Biodiversity Impact Assessment Report for Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Park

The Maritime Board (GMB), as a Statutory Organization of Government of Gujarat (GoG) has proposed to develop their existing Okha Port which is located on the southern mouth of Gulf of Kachchh on the West Coast of . The existing Okha Port facility is located between 22°28'29.03"N, 69°4'59.51"E and 22°27'52.36"N, 69°4'31.91"E. The proposed activities include the development of a dedicated berthing facility and other supporting amenities for the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). GMB has also planned to increase the current cargo handling capacity of the Okha Port by extending the existing lighter wharf and increase the port’s cargo handling capacity from 6 to 10 MTPA to address the increasing cargo demand in the region. Though the a part of thr existing Okha Port boundary extends into the Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the Gulf of Kutch National Sanctuary, the proposed project activities are not present within the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) or ESZ and are present within the port premises which is outside the Protected Area (PA). The study area of 10km radius from Okha Port consists of Marine National Park, Marine sanctuary, and Eco-sensitive Zone.

Based on the activities that would be carried out within the port premises during the developmental phase as well as the operational phase the potential impacts on the environment caused by the activities of this project were assessed. The activities that would be undertaken within the study area, during the developmental phase, are Construction of Indian Coast Guard Jetty, Extension of Lighter Wharf, reclamation of pit area near ICG and passenger jetty and beautification civil works in the area. The potential impacts on the biodiversity due to the proposed activities are discussed below in terms of their effect on mangroves, breeding grounds, and the marine wildlife.

Effect on Sea weeds

Gulf of Kachchh is one of the potential areas in India for rich growth of seaweeds. A standout amongst the most fertile regions on the Gulf of Kachchh is Okha, situated in , Gujarat. This area being at the mouth of Gulf of Kachchh encounters strong water currents round the year as compared to other parts. The coast is characterized by tertiary rocks alternating sand deposits making the area more hospitable for the growth of all types of seaweed throughout the year. A total of 13 species of seaweed were recorded within the study area. The nearest sea-weed observed within the study area is about 0.8 km away from the proposed project site, the activities proposed are localized in nature with not much impact on the marine environment except in the project foot print area where loss of subtidal species habitat is permanent. With minimal impact foot print and sea weeds being away from project area no impact is envisaged on these sea weed species due to the proposed activities.

Effect on Marine Mammals

The only marine mammal recorded from the Okha study region is the common dolphin, Delphinus delphinus which could be seen very often in all coastal waters of Gulf of Kachchh due to the presence of the Gulf of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary. Since, Okha port has been operating prior to Indian Independence, the effect of proposed port activity on migrating marine mammals will be minimal, due to their adaptation to over a period of time and the changes on baseline environmental condition will be temporary and reversible.

Effect on Coral Reefs

The distribution of coral species at different locations of Gulf of Kachchh were in different contiguous to mainland locations. One Soft coral and twenty one hard corals have been listed under the Okha mainland. Due to activities like piling for jetty construction, wharf expansion and disposal of dredge spoil from maintenance dredging will cause an increased TSS and turbidity levels in the surrounding marine environment affecting the light penetration levels, blanketing of benthic species with sediments, loss of benthic species habitat, species migration, etc. Since, the existing coral belts are beyond the footprint region of proposed project activity, no impact is envisaged on these coral species by the proposed activities.

Mitigation Measures

Any potential impacts on the biological diversity of the nearby habitats of the Wildlife Sanctuary that may rise due to the proposed project development activities within the study area shall be mitigated by undertaking the necessary measures in order to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the surrounding area, especially w.r.t the wildlife within the Wildlife Sanctuary. The following action plans shall be implemented towards the protection of biodiversity of the ESZ in and around the study area. 1. Activities that are generally perceived as environmentally unfriendly during construction phase could be planned during lean fishing season which generally falls in Gulf of Kachchh between July and August. 2. During dredging operation all possible precaution to control and reduce dispersal of suspended load will be employed including scheduling the dredging operation during a tidal condition so as to cause least increase in suspended load and siltation. 3. Efforts to trap run-off slurry and sediment plume from the dredging area by means of silt traps could be contemplated and the trapped sediments is to be responsibly disposed in pre-designated sites. 4. A safety exclusion zone will be required around the dredging vessel whose size will depend on the final dredging plan and will range from 150 m to 300 m in accordance with the international standards and best practices. 5. To ensure the health status of mangroves in the study area in being undisturbed and maintained as status quo, it is recommended that a rapid study on different vegetation attributes to be conducted assessing changes, if any, such as mangrove vegetation structure in terms of stand density, generation potential and changes in shoreline configuration through satellite images. 6. Management of ship‘s ballast water will reduce the pollution in nearby marine environment to an extent and thereby minimize the entry of microbial contamination. 7. Development and proper deployment of oil spill contingency plan in case of any accidental spill or emergency, to eliminate the contamination of marine environment through harmful chemicals.