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| Last Updated:20/01/2021

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Mining on coastal sand dunes poses environmental hazard

VISAKHAPATNAM: Mining in the dune sand along the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh has raised many eyebrows. While the coast boasts of being rich in mineral deposits, especially Ilmenite (ore of Titanium), environmentalists believe human intervention and construction activities have resulted in vanishing sand dunes and depleting beach sand.

Black sand and sand dunes are a common sight on the beaches in Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam or Kakinada. But its not always mud and garbage that makes the beach black. Mineral deposits like Ilmenite (ore of Titanium) lay in abundance in these beaches giving it a black look. Titanium is a light-weight tough metal that can withstand extremes of temperature and is usually used in the aircraft industry and manufacture of spacecrafts.

Extraction of Ilmenite from the beaches of coastal Andhra Pradesh has already started in Srikurmam of Srikakulam district by a private firm, while applications for leases from various other companies are under consideration by the state government. The most promising deposit is in the 21km coastal stretch between Nagavalli and Vamsadhara rivers along the Srikurmam coast. However, mining can ecological hazardous to the non-renewable natural asset.

The geology department of Andhra University published an article in April on the mineral deposits in the 'Journal of Economic Geology and Geo Resource Management'. As per the study conducted by professor M Jagannadha Rao, J Venkata Ramana and T Karuna Karudu, Ilmenite concentration is almost 50% in the dunal system along the east coast belt. The deposits also differed geochemically from one area to another.

In the east coast, the mineral is mainly found in the sand dunes of Gopalpur in Odisha and Srikakulam, Bheemilipatnam, Visakhapatnam and Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.

The beach sands of north coastal AP are also rich in garnet, sillimanite, zircon, rutile, monazite (radioactive thorium-bearing) and pyriboles deposits, which is yet to be extracted.

"Extraction of Titanium ore from Ilmenite deposits entails various processes including dredging and removal of sands, jigging and magnetic separation. The process has already started at Srikurmam and will soon begin on a commercial basis at other beaches of Vizag, Bheemili and Kakinada. However, it has several adverse impacts on the coastal ecology and environment," professor M Jagannadha Rao said.

According to reports, near the areas in Gopalpur where mining has been going on in full-scale by a private firm, dead fish have been found floating and endangered Olive Ridley turtles have lost their habitat.

Elaborating on the environment hazards, environment and heritage activist Sohan Hatangadi said, "Wherever mining takes place, the local flora and fauna gets affected besides the historical places in the vicinity. Many species become extinct or lose their habitat. Nesting and breeding grounds of endangered Olive Ridley turtles are also destroyed. Sand dune depletion and erosion would continue, which again is hazardous to the environment."

"Due to extensive mining, the mud and slime would pollute the sea water thereby reducing the biological oxygen demand. Therefore, fish and other aquatic creatures die and birds can't feed on the fish. The mangroves would also perish. The entire food chain would eventually get affected, which in turn would also affect the fishermen community," Prof Rao said.

Another cause of concern is the radioactive monazite deposits which occur in the same level as Ilmenite. "As per the mining rules, only the state government has the right to mine thorium-bearing radioactive minerals like monazite. But since it's of more or less the same density as Ilmenite, the two can get mixed up and nobody can ascertain if private companies are also craftily extracting this mineral," said the geologist.