A sea that’s got the blues

Clifton beach's once blue waters have turned a dark, grimy colour, stench from rotting seashells adds to ugliness.

Aftab Khan October 14, 2010

KARACHI: The beach was Karachi’s last saving grace when it came to comparisons with any other city in Pakistan. But its once blue waters, especially at Clifton beach, have turned a dark, grimy colour. The stench from rotting seashells has added to the ugly 14-kilometre coastline.

The dirt and pollution travels and now even Mubarak Village near Hawkes Bay, which used to be a cleaner strip, is being affected. From Shams Pir to Rehri Goth, the entire coastal line is polluted.

“Once the water used to be so clear that children would flip a coin into the sea and dive in to find it,” recalled the chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), Muhammad Ali Shah. “But now the water is so polluted that even if you throw a man in, nobody will be able to find him.”

Hailing from interior Sindh, Muhammad Sultan has been practicing his family’s art of snake charming for the last 13 years. Everyday he wanders along the glittery sands at Clifton to entertain people with his weaving, dancing snakes. But where once he uses to earn Rs200 every day, these days Sultan considers himself lucky if he manages to make Rs50 by late evening. According to the snake charmer, it is the pollution and stench at the beach that keeps people away.

“It is because of the bad smell that fewer people are coming here these days,” said Sultan. “Nobody is getting good business,” he added.

His claim was corroborated by Nazim Ali, who steers a horse on the beach and gives rides to children and adults alike.  “All these people come in their big cars but they never come out because of the smell,” he complained. “It affects our income badly.”

According to experts, every day around 450 million gallons of domestic and industrial waste is released into the sea and at least 10,000 tons of other trash too is thrown into the vast waters. Despite a law prohibiting such damage to the sea, the waste continues to pour in along with the oil spillages from gigantic cruisers.

The pollution not only mars the natural colour of the sea and the sand but destroys marine life as well. Mangroves too, which line the coastal areas of the city, protect Karachi from cyclones and storms and provide a habitat to shrimp, lobsters and oysters, are dying. Their natural green has been darkened to an ugly, oily black.

The main laws that look over industrial and municipal waste management are the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997 and the National Environmental Quality Standards 2000. These laws are adequate enough to protect the sea but they are seldom implemented, believe experts. There are three main sewage-treatment plants in Karachi, at Gutter Baghicha, Mauripur and Mehmoodabad. However, these plants are only able to process around 25 per cent of the city’s waste material. The rest is simply discharged without any treatment into the sea.

Experts give the example of India as a country that has managed to look after its natural resources. Under their Coastal Zone Management law, no building or construction can be made for up to 500 kilometres near the coast.

Urging stricter implementation of existing legislation and better, more fool-proof laws to protect the sea, experts said that it is necessary to take immediate action against the daily pollution that is affecting the sea and marine life.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2010.

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