Odisha’s dolphin tourism hit by climate change, shrimp farming and infrastructure projects

By Sudhansu R Das*
Nature has blessed Odisha with a vibrant natural sector economy. The sectors of forestry, handicrafts, hand weaving, fishing, agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, pilgrimage tourism and horticulture, etc. can create huge jobs and income in the state in a sustainable way. The state must develop a sound economic vision to harness the benefits of natural sectors.
Building infrastructure projects with investment generates revenue and slows GDP growth; there is no guarantee that this would create inclusive employment opportunities. Today, infrastructure projects are like consumer goods that are traded by intermediaries and global traders around the world.
Many countries have been ruined because of their obsession with the illusion of infrastructure-driven growth. Recently, the Sri Lankan economy collapsed because of this illusion. This has created a heavy borrowing burden for the country whose interest cannot be repaid over the next 50 years. Many infrastructure projects have been abandoned and many do not generate income in Sri Lanka.
The ability of leaders to understand what is good for people and for the economy always protects the economy from possible collapse. Odisha State should take precautions in opting for the infrastructure-based growth model.
Recently, the state government prepared a plan to develop nautical tourism in its coastline, beaches, lakes, canals, rivers, dams and reservoirs. Plans are underway to introduce floating restaurants, cruise ships, adventure sports facilities and build hotels at these locations. It is essential that the state government examines the sustainability of these projects and its true potential to create inclusive employment opportunities for the local population.
In line with the state’s new water tourism development plan, a water sports facility will be developed in Cuttack’s newly renovated Taladanda Channel. The city’s main drain carries dirty water, industrial waste and plastic to the Taladanda Canal.

Before introducing water sports facilities in the Taladanda Canal, the government should close all open drains in the town of Cuttack, complete the underground sewage system, improve the garbage disposal system, install garbage treatment plants away from residential areas and fine people who use open drains as toilets. Thousands of people in the city urinate in open sewers; urine mixed with water goes to Taladanda channel.
First, the authority should keep the city green and clean; the growth of slums on government land makes it difficult to dispose of garbage. Residents of the town of Cuttack will enjoy boat rides in the Taladanda Canal if the authority could make the old town green and healthy with the planting of native trees; open spaces, community playgrounds and walking trails will help grow the tourism sector.
There are plans to develop hotels, roads and restaurants around the famous Chilika Lake. Floating restaurants, cruise ships and water sports facilities will be introduced in the lake. The 1,165 square kilometer saltwater lake provides livelihood for villagers living in 132 villages in and around the lake. Small islands, hills, playful dolphins and the Nalabana Bird Sanctuary with migratory birds in winter attract thousands of tourists.

Rare small cashews, fish, tiger prawns, crabs, bananas, drumsticks, mangoes, jackfruits, paddy and a wide range of vegetables grow in these villages. The natural sector economy here can increase villagers’ incomes through awareness raising, skills development training and transparent marketing facilities. Instead of building concrete structures, the state should protect ethnic culture, landscape, ancient temples and encourage local people to build classic native houses with biodegradable materials.

Not a single dolphin was visible after roaming around the lake for four hours. Local villagers said it was due to an increase in atmospheric temperature

There is no need to build hotels, restaurants and new concrete structures in and around the lake as these structures would disturb the fragile ecosystem and detract from the natural beauty of the lake. Tourists can stay in Puri, Khurda and Berhampur and visit Chilika in a single day. This will benefit local people who operate boats, run restaurants and travel agencies.

This writer traveled to the Satapada area of ​​Chilika to see dolphins the first week of October 2022. Not a single dolphin was seen after moving around the lake for over four hours. Local villagers said that it is due to the increase in atmospheric temperature that the dolphins do not come out. They said dolphin movements were restricted due to illegal shrimp farming. Thousands of bamboo stumps are planted for shrimp farming; the stumps are sticking out of the water which makes the boat ride here dangerous. Not a single lifeboat was seen in four hours.

People say if there is an accident, call the helpline number and the rescue team will come. Nearly 1,500 boats operate in the Satapada area of ​​Chilika and many boats are overloaded with tourists without safety tubes. Visitors remove life jackets after entering boats; no one checks them. The authorities must ensure the safety of tourists.
For dolphin visitation, the state government should stop shrimp farming in Chilika Lake, plant native trees along its coast to reduce atmospheric temperature, prevent poaching and bird hunting, strengthen patrols, sensitize the villagers to the environment and provide training to the villagers who can run the economic activities of the natural sector. Ten years ago, hundreds of dolphins were sighted throughout the Satapada region which connects the lake to the Bay of Bengal.
Natural beauty, myths, mysteries, interesting history, ancient temples, folklores and heritage have made the 460 kilometer coastline an interesting place to visit. The coastline no longer needs a concrete structure and should be kept as natural as possible; tourists only come to see natural beauty because they’ve seen enough concrete structures everywhere.

Hotels and restaurants can be built with biodegradable materials in nearby towns and district headquarters away from the coast line. Odisha’s water tourism policy needs to be revamped by real experts who know the local people, region and economy.

* Freelance writer

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