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Perspectives on reducing anthropogenic interferences and mainstreaming nature-based solutions for sustainable restoration of Pulicat lagoon, India: from research to policy and implementation



The present study highlights the modern threats and challenges faced by Pulicat lagoon, a coastal ecosystem, as a result of urbanisation, and port development activities, and provides a detailed perspective of the significant factors causing changes to the ecosystem properties over the past decade. In face of accelerated changes, the article presents the need to create policies that recognise these threats as well as emphasises on the mainstreaming of nature-based solutions. This can help effective management of the sensitive ecosystem, which is vulnerable and for which collapse may be imminent if urgent conservation efforts are not initiated. © 2022 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing.
Perspectives on reducing anthropogenic interferences and
mainstreaming nature-based solutions for sustainable
restoration of Pulicat lagoon, India: from research to policy and
Harini SanthanamA,E,* , Shalini DhyaniB,C and Xavier BenedictD
For full list of author afliations and
declarations see end of paper The present study highlights the modern threats and challenges faced by Pulicat lagoon, a coastal
ecosystem, as a result of urbanisation, and port development activities, and provides a detailed
*Correspondence to:
Harini Santhanam
National Institute of Advanced Studies
(NIAS), Indian Institute of Science (IISc)
Campus, Bengaluru 560012, Karnataka, India
perspective of the signicant factors causing changes to the ecosystem properties over the past
decade. In face of accelerated changes, the article presents the need to create policies that
recognise these threats as well as emphasises on the mainstreaming of nature-based solutions.
This can help effective management of the sensitive ecosystem, which is vulnerable and for
which collapse may be imminent if urgent conservation efforts are not initiated.
Handling Editor:
Ritesh Kumar Keywords: EcoDRR, ecosystem, ecosystem services, nature-based solution, port development,
public participation, Pulicat lagoon, urbanisation.
Received: 6 May 2021
Accepted: 26 July 2022
Published: 22 August 2022
Cite this:
Santhanam H et al. (2022)
Marine and Freshwater Research
© 2022 The Author(s) (or their
employer(s)). Published by
CSIRO Publishing.
In recent years, the denitions of ecosystem services have been extended to include
anthropocentric gains from the natural systems. For example, extensive development of
shore area is considered to be the cornerstone of new economic development in major
sensitive coastal cities for both the innumerable growth and employment opportunities it
oers. However, the magnitude of changes to the host ecosystems along the coast needs
proactive foresightful planning to minimise the negative eects and ensure conservation.
It hasbeenstressedthatthe eects of implementing mitigation measures will be apparent
only futuristically; hence, the impacts of the adaptive measures adopted for sustainable
coastal management need to be realised in the short term (Sathaye et al.2006). Further,
as public goods, a large category of wetland ecosystem services and biodiversity values
are not factored practically in decision-making, thereby resulting in the wetlands being
converted for alternate uses. Hence, it is worthwhile to understand the pressures and the
stressors on fragile coastal and marine ecosystems of the country to argue for the need to
capitalise on existing or emerging nature-based solutions (NbS) to be implemented at a
policy and on ground level for port and jetty developments and other industrialisation in
coastal areas, to ensure the sustainability of both humans and nature (Andrade et al.
2020; Dhyani et al. 2020a). Building on this concept, the sensitive case of fragile but
ecologically relevant Pulicat lagoon, India, is presented here to attract the attention of the
international wetland conservation community, and relevant international stakeholder
groups, especially Ramsar convention authorities.
Study area
The Coromandel coast in Peninsular India located in-between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay
of Bengal, extending from Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh in the north to Nagapattinam,
R. Kalangi
R. Araniar
India Urbanisation leading N
to heat islands
Pulicat Siltation and
choking of the
Decreasing areas of entrances
marshes and bird
habitats Sriharikota
sand spit
Building check- Pulicat
dams decrease flow water body
of riverine water
Excessive shell liming,
loss of flow creating
shallow areas of potential
mean tidal
connecting to
Ennore creek
Excessive aquaculture
farming leading to pollution Pulicat Ennore
backwater channels
Imminent impacts of thermal pollution, Ennore Thermal
changes in sand shoaling, choking of Power Stations
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
Tamilnadu in the south (Stephen 1997), hosts several lagoon
ecosystems, including Chilika as well as Pulicat lake
(13.7178°N, 80.2000°E; Fig. 1), which are rapidly inuenced
by rapid and unplanned extensive development and urbanisa-
tion in the region. Pulicat anglicised from the Tamil word
for lagoon, Pazhaverkadu, is a combination of three Tamil
words, namely, Pazhaya (old), vergal (root), kadu (forest;
Jayapaul 2007; Xavier 2019), referring to the mangroves
that existed in the region. This wetland ecosystem is a bird
sanctuary of international importance and is the second largest
brackish-water ecosystem in India. Thousands of migratory
waterfowls visit the lake from October to April, including
large numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos (Odd and
Sanjeeva 2009). The reduction and stabilisation of the sea
level over the past three centuries have caused the formation
of a beach ridge dune, the Sriharikota Island. There are two
entrances to the sea, including the functional one in the south
and a smaller and dysfunctional mouth in the north, inuenc-
ing the exchange of water, salinity and nutrients with the sea
(Santhanam and Natarajan 2018). The Buckingham Canal,
which traverses through the lagoon at its eastern edge and
along with the rivers, Arani and Kalangi, owing into the
lagoon, has cultural ecosystem services recorded in the
maritime history supporting the trade of Coromandel cotton
and its textile products made in the hinterlands connected
by this water system. Because of a focus on the modernisa-
tion of railways, the canal and its water system have not
been used for the past 100 years (Xavier 2019).
