The sea is our God
A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, revealed that Chennai tops in per capita greenhouse (GHG) among seven major Indian cities - Delhi, Hyderabad, Banglore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai. Chennai emits 4.79 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emission per capita. The rise in greenhouse gasses results in global warming which is the major aspect of Climate Change.
Palayam was 15-years-old when he first went to the sea. Still in school, he wrote a leave letter to his teacher. “I cannot come to school tomorrow, I am going to the sea, I have to feed my family.”
It was his brother who taught him fishing. “There are two things you have to keep in mind,” said his brother, “Anchor near the Thalapukal - an ocean rock formation - and look for the mountains for directions.”
On a Saturday in 1979, Palayam set off to the sea, on a Kattumaram (a single-hull boat made by tying many logs of woods together) with a large rock as the anchor.
Today, 41 years later, sitting in his office in Uroor Olcott Kuppam, in Chennai, he says,” The sea is not the same anymore, she is angry and unpredictable.”
A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, revealed that Chennai tops in per capita greenhouse (GHG) among seven major Indian cities - Delhi, Hyderabad, Banglore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai. Chennai emits 4.79 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emission per capita.
The rise in greenhouse gasses results in global warming which is the major aspect of Climate Change.
The sea was not very rough on Palayam’s first fishing day. He secured his bait, a fishing rod, vala - a net made from cotton thread, and pushed his Kattumaram into the waves. The sun was rising in front of him.
He remembered his brother’s lesson. He spotted the Thirusulam hill at Meembakkam and the LIC building at Anna Salai as landmarks to get back.
“They have GPS today. In fact, now it is difficult to spot these in the morning due to smog,” said Palayam. Last year, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Chennai worsened to 22, which is considered very unhealthy according to the AQI standards.
V, Senthil, another fisherman from Chennai said, “We cannot bear the heat today, it gave me burns.” Even the water temperature is rising, he added.
The heat was bearable on that Saturday. Palayami, heeding to his brother’s advice, rowed his maram to the rock where there would be many fish.
He anchored the maram near the rock, attached bait to the rod and threw it into the sea. Palayam trusted the sea. After his father’s death, in 1984, the responsibility of protecting the family fell on his and his brother’s shoulders. He was hopeful that he would make a good catch.
Sitting in his office today, Palayam says, “Fishing is no longer a lucrative business, the fish population is decreasing steeply because of the increase in temperature.”
Dr K. Palanivelu, director and professor at the Centre for Climate Change and Disaster Management, Anna University, said that there has been a significant rise in the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and this can be directly attributed to climate change.
This increase in SST will affect the fish population as many fish cannot survive in high temperatures. This will also increase evaporation, thereby distorting the rain patterns.
This shortage of fish is critically affecting the fishermen. “If I work for a day, I will get Rs 200 to 250, we rarely get a big catch,” said a fisherman from Nochikuppam.
But in 1979, earning even Rs 100 a day was a fair deal. Palayam eagerly waited for a fish to grab his bait. The sea was calm. Waves were forming within the belly of the ocean; little planktons danced on the waves.
Many waves passed by, which Palayam did not bother to count. He felt a small jerk on his fishing road. A fish fell for his bait. Soon, the pull became stronger; he lifted the rod and carefully caught his first fish - a Varipar (Convict Surgeonfish).
“Most of the fish are born in rivers. Now with the rivers getting polluted, there are fewer varieties of fishes in the ocean,” Palayam said.
Fishermen like Palayam and Senthil agree that the sea has become rougher over the years and there is a change in wind patterns. “Even monsoon cannot be predicted today, everything has changed,” said Senthil.
However, Dr Palanivelu said that the changes in wind patterns cannot be directly attributed to climate change, while the shift in monsoon could be because of global warming.
Guganesh S, a research scholar from Anna University who is researching on the ‘Impact of Climate Change on Flooding’, said that there have been increased instances of cyclones and unprecedented heavy rainfalls in Tamil Nadu.
These changes in the environment, in turn, affect biodiversity.
Palayam recalls seeing many migratory birds in his village in Uroor Olcott Kuppam, now Besant Nagar. On an average, more than 100 migratory bird species visit Chennai every year between October and March.
“But now many migratory birds which used to come even 10 or 20 years ago have vanished,” said K R Subramaniam, a bird watcher.
Palayam got his fish. Most of his fishing expeditions were successful. “You have to stick to the Thalapukal, that is where fish are,” he said. But he is sure that he would not send his children fishing. Both of his children are now in school.
A little distance away, black fumes filled the roads, the Adayar river continued to get polluted, and on the beach, an old man pushing his boat into the waves said, “Sea is our god.”