On the last few days of 2010 I was at Thrissur the ”cultural capital of the state” which is centrally located, watching the International Theatre Festival of Kerala. In the morning hours I could manage to steal away some time to visit the unique wetlands called Kol, lying at sea level and contributing to Kerala’s rice produce and paddy cultivation for centuries.
The Kol wetlands are part of a long estuarine ecosystem, the largest and longest one on the western coast stretching up to 100km in length from AchanKovil river basin in the south to Keechery river in the north, ie; from Alapuzha to Thrissur.
It is also called the Vembanad-Kol Wetland system as it is designated as a Ramsar site (conservation status) along with Ashtamudi and Vembanad lakes. Conservation of its geography, hydrology and biodiversity are crucial for the sustenance of our ecological balance.
The saga of Kol fields is inextricably linked to human labour and work culture. The food grains that come out of Kole is a direct outcome of dedicated and brave human toil. It is only comparable with Kuttanad and Nanjinad in the south. These wetland ecosystems are also strategic locations of biodiversity as they are the last resorts of the migrants and some endemic life forms.
I could see thousands of Egrets and cormorants. Hundreds of Whistling Teals and Purple Swamphens were also visible along with plenty of Blue-tailed Bea-eaters. A few Darters, Sandpipers, Rosy Starlings, Whiskered Terns, Open-bill Storks, Purple Herons etc. also showed up.
But the highlight of my visit on December 31 to Palakal Kol padavu (paddy fields) was a close encounter with a Common Snipe. This shy winter vagrant gave me some time to click and flew away soon after. I found more than five snipes after this in just an hour, but no one paused and posed like the first for the camera.
It is an easy task for any interested nature explorer visiting Thrissur to catch a local bus to Puzhakal (Kunnamkulam route) or Palakal (Kodungallur route) and straight away enter the big bunds along the canals at the middle of the kole fields as these key eco-locations are just a few miles away from the city centre, the Swaraj Round.
Unfortunately this unique habitat is under threat of devastation as large parts are reclaimed for construction activities and for roads. The Kole fields are shrinking and getting pollutted day by day. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, industrial waste water and other nasty human interventions are annihilating this lively ecological formation.
Trapping , shooting and poisoning the birds are also on the increase. Unplanned exploitation of ground water through bore-wells has lead to the infiltration of brackish water upto 30km inland. This again is going to be the biggest threat for Kol and the adjacent city of Thrissur in the near future. The devastation of coastal estuarine ecosytems that are interconnected and stretching all along the coast would also be detrimental for Kerala and the western coast in general.