Print edition : July 16, 2010

The Pulicat lake is a big draw with migratory birds, especially flamingos.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

NELLORE district, in the south-eastern part of Andhra Pradesh, serves as the State's environmental barometer the changes in weather conditions in the Bay of Bengal are always reflected in Nellore, which has a 169-kilometre-long coastline.

The Pulicat lake is an important tourist destination in the district. It supports a rich biodiversity, and is the second largest brackish water lagoon in India. The lake is spread over 600 sq km, and covers Tada, Sullurpet, Doravarisatram, Chittamur and Vakadu mandals of the district. It is 70 km long from north to south and 20 km wide east to west, and the island of Sriharikota (where the Satish Dhawan Space Centre is located) separates it from the Bay of Bengal.

Pulicat lake opens into the Bay of Bengal at three places at Rayadoruvu and Kondurupalem in the district and at Pazhaverkadu in Tamil Nadu.

Hordes of migratory birds come here from places as far as Siberia. The winged visitors include flamingos, painted storks, egrets, grey pelicans, grey herons and water birds like pintails, black-winged stilts and sea gulls. There are a number of bird-sighting spots, scattered 60-100 km from Chennai, and abutting the Chennai-Kolkata National Highway 5. The lake has a high biomass of fish, prawn and plankton, which form the principal source of food for the birds.

The lake was first notified as a bird sanctuary in 1976. Since then, it has been recognised as an ecological treasure-trove, which meant a spurt in conservation activities. The dwellers in the vicinity mainly fisherfolk dependent on the lake's aqua wealth' have never perceived the conservation measures as a threat since the lake yields an average of 1,200 tonnes of fish a year, including prawns, sardines and pomfrets.

Reptiles such as the monitor lizard, the cobra, the Russel's viper and the krait have been recorded here. Wildlife tourism is also promoted.

The lake is home to rare flora. The patches of tropical evergreen forest interspersed with mangrove forests, littoral vegetation and canebrake on Sriharikota are a botanist's delight. The Forest Department has set up an environmental education centre at Atakanithippa on the road leading to Sriharikota.

Nelapattu Sanctuary

Close to Pulicat is the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary, the largest pelicanry in south-east Asia. Spread over 458.92 hectares, it hosts 1,500 pelicans during the breeding season every year. The best time for visiting the sanctuary is from October to March.

After the Rann of Kutch, it is the largest breeding ground for endangered bird species such as the grey pelican, the open-bill stork, the little cormorant, the spoonbill, the white ibis, and the night heron. The sanctuary area has a freshwater tank and a good number of Barringtonia acutangula trees, which can tolerate inundation for long periods and provide a convenient perch for the birds.

JUST-BORN OLIVE Ridley turtles before being released into the sea. Turtle hatcheries provide livelihood opportunities for the local community.-R. SRINIVAS

Unlike the tensions witnessed elsewhere between humans and fauna, Nelapattu is a case study of a symbiotic relationship between humans and birds. The guano of birds is an excellent fertilizer. The proximity to Pulicat, an inexhaustible source of feed for birds, and the cover provided by the reserve forest, explain Nelapattu's popularity with birds.

To restrict human intervention in Nelapattu after it was declared a sanctuary in 1973, the Forest Department came up with programmes such as drilling of borewells for irrigating fields, supply of non-wood agricultural implements and alternative energy sources such as biogas plants and smokeless chulhas. The sanctuary is located 80 km south of Nellore and 95 km north of Chennai. Both Pulicat and Nelapattu can be accessed from Tirupati airport (65 km) or Chennai airport (95 km). Express trains stop at Naidupet (12 km) and Sullurpet (15 km) on the Chennai-Vijayawada route.

Penusila Sanctuary

The third most important zone in the wildlife map of Nellore is the Penusila Narasimha wildlife sanctuary spread over 1,030.85 sq km. Located 50 km from Nellore town, it is home to the panther, the cheetal, the neelgai, the chowsinga, the sloth bear, the jackal, the wild boar and many reptiles and birds. A unique feature of the sanctuary is the dry evergreen forest with hilly slopes, and valleys with shallow gradients.

Coastline safety

Olive Ridley turtle hatcheries are coming up in the district with the active support of non-governmental organisations to safeguard the turtles and provide livelihood opportunities for the local community. Tribal youth have been trained to identify turtle eggs on the coast and shift them to hatcheries to protect them from dogs, scavenging birds and other threats.

Following the terror attack, on Mumbai in November 2008, surveillance has been stepped up on the shores of Nellore district. A marine police station has been set up in Dugarajupatnam; plans are afoot to establish similar stations at Sriharikota, and Krishnapatnam, the newly developed sea port.

GREY PELICAN CHICKS at the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

A threat to the coastline is the presence of a large number of aqua farms for prawn culture. They fetch revenue for farmers but also pollute the groundwater. Studies have revealed that wells near the aqua farms are contaminated with biodegradable organic compounds.

If conservation activities are strengthened, Nellore district can become the lung space for southern Andhra Pradesh and perhaps for the entire State.

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