Pulicat Lake is the second largest brackish – water lake or lagoon in India. It straddles the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states on theCoromandal Coast in South India. The lake encompasses the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. The barrier island ofSriharikota separates the lake from the Bay of Bengal. The island is home to the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
In the 1st century, the anonymous mariner who wrote Periplus of the Erythraean Sea listed Podouke (Pulicat) as one of the three ports on the east coast of India. In the 2nd century, Ptolomey‘s list of ports on this coast included Podoukeemporion.
In the 13th century, Arabs migrated to the shores of this lake in four boats after they were banished from Mecca for refusing to pay tributes to a new calif. Streets with dilapidated masonry houses, once occupied by these Arabian Muslims, are still found in the area. Some remaining resident families claim records in Arabic testifying their migration to this area.
The next recorded history of foreign colonizers is that of the Portuguese. In 1515, they built a church dedicated to NossaSenhoraDusPrazeres (Our Lady of Joys), which is now in dilapidated condition. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch.
Dutch people drifted to this lagoon as their ships got stuck on the shores of the Karimanal Village, on the opposite side of the mouth of the lake, from where the coast line got the name ‘Coramandal’. During the Dutch rule Pulicat was known by the namePallaicatta Pulicat today bears testimony to this fact (period 1606 to 1690) with the Dutch Fort in ruins, dating back to 1609, a Dutch Church, Dutch Cemetery with 22 protected tombs (1631 to 1655) and a Dutch Cemetery with 76 tombs and mausoleums protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Dutch built Fort Geldria at Pulicat, from where they transacted business with the British East India Company and other countries in the region.
A scientific study of the palynological characteristics of the lagoon was conducted by taking sedimentary soil samples from four test pits. It shows that :
Vegetational reconstruction from peat beds at 4.98 metres (16.3 ft) a.m.s.l. and 1 metre (3.3 ft) (a.m.s.l.) in the west at Sullurpeta and Kasdredinilem, respectively, is indicative of a palaeoshorelin. The sea level reached its maximum around 6650 plus or minus 110 yrs BP in Sullurpeta, 18 kilometres (11 mi) west from the present shoreline. The radiocarbon dates of peat bed at Kasdreddinilem reveals an age of 4608 plus or minus 122 yrs BP, indicating the shift in mangrove line eastwards during the regressive phase.
Geography and topography
The lagoon’s boundary limits range between 13.33° to 13.66° N and 80.23° to 80.25°E, with a dried part of the lagoon extending up to 14.0°N.; with about 84% of the lagoon in Andhra Pradesh and 16% in Tamil Nadu. The lagoon is aligned parallel to the coast line with its western and eastern parts covered with sand ridges. Area of the lake varies with the tide; 450 square kilometres (170 sq mi) in high tide and 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi) in low tide. Its length is about 60 kilometres (37 mi) with width varying from 0.2 kilometres (0.12 mi) to 17.5 kilometres (10.9 mi).
Climate of the lagoon coast line is dominated by Tropical monsoons. Air temperature varies from 15 °C (59 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F).
The large spindle-shaped barrier island named Sriharikota separates the lake from the Bay of Bengal. The Satish Dhawan Space Centre, located on the north end of the island. is the launch site of India’s successful first lunar space mission, theChandrayaan-1.
The sandy barrier islands of Irkam and Venad and smaller islands in the north are aligned north–south and divide the lagoon into eastern and western sectors. The morphology of the lagoons is categorized under four types with large areas under mudflats and sandflats.
The fishing village of Pulicat is at the south end of the lake. Dugarājupatnam and Sullurpeta are two important towns on the periphery of the lagoon.
Three major rivers which feed the lagoon are the Arani River at the southern tip, the Kalangi River from the northwest and theSwarnamukhi River at the northern end, in addition to some smaller streams. The Buckingham Canal, a navigation channel, is part of the lagoon on its western side. The lagoon’s water exchange with the Bay of Bengal is through an inlet channel at the north end of Sriharikota and out flow channel of about 200 metres (660 ft) width at its southern end, both of which carry flows only during the rainy season.
The lake acts as buffer to retain the accumulated flood water till the flood water is discharged gradually to the sea during the monsoon period and cyclones. The lake and its river basins are located both in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states. The lake and its drainage river basins become interstate river basin as per Interstate River Water Disputes Act 1956. Most of the lake area including its water outlet to the sea is located in Andhra Pradesh.
