Fishermen in the regions of Kovalam and Vizhinjam in the southern Indian state of Kerala have urged authorities to halt the construction of an artificial reef funded by central government Tsunami Rehabilitation Funds. In an attempt to attract surfers to the area and turn Kovalam into a year-round tourism destination, the state government plans to build the reef 150 metres from the tourist beach.
Fishermen’s access to local beaches has already been curtailed due to tourism. They now fear that the new project will further restrict fishing space, threatening the livelihoods of up to 1800 fishermen and their families and forcing some to relocate. Fishermen are calling on the state government to shift the reef to at least two kilometres away from the beach where they fish.
Planning for the reef began in 2005. However, local communities were not consulted and only became aware of the plans when the laying of geo-textile bags, which form the base of the reef, was about to start. Local fishermen’s ongoing opposition prompted a recent meeting with state government officials and representatives of ASR Limited, the New Zealand-based company undertaking the project. Despite promises that the reef will benefit communities by increasing tourism and providing coastal protection, local people remain sceptical. There have been no social or environmental impact assessments of the reef project and Kovalam reportedly suffers no serious sea-erosion problems compared to other nearby fishing villages. This includes villages in the region of Allappat, which was badly hit by the tsunami. Furthermore, the effectiveness of artificial reefs in preventing coastal erosion remains unproven.
Calls from local and international campaigning organisations, including Tourism Concern, for a fair and transparent public hearing on the issue have so far fallen on deaf ears. The funding for the project has allegedly recently doubled, leading to additional calls for public scrutiny of the budget.