Approximately 80 years ago, the lake used to cover an
area of 700 km2 during high tide and 400 km2 during low
tide; however, the extent of the lagoon and its environ-
ment has been reduced at present to 460 and 250 km2
during high tide and low tide respectively (Jayapaul 2007;
Odd and Sanjeeva 2009), along with a drastic reduction
in its depth from an average of 3 m to about 1.5 m at
present (Santhanam and Amal Raj 2019). These changes
are connected with the large-scale changes in the rainfall
pattern (Sahoo and Bhaskaran 2016).
Deposited layers of molluscan shells, which include
keystone species, can cause the formation of shallow areas
with low dissolved oxygen circulation during periods of low
rainfall and circulation, giving rise to pockets of anoxia
(Santhanam et al. 2010). These changes lower even further
the adaptive capacity and the resilience of the system for
sustained functioning.
The lagoon plays an important role in maintaining the
hydrological cycle of the region, balancing the water inux
to the sea (Santhanam and Natarajan 2018). Both historical
records, as well as the available meteorological data, show
that a large percentage of cyclones cross the ve large
wetlands including Pulicat along the south-eastern coast of
India (Sahoo and Bhaskaran 2016). The local knowledge of
the hydrology of the region imparts the understanding that
the quantity of rainfall is directly related to the movement
of winged migrants, identiable from early visitors called
pilot-birds. The presence of avian fauna provides feedback
control on the native sh and prawns harvested during
peak monsoon seasons. The bird guano deposited in the
lake bottom provides nutrients for algal growth, which are,
in turn, diets for the shes and prawns. Thus, distinct inter-
relationships are evident among the presence of birds, the
hydrological cycles, lagoonal biodiversity and livelihood of
inhabitants (of more than 20 000 shermen families living
in 17 surrounding lake villages; Jayapaul 2007; Odd and
Sanjeeva 2009; Xavier 2019), with the migratory birds
positioned at the top of the food chain at Pulicat wetland.
However, rapid urbanisation and developmental activities
have fractured many potential microhabitats and have
Fig. 1. Map showing the study area, Pulicat lagoon, south-eastern
coast of India, representing the lagoon-based issues identied by the
present investigation through ground surveys and interactions along
with inputs on in-lake processes reported in Santhanam et al. (2010,
2018) and Santhanam and Natarajan (2018).
restricted the movement of migratory birds, with changes
in the availability and distribution of their prey (Ramesh
and Ramachandran 2005; Sivalingam et al. 2015) causing a
shift in the dynamics.
In the present investigation, a review of the actual status of the
lagoon was undertaken and a qualitative survey of the
Identifying Analysing factors
environmental driving ecosystem
stressors collapse
Reviewing existing Identifying areas for
policies for integrated resources
conservation management
Deriving or
planning ecosystem
services delivery Marine and Freshwater Research
Fig. 2. Identication and analyses of lagoon-specic factors
contributing to the status of the ecosystem at Pulicat lagoon, on the
basis of the methodology used for the present investigation.
following indicators was conducted, as shown in Fig. 2. The
various factors investigated included the following:
1. the delivery of the ecosystem services of the lagoon with
respect to the current scenario
2. the factors contributing to the environmental stress and
the factors likely driving the ecosystem collapse
3. a review of the existing policies aiding wetland
conservation, and
4. the possible areas of resource management.
The qualitative study included the extensive survey of the
social, cultural and environmental systems at the ground
level, including the reports and experiences from public partici-
patory workshops (Santhanam et al.2010; Xavier 2019).
Five important factors related to urbanisation that produce
stressors of the ecosystem are as follows:
1. The building of check dams has drastically reduced the
inux of monsoon rainwater from the three rivers into
the lagoon, and is leading to a rise in the salinity.
2. Aqua-culture farms around the lagoon discharge high
levels of untreated euent containing toxic chemicals
into the lagoon.
3. Transboundary movement of a large amount of mercury
and y ash, claimed to originate from thermal power
plants in Ennore, has not been investigated. Resultant
mercury-laden groundwater and contaminated marine
produce may contaminate the food chain and also
produce adverse health eects (Thakur et al. 2020).
4. It has been hypothesised that port-related activities in the
vicinity of the lake can disturb the sand dunes and
attening formation, constantly leading to blockages
of the sea-lagoon mouths and restriction or interruption of
the interchange of tidal water, and are likely to aect
the long-term ecological health of the lake. Closures
of the mouth may alter the brackish nature of the lake
as in the case of Chilika lake (Montreux Record or
threatened list of RAMSAR in 1993 owing to the change
in its ecological character of Chilika) and created new
habitats for the invasive freshwater invasive plants,
leading to loss of native species.