The water quality of the lake varies widely during various seasons – summer, pre–monsoon, monsoon and post–monsoon – as the depth and width of the lake mouth varies causing a dynamic situation of mixing and circulation of waters. The resultant salinity variation and DO (dissolved oxygen) affects the primary production, plankton, biodiversity and fisheries in this lake.
Salinity values vary from zero during the monsoon to about 52,000 ppm (hyper saline) during post and pre–monsoon seasons. Adjustment to this wide variation is difficult for sessile and sedentary species in the lake. However, euryhaline species still dwell in the lake.
The benthic or the bottom habitat of this lagoon is classified into three zones. The southern zone, the first zone, is dominated by sand with some admixture of mud. The second zone at the northern region is wholly muddy. The third zone with sand and mud in equal parts is overgrown with patches of weeds and is reported to be rich in benthic biodiversity.
Toxicity levels of heavy metals such as magnesium, lead, zinc, nickel, cadmium, aluminum and copper and chemicals such as ammonia, sulphate and fluoride in the lake are well within permissible limits.
Flora and fauna
The lagoon has rich flora and fauna diversity, which supports active commercial fisheries and a large and varied bird population.
Fishing is the major occupation in the many villages located around the lake periphery and on the islands. The lake has rich fish diversity, mostly marine species, some truly brackish water and a few freshwater species. Mullets andCatfish are the major brackish water fish, which have supported sustenance fishing for the lake fishermen. The lake is a nursery for several species of fish. Two thirds of the settlements in the lake area are in Tamil Nadu and the balance in Andhra Pradesh. 12,370 fishermen live on full-time fishery in the lake (6,000 in Andhra Pradesh and 6,370 in Tamil Nadu).
An average 1200 tonnes of fish and crustaceans are harvested annually, of which prawns constitute 60%, followed by mullets. Seafood exports of white and Tiger prawns, jellyfish, finfish and live lagoon Green crabs are also economic benefits from the lagoon. 168 total fish species are reported. The frequently found ones are the Mullets: M. cunnesius, M. jerdoni, M. dussumieri, M. cephalus, M. bornensis and Blowfish T. nigropunctatus, T. leopardus, Barbus dorsalis, Catfish Macronesvittatus, Sardines,Sardinellafimbriata and milk fish. Finfish, Green crabs, Clams and Prawns are the most commercially exploited fishes of the lagoon. Endangered Green sea turtlesare found on the beaches of Sriharikota beach.
Apart from prawns salt is also produced from the lagoon
The shallow lake is known for its diversity of aquatic birds and is an important stopover on migration routes and is reported to be the third most important wetland on the eastern coast of India for migratory shorebirds, particularly during the spring and autumn migration seasons. In view of the rich avifauna of the lagoon, two bird sanctuaries are established in the lagoon, one in each of the two states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The Andhra Pradesh portion of Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary, established in September 1976, has an area of 172 square kilometres (66 sq mi) within the lagoon’s total area in the state in the Tada Taluk of Nellore district. The Wildlife Division of the state has listed 115 species of water and land birds in the sanctuary.
The Tamil Nadu part of the lagoon of 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi) area, extending over the Ponneri and Gummidipundi taluks of Thiruvallur district was declared a Bird Sanctuary in October 1980.
Every year approximately 15,000 Greater Flamingos are reported to visit the lake along with pelicans, kingfishers, herons, painted storks, spoonbills and ducks.
The highest concentrations of flamingo are found in the periphery of the lagoon where the water level is below40 centimetres (16 in). The concentrations of flamingos are also associated with high algal, fish and benthic diversity.Other water birds in the area include Spot-billed Pelican, seven species of herons and egrets, Painted Stork, Greater Flamingos, ducks, 20 species of shorebirds, gulls, terns, Little Grebe, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Teal, Spotbill Duck, Great Thick-knee and Stone Curlew.
Several species of wintering waterfowl have been noted including Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard,Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Caspian Tern.
Birds of prey which appear in winter are the: White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey, Harriers and Peregrine Falcons.The largest concentrations of Flamingos occur in the Andhra Pradesh part of the sanctuary, around the islands of Vendadu and Irukkam.
On the Andhra Pradesh side, a vantage location for bird watching is from Sullurpet (on the National Highway 5 (India)) turn east by the SHAR Road to the lake, to see feeding flocks of water birds, particularly flocks of flamingoes.
