(Written by Ammar Shahbazi)
24 March 2014 – The Gadani beach — one of the few coastal areas of Pakistan with sparking blue water and a unique range of marine habitat — is in danger of losing its lustre.
Toxic wastes from the ship-breaking industry, coupled with illegal nets and the government’s plan to set up a coal-based energy corridor in the area, threatens this breezy coastal edge of the Arabian Sea.
Once a top picnic spot for the people of Karachi, the Gadani coast has long been used as a “trash can” for dumping effluent generated by the ship-breaking industry – a very lucrative business.
“Over the years, the ship-breaking industry, which brings in enormous revenue both for the government and the businesses, has failed to develop an eco-friendly mechanism to handle its wastes. This is unfortunate,” said Muhammad Moazzam Khan, one of the country’s top marine life experts.
However, he maintained that the coast of Gadani is still better off than that in Karachi, where toxic wastes from industrial units are blatantly dumped.
Khan, who is the World Wildlife Fund’s technical adviser on marine fisheries, pointed out that the energy corridor in Gadani expected to become operational in 2017 would release hot water and destroy the marine habitat.
“The corridor is a looming threat to the marine life in this area,” Khan told reporters during a field trip to Kaio Island, a 30-minute boat ride from the Gadani coast.
Kaio Island, located near Gadani in the Lasbela district of Balochistan, is known for the diversity of marine life off its coast.
“This is among the very few areas along the coast of Pakistan which has a coral sand-associated habitat inhabited by colourful invertebrates and a large number of fish species,” Khan said. “Marine life around the island is being seriously affected by the increasing pollution on account of the accumulation of debris.”
The WWF had recently organised a cleaning activity at Kaio Island. “We found nets and litter that had drifted from nearby,” said Khan.
Another major threat to marine life is what experts call derelict fishing gear.
Asif Sandeelo, a WWF spokesperson, said derelict fishing gear referred to nets, lines, crab or shrimp pots, fish traps, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment that had been lost, abandoned or discarded in the marine environment.
“These nets are a serious threat to marine life, because they keep on trapping and killing fish. This is also called ghost fishing,” he added.
“Fishermen use the illegal technique of spreading small nets in the water to catch the fish. When these nets are lost or abandoned, they keep on accumulating fish,” he further explained.
Efforts are being made around the world to remove debris from important marine habitats to restore their natural conditions.