5. Ban on dredging for subfossilised lime shell (Gulla
Sunnam) leads to their accumulation and, hence,
reduction in the depth of the lagoon. The traditional
form of removing shells from the lagoon was banned
during the enactment of the Environmental Protection
Act 1986, and Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
It is clear from the above section that the lagoon is already
in a critical stage and threatened because of a substantial
decline in the depth and water spread area. Further, Pulicat
faces severe degradation due to siltation, bar-mouth
dynamics, shell mining, processing and population pressure
owing to the resettlement of villagers from Sriharikota Island
and many other direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss
(Saraswathy and Pandian 2016). Ecosystem collapse reects
the marked changes being observed in the ecosystem
condition that lead to complete loss of ecosystem services
and are irreversible in nature (Lindenmayer and Sato
2018). This can be reected particularly with the rapid
decline in populations of keystone ecosystem structures
(e.g. native and migratory birds) and eects on ecosystem
functions (impact on vital ecosystem services), as in the
case of Pulicat. Ravikiran (2017) reported reduction in the
sh catch (provisioning services) from the lagoon by 3040%
over 15 years. Govindan and Ravichandran (2016) observed a
substantial rise in temperature in many parts of Pulicat, which
indicates the altered quality of the lakes environmental
structure and its productivity.
It should be noted that the issues highlighted herein are
synergistically expressed, whereas the causative factors may
be dierent (Santhanam et al. 2010). The magnitude of
changes resulting from in-lake processes is usually acutely
felt. Lake- and basin-related stressors need to be considered
from the perspective of adaptive management. However,
for the issues of other scales such as the inuence of trans-
boundary pollution at Pulicat, the magnitude of these changes
is greater and long term. A detailed review of the biophysical,
biogeochemical processes, assessment of the causal loops,
leading to transformation of the ecosystem, has been compre-
hensively reviewed in Santhanam et al. (2022). Table 1
provides a detailed discussion on the stressors identied,
the policy interventions necessary, possible engineering as
well as relevant location-specic NbS solutions.
The Indian government is a signatory to The Convention on
the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
known as the Convention on Migratory Species or the Bonn
Convention (1979) and RAMSAR Convention for Wetland
Conservation (1971). These threats and issues need to be
acknowledged at a basin level within strong policy
frameworks and interactive governance approaches, which
will help balance sustainable economic development with
the sustenance of the ecosystem services as well as the
livelihood of small-scale shers. Consideration to local
livelihood and conservation of ecosystems to address site-
specic societal challenges are at the core of NbS. These
have to be planned synergistically with the factors that can
be useful to plan adaptive strategies to reduce disaster risks
as well as improve the resilience of the lagoon (Santhanam
et al. 2022). The participation of many stakeholder groups
in restoration, conservation, and management of Pulicat
must be mainstreamed. It might be benecial to promote
regional links so as to build strategic collaborations and follow
best practices in conservation and management. Pulicat is a
wintering haven for migratory birds, so national eorts to
establish new or strengthen existing regional and global
cooperation linkages and strategic partnerships between
governments, multilateral institutions, academic institutions,
research organisations, non-governmental organisations
(NGOs), local communities, private sector, corporates and
communities can improve the current situation and
promote enhanced cooperation to improve Pulicats future
scenario. Two important discourses under this perspective
are given below.
National policies and regulatory instruments
Although forests in the country were protected under policies
from degradation since colonial times because of their high
economic values, most of the wetlands in the country were
mostly protected and conserved by indigenous and local
communities for diverse economic benets harnessed from
them. In early 2020, after almost 2.5 years of notication
Wetlands Conservation and Management Rules 2017, that
replaced the 2010 version of the Wetland rules by the
Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change
(MOEF&CC) came up with the guidelines involving state
governments and making wetland conservation a state
subject for improving wetland protection. The Wetlands
(Conservation and Management) Rules 2017, highlight that
all the wetlands, despite their size, location, ownership,
biodiversity, or economic values, are to be notied under
the Wetlands Rules 2017, and wetlands falling in these
areas will be protected under the Indian Forest Act 1927,
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, Forest (Conservation) Act
1980, and the Coastal Regulation Zone Notication 2011.
Guidelines support wise use of wetlands and strongly
discourage non-wise uses. Any intervention that changes the
ecosystem structure or function (reduction in water owing,
change in native diversity of species, fragmentation, changed
water quality, invasive species including concretisation of the
wetland buer zone for the sake of tourism and
industrialisation) is considered non-wise use. However,
despite having wise and non-wise categories clear, most of
the wetlands, including high conservation-value wetlands,
face serious pressure from non-wise use. Discharge of
industrial euents, sewage, mostly goes unregulated.
The MoEF&CC, following a Supreme Court order of 2004,
issued guidelines on a declaration for eco-sensitive zones
(ESZ) around the Wildlife Sanctuaries to perform as shock
absorbers by regulation and eective management of the
anthropogenic interferences and developmental activities
around them. All activities in these ESZ are to be regulated
by the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986,
and carefully managed. National Wetland Policy and the
National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) of India proposes
several guidelines for wetlands that deter construction
activities in the vicinity of the buer zone of the wetlands.
NBWL guidelines protected by the norms are for the
protection of sheries, shellsh, ood control, prevention
of storm damage, curbing pollution, groundwater, public or
private water supply, and wildlife habitat. Hence, any larger
developmental planning that has the potential to disturb the
larger ecosystem of the lagoon and its basic characteristics
within the eco-sensitive zone or in its immediate periphery
needs to be recognised as a potential threat. Surprisingly, in
2021, Tamilnadu forest department proposed reducing the
statutory 10-km ESZ around the Pulicat Lake as a serious
blunder to dilute the existing regulatory norms to protect
Pulicat and to facilitate intrusion and further encroachment
of the lagoon area by land-grabbing maas and corporate
giants. Lagoon is already facing threat and pressure from
several ongoing developmental activities and other human-
induced interferences increasing every year (Table 1).
