August 20, 2008 Bali, Indonesia
RESOLUTION ON THE SETHUSAMUDRAM SHIP CANAL PROJECT, GULF OF MANNAR & PALK BAY, India and Sri Lanka
http://www.sangam.org/articles/view2/print.php?uid=677 Geopolitical perspective and security in the Indian Ocean: Sethusamuderam Project: Reasons for the Construction of the Canal and its Economic & Environmental Impact on Sri Lanka by Donald Jayantha Gnanakone
Adopted by the Fifth Meeting of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (Bali, 20-23 August 2008)
Recognizing that the waters of the Gulf of Mannar, including Palk Strait, Palk Bay, and Adam’s Bridge, provide critical habitats such as extensive seagrass beds and coral reefs which support regionally important concentrations of endangered and threatened migratory marine wildlife, including four species of marine turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea, Caretta caretta, Eretmochelys imbricata, Chelonia mydas, Marine Mammals such as Dugong (Dugong dugong), Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis), Bryde's Whale (Balaenoptera edeni), Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macro), Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis), Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris),Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Bottle-nosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncates), False Killer Whale Pseudorca crassidens,- Whale Shark, (Rhincodon typus) and birds – Spot billed pelican, Oriental darter, Lesser flamingo, White ibis and Painted stork.
(Bird List from Dr. Balachander of the Bombay Natural History Society who is based in the region- these are near threatened IUCN status)
Ceteaceans in Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar (From “A Catalogue of Indian Marine Mammal Records” by Kumaran Sathasivam 2004)
Acknowledging that this project area has unique historic, cultural and economic importance to the people from India and Sri Lanka, in addition to providing essential living marine resources for more than 500,000 fishersfolk in India and Sri Lanka;
Concerned that the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), will involve dredging and maintaining a 89 km long channel, which will be 300 meters wide and 12 meters deep in 3 segments across the Gulf of Mannar to allow passage of ships up to 30,000 DWT which will unquestionably cause changes to the sediment flow, oceanographic parameters, nutrient cycles and irreversible damage to critical marine habitats, endangered and migratory species, within the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. The globally significant and endemic species of this biodiverse region stands threatened.
Conscious that the proposed project will be within 6km of India's first and largest Biosphere Reserve, which is internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme.
Recalling that Biosphere Reserves are nominated by national governments under the UNESCO's MAB Programme to “reduce biodiversity loss; improve livelihoods and enhance social, economic and cultural conditions for environmental sustainability”.
Aware that various documents fundamental for the justification of the SSCP, such as the EIA report, Detailed Project Report, Technical Feasibility and the Economic Analysis report, have been criticised by several experts in environmental science, earth sciences, oceanography, geology, naval hydrography, marine biology, environmental policy, law, economics, and maritime navigation who have concluded that the environmental and social impacts on the biodiversity of the region, including endangered or threatened migratory species and their habitats as well as the financial viability of the project have not been adequately assessed or predicted.
Further acknowledging that analyses of the project by economic, shipping and marine navigation experts conclude that previous cost-benefit analyses and financial feasibility studies have not adequately or accurately forecast the costs to potential SSCP users, thereby questioning the project’s economic viability;
Concerned that this project will have severe, deleterious impacts on the above mentioned endangered and threatened migratory species and their habitats, local marine and coastal biodiversity, fisheries and marine related livelihoods of communities in the region of Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar;
Recognizing the strong public opinion and opposition against this project from local fisher communities as well as civil society due to its implications on the environment, ecology and the local livelihood as articulated in the prayers of the petitions being heard in the Supreme Court of India [Special Leave Petitions (SLP) (Civil) Nos. 19176 of 2005 and SLP (Civil) 20758 of 2005];
The Signatory States to the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding
Urge that a comprehensive regional environmental impact assessment study be carried out by an independent agency to determine the likely impacts of the project on the environment within the contiguous marine and terrestrial territories of India and Sri Lanka, including all endangered and threatened migratory species and their habitats, and a report prepared for public consultation in India, Sri Lanka, and other States likely to be affected before any further construction activities related to the SSCP are taken forward;
Urge that a comprehensive and independent economic and financial feasibility analysis be carried out by an independent agency any further construction activities related to the SSCP are taken forward;
Urge that these analyses take into account views and opinions of various relevant inter-governmental bodies and agencies, including, but not limited to, CMS, UNESCO, UNEP, FAO and IMO, and also take into account written statements from various community institutions (such as village committees, traditional panchayats and gram panchayats) of each coastal village in the area of influence on the project;
Urge that the above documents are translated into the local languages and disseminated to communities and civil society for public consultation and for the purpose of conducting fresh public hearings in India and Sri Lanka on the SSCP to assess the full environmental and economic implications of the project.
Please find the above draft resolution on proposed Sethusamudram Canal which will be adopted by the Fifth Meeting of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (Bali, 20-23 August 2008). For Sri Lankan conservationists and politicians, this document may be with great importance.
Project Leader - Turtle Conservation Project (TCP)
Marine Turtle Specialist - IUCN/SSC-MTSG