Vembanad Lake, a Ramsar site, is located in southwest India, in the state of Kerala. It is the longest lake in India and a coastal lagoon, with a length of 96 km and a surface area of 1512 km2. It is spread across the three districts of Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Alappuzha and expands into several types of waterways, including wetland systems and rivers.
Vembanad lake has important cultural, economic and ecosystem value. The increased tourism in the area has added pressure to the already vulnerable lake. It has undergone adverse effects from agricultural runoff, anthropogenic waste, heavy resource extraction and reclamation of agricultural land that has reduced the size of the lake.
Vembanad Lake provides sustenance for highly populated communities living around it. Community livelihoods derive from fishing, agriculture, tourism and industrial commodities from the lake. Tourism is a large source of income for locals. Travellers from all over the world come to float down the lake’s backwaters. Fishing and lime shell industries have come up around the lake.
Read more on socio-ecological system on the Vembanad CERC website.
One study looked at the relationship between health and water quality. The Land, Water and Livelihoods programme carried out a two-year research project to build a GIS layer to identify areas of concern. This layer will make connections between the hydrological cycle and the distribution of pollution. The study carried out student surveys, doctors, residents, and panchayats to identify known cases of disease. Data collected from hospitals and households where water-borne diseases are prevalent were correlated with LWL data. Eight sampling points were determined for physical and biological water quality testing. These points are in heavily populated areas around paddy fields under seven panchayats.
ATREE drafted a notification on ‘Regulatory Framework for Conservation of Wetlands’ in order to notify the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of components in the document that could be strengthened. This is in response to the overwhelming information about the importance of wetlands and their necessary conservation.
A workshop was organized to integrate local government panchayats and conservation principles. ATREE worked with Kerala Institute of Local Administration(KILA) to bring community leaders together, resulting in local panchayats providing feedback that helped identify hurdles in executing and accomplishing applicable laws.
In May 2008 and 2009, ATREE initiated a Vembanad fish count in order to sensitize the community to lake resources. The event isco-organized with a local partner, among which arethe Kerala State Biodiversity Board, Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS) of the Kerala Agricultural University, Vembanad Nature Club and various Lake Protection Forums of the fisher-folk.
CERC started fish sanctuaries, encouraging the community to be involved in their construction and initiation.Since these sanctuaries are made with locally available material, and as per traditional knowledge, this also contributes to preserve cultural practices.These sanctuaries have now been adopted wholly by thevillage panchayats. ATREE only facilitates formation of new sanctuaries.
ATREE helped revive an old fisher ritual of worshipping fish and shellfish on Ayliam-makom days. On these two days, fishermen and women offer prayers for the productivity and health of fish stock. The ecological significance of this ritual is that it coincides with the spawning period.
ATREE began a programme to educate and create awareness in water quality and health. The programme, called Jaladarpanam, consists of basin-stations where the community can participate in water quality testing and observation.
Every year, around fifty local schools and several universities enroll in the education programme called Jalapaadom that focuses on Vembanad Lake ecology. Teachers participate in orientation workshops to prepare for the year’s programme, which is then conducted through the school year. Students are encouraged to work on a research project of their choice concerning issues surrounding the lake.