Expansion of commercial development with support from
regulatory agencies might jeopardise the crucial ecosystem
services, resulting in complete collapse of this ecologically,
economically and socially important wetland in coming
years, with no possibilities to reinstate its original character
and functions. Stringent rules and especially strict enforce-
ment of National Wetland Policy are required to address
the violations in the core and buer zone of the lagoon and
reducing encroachment from land maas, illegal aquaculture
and ongoing development beyond the carrying and bearing
capacity of the lagoon.
However, in the vicinity of growing new cities, for
example, Sri City, and the immense pressure because of
development because of insucient enforcement of wetland
rules and regulatory instruments to protect the lagoon has
enhanced future security concerns for the lagoon health.
Lack of interactive governance has been a key constraining
condition that relies on regulatory instruments and largely
ignores social- and right-based approaches that are insu-
cient to address ground realities and local concerns.
Community-based planning and management scheme that
includes active participation of diverse stakeholder groups
D Marine and Freshwater Research
Table 1. List of stressors, the magnitude of their effects, the associated factors causing degradation of Pulicat ecosystem, along with policy
recommendations, engineering and NbS solutions.
Stressor Observed
magnitude Factors causing
degradation Scope for policy-based
implementation Possible engineered
solutions Suggested NbS
Decreasing areas
of marshes and
bird sanctuaries
Constructions of
check dams
Excessive shell
mining, loss of
ow and anoxia,
loss of tidal ow
connecting with
creeks, Siltation
and choking of
Low to
to high
to high
to high
Changes in sand shoaling and
degradation of backwater
Excessive changes to soil
salinity of the shorelands, in
turn leading to higher
secondary salinisation of the
lagoon through the run-offs
followed by release of
compounds and emerging
Shifts in migratory patterns,
decrease in tree and
mangrove covers, conversion
of marshlands into human
Barriers to the surface ow of
freshwater into the lagoon at
downstream and mid-stream
can increase make the lagoon
hypersaline and also cause
salinisation of the aquifers
Loss of benthic habitats, loss
of natural ow connectivity
and formation of isolated
multi-environment within the
Loss of connectivity with sea,
change the character of the
lagoon and make it fresh
water, backwaters and creeks
can affect the migratory
routes of aquatic organisms as
well as restrict the regulatory
ows within the lagoon
environment, also navigability
of channels
Policies to avoid the incursion
of high temperatures in future
by reducing thermal load of
water and nding alternatives
to discharge hot water that
are strictly monitored and
Promoting non-motorised
shing and traditional foot
shing with socioeconomic
models for resilience and
subsistence supported by
alternative opportunities to
support local socio-economics
Promotion of conservation of
marsh lands and protection of
tree cover by strict
enforcement of no-go zones
for development and
Improve conjunctive water
management in the area
following recent the Wetlands
(Conservation and Management)
Rules 2017
Prevent or ban the extraction
of subfossilised shells from the
lagoon bed following recent
the Wetlands (Conservation and
Management) Rules 2017
Policies on natural resources
management should help the
administrators and local
communities keep the
backwater channels open
Use of methodologies such
as low temperature thermal
desalination for reusing the
coolant water at higher
temperatures at site without
letting it into the Ennore
creek for further damage to
the backwaters.
Construction of articial
lakes, cooling ponds, and
cooling towers can also help
reduce the discharge in
Pulicat lagoon
Using geoliners across the
aquaculture farms to retain
salts and fallowing in the
intermediate periods
Mangrove reforestation,
establishment of tree
networks to preserve
migratory bird habitats as
well as fences for marshland
Balanced use of managed
aquifer recharge systems,
borewell networks in place
of establishing the check
dams to stop freshwater
Improve ow through
periodic reduction of sand-
shoaling, creating seagrass
patches in strategic zones of
the lagoon to regulate ow
Desiltation and restoration
of waterways straddling the
lagoon such as Buckingham
canal will be a long-term
effort to maintain the
connectivity with the
Creation of vegetated swales
all along the creek and the
Buckingham, leading towards
the backwaters area of Pulicat
with heat- and salt-tolerant
Regulate the aquaculture
farming practices while
encouraging, sustainable and
ecosystem-based aquaculture
(EAA) along with traditional
artisanal and foot shing
Area-based management
program, ecosystem-based
management and ecological
restoration. Developing
articial wetlands, oating
islands for improving bird
Establishment of large
plantations, articial wetlands
and recirculatory systems in
the fringe areas, which will
help in groundwater recharge
as well as regulate the
freshwater ow into the
lagoon. Existing check dams
can be used to establish
dense turfs of vegetated
swales, along with mulch
anchoring and pea gravelling
in shore-area settlements
Establish substratum
conservation by establishing
seagrass patches and
ecosystem-based management
of lagoon oor
Shore-area reinforcement and
enrichment using bordered
vegetated swales, prevent
siltation of the canals,
ecological engineering and
area-based approaches
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
and resource users following an all inclusive integrated
approach can be a better enabling approach. Sustainable
zoning following ecient land-use planning, with appropriate
ecological conservation and socio-economic considerations,
can help identication and mitigation of key stressors
that have been ignored and insucient so far. For policy
enablement toward the conservation of lagoon resources, a
regular and strong monitoring framework is crucial to track
the eect of stressors. Further, this will be helpful to plan
short- and long-term measures to reduce the eects of the
stressors on the ecosystem.
