The Deepest Cut: Political Ecology in the Dredging of a New Sea Mouth in Chilika Lake, Orissa, India

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"This paper explores the political and historical ecology surrounding the 2002 dredging of a new sea mouth in Chilika Lake, India. It contends that the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mathematical flow models advanced an ‘environmental orthodoxy’ that coalesced around the narrative of a rapidly ‘shifting sea mouth’. This orthodoxy ignored historical evidence of the importance of seasonal flooding to the ecosystem’s health and discounted the fishing communities’ concerns regarding the introduction of prawn aquaculture. The product of over two centuries of flood control policies, this hydrological intervention has freed up waterlogged soils for cultivation and produced favourable conditions for the further spread of prawn aquaculture in the lake. While ostensibly engineered to improve the lake’s ecology and benefit the fishing communities, this paper argues that the much-touted intervention has unsettled a slew of ecological relationships and primarily benefited the lake’s agricultural communities. Most recently, unanticipated declines in the fishery have led to calls for further studies and government interventions. This research contends that successive attempts to engineer solutions for Chilika and its watershed are precisely what necessitate additional interventions. At the same time, it questions the Indian government’s claim that the dredging of a new sea mouth was both necessary and scientifically sound."
aquaculture, environment, flood management, GIS, ecology--history