Aquatic vegetation reported are 59 species, including eight Cyanophyceae, seven Chlorphyceae and two Rhodophyceae. Patches of residual, dry, evergreen forest and large areas of littoral scrub in woodlands in fishing villages bordering the lagoon are seen. Invasive phytoplankton species of Prosopis juliflora, Spirulina major,Oscillatoria spp., Anabaena spp., Rhizosolenia castracanei, Eucampiacornuta and Climacodiumfrauenfeldianum in the plains on the periphery of the lake have been recorded.
Threats to the lake
In the Andhra Pradesh part of the lake several threats to the lagoon have been identified. These are: pollution from sewage, pesticides, agricultural chemicals and industrial effluents – from Arani and Kalangi rivers draining into the lake that bring in fertilizers and pesticides with the runoff from the agricultural field in to the drainage basin, domestic sewage, effluents and wastes from numerous fish processing units; oil spills from the mechanized boats; release of4,780 hectares (11,800 acres) of the Sanctuary for a marine chemicals and salt-manufacturing industry and shrimp farming in more than 1,000 acres (400 ha) on the eastern part of the lagoon have affected the Pulicat Bird Sanctuary; livelihood of 30,000 fishermen and 20,000 agricultural labourers (for whom fishing is an off-season economic activity) have also been disturbed. This activity is also reported to have serious impact on aquaculture development.
Threats to the Tamil Nadu part of the lagoon are from two major sources. These are siltation and pollution.
Siltation and periodic closure of the bar mouth due to the dynamic process of sediment transport has caused reduction of size and seasonal closure of the mouth of the lake has reduced fresh sea-water exchange and made the lake shallow and turbid. It is reported that average depth of 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in the early 20th century, has reduced to less than about 1 metre (3.3 ft) now, in the lagoon. This has caused difficulties such as mouth getting silted up and getting closed during the summer season (June–July to Oct–Nov); raise in flood level occurs during the rainy season; the lake acts as a large evaporating basin when the bar is closed resulting in salinity levels remaining low or high subject to the flood discharge into the lake during the northeast monsoon; fluctuation of water level in the lake (above or below the sea level) is affecting flora, fauna and fisheries; siltation has caused variation of the lake mouth resulting in reduction of tidal inflows and consequent decline in stocking of commercially important species of prawns and mullets.
Pollution and Human Impacts are: the Arani and Kalangi rivers carrying runoff from agricultural fields in the drainage basin cause increase in pollution load from fertilizers and pesticides into the lake; pollution from domestic sewage being released to the lake; Petrochemical complex, power plant and a satellite port on Ennorecreek have further aggravated the problem; there is threat of flooding of 14 island – villages of the lake; subsequent to the Tsunami in 2004, the number of fishing boats have increased resulting in the `Catch Per Unit Effort’ of fish, prawns and crabs declined from 1000 tonnes to about 700 tonnes; and this has increased the social and fishing rights conflicts between marine based fishermen and the lagoon fishermen.
Due to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, lagoon fishery was adversely affected, with many fishing communities losing all means of livelihood until the middle of April 2005, as the loss of lives, homes and boats prevented them from going fishing in the sea and the lake. They subsisted on relief supplies provided by the government and other agencies. Many people in fish related trades were also affected. However, a beneficial effect of the tsunami has been the widening of the opening to the lagoon.
Restoration and social activism
An Expert Group has prepared a “Wildlife Action Plan for Conservation Measures on the Pulicat Lake Sanctuary”, which has envisaged to set up a hydro biological research station, establish a visitor centre, provide shallow-bottomed boats to enable sanctuary staff to patrol the lagoon and to prepare a management plan and conservation strategy for the entire area.
Apart from the above action plan, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) called COPDANET is striving to implement effective activities in the lagoon by creating proactive methods to create fisher folks’ unity and friendship, establishing a set of principles to declare traditional “Paadu system” as sustainable, protecting the lagoon fisher folk from unscrupulous elements and vested interests, making efforts at mangrove propagation through the Paaadu system and to pursue with Government agencies for rebuilding the eco-systems through regular desilting at the ‘Bar Mouth to Estuaries’ to ensure adequate salt and fresh water mix in the lagoon which could enhance fish resources.
Among the NGOS’ involved in post Tsunami rehabilitation work on the lagoon is the Centre for Research on New International Economic Order (CReNIEO), who have been working here since 1984. Their objective is promoting welfare of the weaker sections of the Indian society; including women, children, fishermen and tribal communities, with special emphasis on management of the beneficial natural resources of Pulicat Lake.