Recognition of fragile ecosystem threats to plan
coastal NbS operations for long-term
As per estimates of Wetlands International, South Asia oce,
nearly 30% of natural wetlands in southern Asia have been
lost in the past three decades alone (1990 onward). The
resultant losses in ecosystem services and biodiversity have
been observed to have direct economic consequences, which
are unfortunately underestimated (IUCN online report, see
salt-works-generation-shared-value-nature-and-society). An
all-inclusive multi-stakeholder approach of NbS implemen-
tation, with a focus on local and indigenous shermen
folk, that addresses their livelihood demands and income-
diversication concerns can help explore issue-specic NbS
following area-based conservation approaches (Dhyani et al.
2018, 2020b; Maxwell et al. 2020). Here, curbing pollution,
and planning developmental activities as per the carrying
capacity or the bearing capacity of the ecosystem should be
scientically assessed with active public participation,
consultations for better implementation, developmental and
conservation outputs. Ensuring secure breeding and feeding
grounds for native and migratory birds, along with other
relevant ora and fauna in and around the lagoon, by
identifying alternative feeding, breading and roosting
habitats that are well conserved and protected, followed by
reducing encroachment of lagoon buer zone for develop-
ment and concretisation can help recover and reinstate the
lake food chain by ecosystem-based approaches. Focus on
sh species and ensuring that native sh are preferred over
exotics can build the natural lake ecosystem structure and
help restore the ecosystem functions. Creating awareness
on commercial aquaculture and its deleterious health and
natural-environment impacts followed by building capacity
on sustainable and ecosystem-based aquaculture can reduce
the release of enriched waste water from aquaculture ponds to
lagoons. Similarly, awareness on commercial shell mining
and its larger impact on lagoon health needs to be discussed
with local communities, followed by understanding and
documenting traditional eorts, and this can help protect
the long-term benets of lagoon health. NbS that addresses
societal concerns is key to success of any NbS approach;
hence, community participation along with citizen science-
based NbS planning, implementation and monitoring can
help improve the situation if appropriately planned and
implemented (Dhyani et al. 2020a). There will be need for
constant nancial support to support scienticmanagement
centre that can be facilitated by public nances from
government departments as well as private nancial support
from the corporates with social and ecological responsibility
to support restoration, ecological engineering for protecting
the lagoon ecosystem and biodiversity. Eorts to also involve
corporates beyond nances for understanding their socio-
ecological responsibility to shift their approach from
mimicking conservation to actual conservation can be a
transformative approach to address the larger challenges of
the issue.
The roles of transformative conservation of ecosystems and
adaptational research must be recognised in planning the
developmental policies for transitional water environments
(e.g. Fougères et al. 2022). However, it must be noted that
all adaptive capacity-building strategies may not provide the
necessary results (e.g. Koomson et al. 2020), which could
necessitate adopting the sustainable livelihoods approach.
This would be able to address the important issues through
pedagogy, political mobilisation, inner transformation, as
well as planning, action, and continual adjustment necessary
for ensuring sustainable development in the long term
(Fougères et al. 2022). As the way forward, data pertaining
to the following need to be collected through direct
stakeholder surveys and analysed to derive the ecosystem
services (ES) statuses and indicators for positive translation
of the NbS. For example, Kavi kumar et al. (2016) provided
macro assessment of ES for Indian coastal and marine
systems; however, there still remains the scope for evaluation
of NbS-enhanced as well as impacts-adjusted ES because of
climate change. Hence, it is proposed that policy frameworks
for development of transitional water environments such as
Pulicat must recognise the following activities as imperatives
of the growth of the eco-regions:
1. Periodic assessments of ecosystem characteristics by
active partnership of government body, scientic
organisation, CBOs and citizen scientists.
2. Categorisation and quantication of the ES provided as
provisioning, regulatory, supportive, and cultural ES for
highlighting the value of the lagoon.
3. Valuation of the ES provided by the coastal lagoon in
monetary and non-monetary terms for showcasing the
threats if the services are lost.
4. Assessment of the eects of climate change on the ES of the
system for incorporating adaptive placement strategies.
The above-mentioned actionable points must be
incorporated at local to state-level policies so that newly
created assets (e.g. NbS assets; Table 1) or administrative
F Marine and Freshwater Research
units such as the proposed Pulicat Lake Development
Authority can reect on these ecosystem-specic governance
elements positively and critically as per the circumstances.
Baseline assessment of the ecosystem services
for Pulicat lagoon
Although dierential ES evaluation methodologies are
reported, frameworks such as Common International
Classication of Ecosystem Services (CICES) can be explored
as they can provide non-random, non-replicative assessments
through simple media such as spreadsheets or open-source
software (HainesYoung and Potschin 2013). Policies for
assessment and publishing the monetary and as well as
non-monetary evaluations aecting the developmental
benets derived from ES at community-level can provide
robust frameworks to incorporate NbS into infrastructure
development in the shore environment. Assessment of these
NbS need to be standardised for the Indian scenario,
especially for transitional ecosystems as coastal lagoons.
The regulatory framework, in this case, can provide inputs
for targeted policy development of the appropriate NbS
category also described in Table 1, as follows: green
alternatives for total habitat management or supportive
management options. Ensemble solutions and naturally
conceived products can also be considered on a case-by-
case basis for each of the critical habitats (e.g. Santhanam
and Kundu 2022). Table 2 provides a list of the ecosystem
services oered by Pulicat lagoon.
