As rampant urbanisation tramples upon Kochi's biodiversity, there is a green canopy that offers hope for nature lovers.
A green carpet spread over 72 acres in a property owned by Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) at Kalamassery is that stretch of hope in the state's business hub.
It is an 'urban canopy' rich in biodiversity, housing around 180 avian species in addition to several plants, trees and insects identified by nature conservationists.
Kochi has already lost a lot of greenery in the past two decades as the city shifted gear to the realms of urbanization.
But the last of such green carpets infusing fresh air to the port city is also vanishing slowly. The alarm bells are ringing.
Green Grace, an organisation of photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers, has come up with a documentary to spread awareness on the importance of biodiversity conservation in Kalamassery.
Titled, 'Urban Canopy' (Nagarathile Ithiripacha), the documentary directed by MG Sujith calls for the protection and conservation of one of the last green spaces in Kochi.
The last green lung of Kochi houses wild creepers, rarely seen scorpions, snakes, wild rabbits, around 180 varieties of local and migratory birds and varieties of butterflies including the state butterfly Papilio buddha and other flora and fauna.
But Kochi's dream projects are eyeing this green haven, as the documentary reveals.
Nature conservationists fear that Kalamassery's green space would meet the same fate of Mangalavanam, a erstwhile bird sanctuary in Kochi. It has now become a bird memorial park, as sprouting concrete scrapers erased the lifeline of the sanctuary.
An HMT official, who did not want to be named, said the company was trying its best to preserve and conserve the green canopy.
“A portion of our land was given for Kochi Metro Yard and they had chopped off few trees there. But we made sure to plant more trees in the surroundings to ensure the greenery stays,” the official said.
A rich canopy
Kalamassery's green belt has wetland birds like Woolly Necked Stork, which is among the birds with the vulnerable status, four types of Night Jars, Black Basa, and many species of owls. Butterfly varieties like Paris Peacock, Grey Count, Orange tip, and Skippers are also seen here. Box insects, Man faced insects, Praying Mantis, Leaf Insects and even varieties of moth have been found and recorded from this place.
So far 65 varieties of flora, 35 varieties of spiders, 74 butterflies, 175 birds, six mammals, and nine reptiles have been found here.
“Unlike Thattekad, we can find an amazing range of birds within this small area. While 250 species were recorded from Thattekkad, around 175 species were recorded here. That itself shows how significant this patch of land is,” says Premchand Reghuvaran, Ernakulam and Idukki District Coordinator of Bird Atlas Project.
“This place has been recognised by organisations like E Bird as a hotspot in the International Bird Watching Database,” says Vishnupriyan Kartha, Secretary of Cochin National History Society.
Water woes on the cards
The terrain's significance stems from the fact that it is a combination of a wetland and forest land.
The rainwater gets absorbed easily and maintains a sizeable amount of underground water table throughout the year.
A deep well situated near the urban canopy is used by Kochites, when the city taps run dry.
As the city roads widen and green spaces vanish, environmental conservationists believe a man-made disaster akin to Chennai could be a mirror to the future of Kochi. Chennai is now paying the price for its disdain for water bodies. Many lakes, reservoirs, and canals have already dried up and many water bodies were converted to residential plots to accommodate the city's expanding population. The city is now critically dependent on its mega water desalination plants.
A study by World Bank has revealed that by 2030, Kochi will be facing an acute water crisis and at least 21 Indian cities are moving towards zero groundwater level by 2020.
“We are not protecting what we already have. Then only we should talk about afforestation and planting of more trees,” says Tinson Thomas, a bird watcher and the director of photography of the documentary.
Developing city, vanishing green cover
The construction activities in and around this area has already created a threat to its ecosystem.
The nature conservationists fear that the extension of the Seaport-Airport road would also create a threat. The decision regarding the extension of the road is still in discussion.
According to the documentary makers, such construction activities near these areas have already affected the habitat of around 23 species of birds.
This was an area where vultures and wild cats were spotted regularly. Not any more.
Apart from the construction, people pile up garbage wastes and burn them, wreaking havoc to the ecosystem.
The documentary shows the unbearable visuals of birds that lost their lives in the fire, those with frayed wings, broken beaks and legs.
Adding to the woes are those who recklessly leave behind littler, most of them who seek a cover to enjoy a drink.
Poet and environmental activist V M Girija says it is important to protect and conserve the rich biodiversity so that we could hand this over to the coming generations.
“We dutifully plant saplings every year on Environment Day but fail to protect them. What is practical is to protect what we have right now. To protect the urban canopy here that would, in turn, protect us,” she says.
Kochi's vital green lung can be preserved only if there is an abundance of such thoughts and saner counsel prevails.