like precious mangroves, and destruction of fish reserves. “Now, the sea is taking a rest, which may continue for some time, depending on the situation,” he added. Fishermen expect better catch once normal activities are resumed.

Fayaz Rassol, manager, Marine Pollution Control Department, Karachi Port Trust (KPT), also agreed that there was some change in seawater as well as improvement in air quality. But, it would take a longer time to see some drastic change in water quality.

There were several tons of pollutants mixing inside sediment, which would take time to be cleaned, he said. “We are monitoring the situation, which shows that the recent change in the air and water quality will benefit marine species, plants and coastal communities, residing at islands and in coastal villages.”

He said natural resources along coastal areas were quite vulnerable. Illegal migrants in the past had cleaned mangroves and built their shelters.

Apart from this, untreated chemical and effluents have also contributed to the destruction of mangroves and marine pollution, as some species have completely disappeared. It also had a long-term affect on the lives of fishermen, whose life depends on some important marine species for survival, the manager added.

Asif Bhatti, president, Native Indigenous Fishermen Association (Nifa) at Bhit Island, Keamari, Karachi sharing his observations said it was the blessing of nature that forced the government to shutdown entire industries, and port activities, which always created pollution in the sea, destroying mangroves and fish species. He said entire communities residing on the islands near Karachi and coastal villages were directly affected by the marine pollution.