A rst-cut estimate of the monetary value for Pulicat
lagoon ecosystem is also provided in Table 2.Arecent
assessment of the value of the ES by the Madras Institute
of Development Studies (MIDS) provided a total value
of ~IN11 337 618 738 (~US$143 551 373) per year
through a market price and benet transfer approach
and ~IN10 607 204 110 (~US$134 303 221) per year by
the willingness-to-pay (WTP) approach. The maximum
potential values on restoration were found to be
~IN145 822 876 720 or ~US$1 846 337 812 (Venkatachalam
2022). On the basis of these reports as well as the present
investigation, estimates for the value of the ES of Pulicat
lagoon is reported to be in the range of IN10 000 000 000
160 000 000 000 (i.e. US$125 097 7001 958 942 776) at
present considering a WTP approach, which combined the
actual ground data and secondary data on the ES parameters
available in public domain. The present study also considered
additional ES categories such as the production of value-
added products by using lagoon resources, disaster-related
bioshield ES services, resilience building ES attributed to
droughts, oods and heat island eects, supporting ES for
space programs, engineering tourism etc., for which the
lagoon environment has been a suitable base. These ES,
observed at ground levels to provide direct or indirect
benets, are essential for the derivation of the economic
and developmental benets of the lagoon. Estimates of ES
post-restoration are not dened in the current study,
diering from the approach reported by Venkatachalam
(2022). This is because the current study proposes a NbS
approach to restore and enhance the values of ES, and
standardised valuation of NbS is still being researched.
These values may again be monetary or non-monetary,
or a combination of both, requiring long-term assessments
on the scale of sustainability indicators, as provided in
Santhanam and Kundu (2022). Ecosystem units at Pulicat
such as wetlands, marshes, mangrove and sand barriers and
the multiple habitats for shes, crustaceans, molluscans,
bird and animals that they support, signicantly contribute
to the carbon sequestration through interconnected processes
and pathways of trophic interactions and biogeochemical
cycles. However, because of the extremely complex nature
of these inter-relationships, quantication of this ES (i.e.
carbon sequestration) separately is not easy for a specic
timeframe alone. Hence, although the highly signicant role
of the Pulicat ecosystem in carbon sequestration is recognised
in the present study, quantication of sequestration as a
separate ES has not been undertaken. However, sequestration
has been quantied indirectly as a function of the combina-
tion of the existing ES contributed by the ecological units,
supportive habitats, sheries and prawnery, as well as the
culture of ES.
However, dierences in scientic literature with respect
to both methods and estimates of the ES for coastal
lagoons attributed to dierences in the numbers, types and
levels of biotic and abiotic parameters considered by
dierent authors to inuence ES at local scales have been
well documented by Newton et al. (2018). In this context,
it is complex yet essential to assess both monetary and
non-monetary ES values by using a standardised set of
parameters for transitional environments specically, over
dierent periods and through an ES framework for Indian
scenario to bring out the consistent, impact-adjusted ES,
combining both monetary and non-monetary values.
Coastal wetlands have an essential and crucial role to play
in reducing the vulnerability of communities to climate
change that includes rising seas and coastal hazards,
through their role in sediment capture, vertical accretion,
erosion reduction, and moderating the climate and wave
attenuation. It is important to note that Pulicat lagoon has
provided sustained ecosystem services through historical
and modern times, largely owing to a native estuarine
resource management system practised by the indigenous
and local communities for more than three centuries to
promote and preserve sustainable sheries in the region.
The lagoons unique shing system, Padu (to share), is
based on rotational shing rights (Odd and Sanjeeva 2009;
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
Table 2. Types, levels of management and the estimation of the values of the ecosystem services provided by Pulicat lagoon.
Ecosystem services
offered Type Level of
management Approximate
value (IN) Major data used in
computation Remarks and notes References
Fisheries, including prawn
and shrimp culture, shell
Provisioning Mismanaged 989 600 000 Earning members among the
shers, n1 = 12 370
Average annual
earnings = IN80 000
Earnings calculated as per
State Governments norms BirdLife
Nalle (2022)
Bird and animal habitats Provisioning Degrading 37 800 000 Average number of birds
visiting Pulicat annually,
n2 = 42 000
Value addition = IN900
per bird
Calculated using practical
surveys of the economic
values of birds droppings.
These become food for
shes, crabs, and prawns and
hence the values are
downscaled form the
proportions of the total sh
& prawns sold in Pulicat
Present study
Wetland, mangrove and
sand barrier habitats Provisioning,
regulatory Degrading 2 000 000 000 Approximate value arrived
from total damages from
recent disasters
Buckingham Canal, fringe
mangroves, and sand dunes
protects the Coromandel
Coast from natural disasters
Present study
Habitat for coastal human
communities Provisioning Satisfactory 100 000 000 The value arrived from the
total ES value with 20% of it Padu-system protects the
eco-system, observed
through eld research.
Hence, the human presence
adds value to the protection
of the lagoon
Present study
Eco-tourism, island
tourism Supportive Unmanaged 42 476 875 Willingness-to-pay (WTP)
value is Rs.245 (adjusted to
ination); mean number of
daily visitors, n3 = 475
people (from present study)
Leisure Boating was banned
in 2011. However, visitors
to Pulicat villages add to the
total economic value.
Number of visitors to the
lagoon were averaged across
lean and peak periods (e.g.
local festivals)
Present study
Heritage and cultural
spaces Cultural Unmanaged 0 Not quantied because
of lack of holistic datasets International values could
not be appropriately
downscaled to local
economic value. The reason
is that the awareness about
the heritage internationally is
very less and has not
reected in terms of the
local economic value, despite
that fact that the Dutch and
Portuguese cemeteries are
recognised as oldest
amongst the other historical
cemeteries in India.
