Dredging of the sea bed near Goa's Mormugao Port Trust, to facilitate expansion of the port's privately operated coal-handling berths may sound the death-knell for Goa's dolphin-sighting tours, which are a hit with tourists.Over the last three days, the MPT, Goa's only major port, has been conducting environmental public hearings, which 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 Ltd.
The proposed redevelopment of the coal handling facility is expected to increase import of coal, which is currently 12 million tons to 51 million tons by 2030.
Coal imported into Goa is expected to be utilised by steel manufacturing units in the neighbouring state of Karnataka, through a road and rail network, which 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," World Wildlife Fund's senior programme co-ordinator Puja Mitra said in her presentation at the hearing in Vasco on Friday.
"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," she added.
The WWF official further said, that 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.
"Tourism industry in Goa comprises of 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 the state for its beaches. Small boats ferry tourists to small patches in the Arabian sea, where dolphins are known to frequent and surface.
The issue of redevelopment of the coal berths has also taken a political turn, with the Congress demanding the relocation of the coal handling facility to Karnataka's Mangaluru port.
"The additional coal import will only pollute the city of Vasco, which 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 Trust in Northern Karnataka," Congress spoksperson Sankalp Amondkar told IANS.
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.
MPT Chairman I. Jeyakumar has said that the agency, over the years, had stood for sustainable development 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 responsible entity in the local environment," he said.