Based on an internationally supported pilot projects undertaken in Sri Lanka, considering that problems in Sri Lankan and Indian lake regions are similar, CReNIEO initiated the “Integrated Fisherfolk Development Project” for adoption in the Pulicat lagoon. The Global Natural Fund (GNF) supported project of CReNIEO aims at rural activities in Pulicat region with the main focus on environmental education, sustainable land use, new job opportunities and sustainable fishery to avoid over-fishing of the Lake.
A research study titled “Community-Based Disaster Preparedness, Vulnerability Studies and Enhancement of Sustainable Livelihood for the inhabitants of Pazhaverkadu (Pulicat)” by Loyola College, Chennai and the Pazhaverkadu Action Network (PAN), in partnership with Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid CORDAID – The Netherlands, reported in 2007 that
A water body that bore the brunt of industrial pollution a decade ago, the Pulicat Lake, north of Chennai, has today made an ecological turnaround, recording toxicity levels well within permissible limits.
Under the “Tsunami Emergency Assistance Project” (TEAP) comprising a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to India, construction of a high level bridge across Pulicatlake along with approach roads on both sides of the lake, starting from Pulicat village and ending at Light House at Kuppam, is under implementation. When completed, this will provide a safe escape route for those 50,000 people residing on the island and also access for emergency response operations for transporting personnel and equipment to coastal sites affected by future environmental disasters.
Recently, around 21 members of Bird Watchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh (BSAP), Hyderabad visited Pullicatlake to watch the birds at Nelapattu Birds Sanctuary and also the different varieties of birds in Pullicat Lake subsequent to the Tsunami.
Pulicat Lake Bird Lovers Society is another NGO working on the lake. http://www.pulicat.org/
PLBLS, a voluntary organization functioning over a decade to protect the bird sanctuaries, educating the students, villagers and farmers to protect the rare birds. PLBLS was started by a very enthusiastic team of four members at their 18, 19 years of age and very soon organized International seminar on wetlands, conducted field trips & educational programs to farmers and students, guides bird watchers, students and researchers, conducts photo gallery and film shows and organizes technical seminar on the lake every year with eminent personalities as participants.
PLBLS bags Best Society award at Flamingo Festival (A major festival conducted by the State Government) in 2004, 05, 06 & 07 for the coordination during the festival. Mistnet, a magazine of Indian Bird Conservation Network carried PLBLS as news in it very soon the organization started these activities at a swing.
The southern part of the lagoon in Tamil Nadu in which fishing is highly productive, closer to Ennore and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the estuary and bar (where the sea water and lagoon water coalesce) is controlled by fishermen of three main Pulicat Lagoon villages namely, KottaiKuppam, NaduvurMadhaKuppam and AndiKuppam. The system under which fishing is controlled by these three villages is called Paadu system. It is an ancient system practiced in the Pulicat Lagoon and is also practiced in coastal regions of Sri Lanka and other coasts of Tamil Nadu. Paadu is a:
traditional system of getting entitlements to eligible members of a particular community for undertaking specified fishing activity in certain designated areas. The fishing grounds fall within a radius of5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the mouth of the lake with a salinity well maintained without much drying even during low tides.
However, this traditional practice is based on caste control of the access rights to the high productive areas but is not respected by most of the eastern fishermen. Ocean-side villages also challenge this system. As a result, conflicts leading to violence have been reported
How To Reach
The Tamil Nadu part of the lake is 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Chennai and the nearest airport and major railway station are in Chennai. The nearest suburban railway station is at Ponneri. To reach Pulicat on the National Highway 5 from Chennai, drive north toward Nellore, after 30 kilometres (19 mi), turn right after the toll gate on ThatchoorKootu Road to Ponneri village and continue 18 km (11.2 mi) to Pulicat village.
Sullurpeta station is 17 kilometres (11 mi) from Sriharikota. From the north, NH 5, passes through Bharagora, Odisha and through Sullurupeta up to Chennai.
Nearest airpot is Chennai
Nearest railway station is Chennai
Best time to visit:
October – March
Can stay either at Chennai or Tirupathi. Accommodation easily available in both cities.
Regular Ferry across the Lake, to the Lighthouse – Rs 2.00 per person. Exclusive boat, for the day – Rs 400/- per day.