Historical records of Fort
Geldria, remnants of which
are located at Pulicat are
famous, but have not yet
attracted visitors. One
Vaishnavite shrine, Adi
Narayana Perumal temple,
built entirely with laterites is
an ancient architectural
wonder, which has been
partially restorated in
modern times by INTACH.
(Continued on next page)
H Marine and Freshwater Research
Table 2. (Continued).
Ecosystem services Type Level of Approximate Major data used in Remarks and notes References
offered management value (IN) computation
A culturally important
Shaivite temple at
Thirupalaivanam and another
ancient Vaishnavite temple
near Ponneri, the
Karikrishna perumal temple
the attracts much visitors.
But cultural values from all
these religious places are not
well quantied
Religious spaces Cultural Unmanaged 98 000 000 Willingness-to-pay (WTP)
value is IN245 (adjusted to
ination); mean number of
visitors : 400 000 people
(from eld-based
observation in the present
The Catholic and Hindu
religious festivals attract on
average 400 000 visitors.
Catholic Church is a Basilica,
and it is the rst church on
south-eastern coast of India
Present study
Livelihood enhancement
through the manufacture
of value-added products
Provisioning Satisfactory 11 550 000 Number of villages involved
in the handicrafts = 33; total
numbers of artisans = 210;
annual average earning per
person = IN55 000
Handicraft is second income
for the women of Pulicat
Lagoon promoting the
production of value-added
products through gender
equity from a social
perspective. The present
survey considered the
earnings of the total number
of women who are provided
with an Artisans Card by
the Government of India,
recognising their vocation
Present study
Scientic explorations of
the environment, space
and earth observation by
providing supportive
bases from sand barrier
island, Sriharikota (SHAR)
Supportive Satisfactory 2 643 691 750 Data on foreign exchange
from rocket launches from
SHAR, ISRO downscaled to
local currency; latest report
of foreign exchange
earned = US$35 million (as
per ISRO data); approximate
number of launches were
considered as per 1979
2022 data available in the
public domain = 180
(including multiple payloads
in selected launches; ~10+
Creation of Riparian forests
within SHAR has been
helping in conservation and
preservation of heronries in
the wetlands of Pulicat.
ISROs dedicated attention
to Space Situational
Awareness programs as per
Space Debris Mitigation
Guidelines 2002, to safeguard
space assets, minimise space
debris and collision threats
can also have enormous co-
benets in limiting debris fall
into the lagoon in the
coming years. This will
enhance the additional value
of all the types of ES for
Sivakumar et al.
(2009); New Delhi
Television (2021);
Indian Space
(2022a, 2022b)
Engineering tourism of
Nellore district; visits to
SHAR, Somasila Reservoir
and Krishnampatnam port
Supportive Satisfactory 0 Not calculated due to lack
of complete data in public
Not accounted for yet in
terms of supporting ES Sri Potti Sriramulu
Nellore District
website, see
(Continued on next page)
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
Table 2. (Continued).
Ecosystem services
offered Type Level of
management Approximate
value (IN) Major data used in
computation Remarks and notes References
Bioshield areas against
natural disasters Regulatory Unmanaged 0 Not calculated because of
the lack of actual Considering the impacts of
the 2004 Indian Ocean Chandramohan
et al. (2017)
quantication on the
numbers of lives saved in Tsunami, the ood
inundation levels at Pulicat
the presence of mangroves
and sand barriers as well as
the losses of crafts, gears
were reported to be lowest
along the entire stretch of
Tamilnadu, attributed to the
etc. Decrease in the
mangrove patches over the
years need to be accounted
presence of sand barrier and
the whole lagoon body that
bore the impact and
alleviated the ooding into
the villages. In recent times,
no loss of lives was reported
due to cyclonic activities.
However, loss of boats,
gears and sheries are not
well constrained for every
annual event
Trading at local levels Provisioning Satisfactory 937 500 000 Annual average value of sale
of shes, shell shes, prawns
etc is 75 000 (from current
Fishers sell the sh and shell
shes to market vendors.
Data was collected through
investigation) primary survey
Navigability Provisioning, Less managed 0 Not calculated, but high Buckingham Canal crosses Press Information
regulatory value foreseeable in future if
National Waterways scheme
is implemented. Historical
value attributed to
790 km stretching entire
south-eastern coast, meeting
Pulicat near SHAR island.
Three rivers joining the
Bureau, Delhi,
India (2022)
navigability provisioned by
Buckingham Canal needs to
be estimated
lagoon on its western shores
can provide easy hinterland
navigability, which are
currently unused. However,
project for development of
National Waterway-4 has
been recently launched.
Pulicat has been known to
be a natural harbour
historically (two private
ports located on the North
and South of Pulicat
Lagoon). If the natural ow
channels of Pulicat are
preserved for their
regulatory ES and a nature-
based planning approach to
preserve the provisioning ES,
Pulicat can be converted
into a high value bluegreen
infrastructure on the eastern
coast of India
Reduction of drought
effects and heat island
effects as well as
Regulatory Unmanaged 124 124 640 000 Only contributions from
approximate agricultural
yield values reported in the
Evapotranspiration of the
lagoon contributes to rain
cloud formation and
Centre for
Agriculture and
contributions to
agricultural production
through regulation of the
public domain are
considered here. The total
agriculture land in Tiruvallur
regulates, enhances the
precipitation for the entire
region. This helps in avoiding
Studies and
hydrological cycle. District is 1 700 000 ha and
in Nellore District
2 000 000 ha. The
the disservices of drought
due to high rates of evapo-
transpiration, which can
University (2015)
(Continued on next page)
J Marine and Freshwater Research
Table 2. (Continued).
Ecosystem services Type Level of Approximate Major data used in Remarks and notes References
offered management value (IN) computation
percentage of agriculture
land directly benetted from
hydrological provisioning
services of Pulicat lagoon is
40% or ~1 480 000 ha
Cost of Production of Paddy
considered at cumulative
market prices across
states = IN83 868 ha1
calculated as per
government data
manifest in the absence of
the lagoon. With respect to
the dominant Northeast
monsoonal precipitation,
government estimates
attribute 40% of agriculture
benet from the monsoon.
The percentage area (40%)
is determined by the area of
lagoon covering the
cumulative agricultural
regions of the shore area of
the two districts of
Tiruvallur (Tamilnadu) and
Nellore (Andhra Pradesh).
Needs multi-agency inputs
to quantify the value
translated into multiple
economic values of
provisioning ES as avoidance
of loss of sheries and
aquaculture, supporting ES
as agriculture, eco-tourism,
high conjunctive water use
indices as well as the social
parameters such as
improved liveability indices,
bluegreen index
contributing to cultural and
supporting ES
Traditional, indigenous
and local knowedge base
cultural Unmanaged 20 000 000 Only an approximate
estimate provided here as
per current value estimated
by the local respondents as
per their estimates of
decadal earnings from the
use of traditional and local
knowledge. Need for
systematic scientic and
socio-economic analyses
Untapped vernacular
knowledge which would be
very useful to plan suitable
adaptive responses to the
impacts of climate change.
For example, samples of the
18th century Pulicat chintz
handkerchiefs are available in
global museums; however,
the special art of mordant
dyeing which was exclusive
to the region still needs
revival. Such enterprises can
add a lot of cultural ES value
to the region, also
promoting the local
economy. Villages like the
Karimanal were famous as
artisanal boat making centre
and such lost art can be
(2003); Victoria
and Albert
Museum South
Kensington (1999)
Saraswathy and Pandian 2016). With this traditional manage-
ment practice, the members nurture a sense of collective social
responsibility and awareness of their resource territories
(Jayapaul 2007). These natureculture linkages have
protected the lagoon from all destructive intrusion by
state administration or industrialisation, showing the direct
link among biodiversity, economic activity, and vernacular
sustainable management. Despite its rich natural and cultural
heritage, the lagoon has still not been considered for receiving
protection under the RAMSAR convention, which can facilitate
and ensure long-term ecological conservation of the lagoon for
ensuring long-term unhindered ow of ecosystem services.
H. Santhanam et al. Marine and Freshwater Research
Further, there is a growing need to assess the health of the
Pulicat lagoon ecosystem as per the IUCN guidelines on the
Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) in a more systematic manner
(Keith et al. 2013), given the apparent vulnerability of the
ecosystem possibly undergoing a hidden collapse (a condition
where an ecosystem supercially appears relatively intact,
but the prolonged period of decline of ecosystem structure
and functions coupled with long lag times for restoration of
key ecosystem components reect that the collapse of the
ecosystem is almost inevitable (Lindenmayer and Sato
2018). The creation of a single Authority similar to Chilika
Development Authority (Odisha, India) with a coordinated
team of experts and coastal managers can help pursue policies
dealing with resource-use conicts as well as pursuing
development and conservation of all stakeholders. Research
on the use of NbS backed by a strong coastal zone develop-
ment policy framework will provide a strong example for
reducing encroachment and enhanced industrialisation
and concretisation that can help implementation for other
parts of the Coromandel coast too. Further, examples of socio-
cultural management, as in the case of Pulicat, can help
illustrate the strong potentials for addressing socio-ecological
challenges by adopting site-specic NbS frameworks and
approaches to promote and achieve sustainable development
of the coastal ecosystems in India, while not compromising
on the economic and developmental opportunities. A new
methodology is required to derive value of NbS for lagoon
restoration needs to be distinguished from conventional
eco-restoration approaches with purely engineering- or
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Data availability. Data sharing is not applicable as no new data were generated or analysed during this study.
Conicts of interest. The authors declare that they have no conicts of interest.
Declaration of funding. This research did not receive any specic funding.
Author contributions. H. Santhanam undertook planning and execution of the research, initiating and writing the paper, produced gures and tables, and
undertook data curation, metadata on ecosystem services evaluation. S. Dhyani co-wrote the paper, led discussions on NbS, legal frameworks and editing of
the paper, and provided insights on ecosystem services and ecosystem-based assessments. X. Benedict co-wrote the paper, compiled data and conducted the
economic valuation of the ecosystem services of the lagoon.
Author afliations
ANational Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Campus, Bengaluru 560012, Karnataka, India.
BCSIR National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nehru Marg, Nagpur 440020, Maharashtra, India.
CCommission on Ecosystem Management, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 28 Rue Mauverney, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland.
DArt and Architecture Research Development and Education (AARDE) Foundation, Nungambakkam, Chennai 600034, Tamilnadu, India.
EPresent address: Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Bengaluru Campus, Karnataka 560064, India.