The annual occurrence of tarballs being washed up along Mumbai’s shore line continued unfettered during this monsoon as well with the slimy deposits making an appearance at Juhu beach.
Activists have raised concerns over the increasing number of cases in which tarballs have washed ashore along the Mumbai coastline over the last three months.
Morning walkers at Juhu beach have reported tarballs and the smell of diesel emanating from the water in the first week of June and August.
This is the third consecutive year when tarballs or oily deposits have been found at Juhu beach.
Tarballs were also reported at Versova and Dadar beaches as well as on Marine Drive promenade last year.
Tarballs are dark-coloured sticky balls of oil deposits that form when crude oil floats on the ocean surface. They are formed by weathering of crude oil in marine environments and are transported from the open sea to the shores by sea currents and waves, according to a 2017 research paper on ‘Diversity of Bacteria and Fungi Associated with Tarballs: Recent Developments and Future Prospects’ by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).
Dismissed as an annual occurrence by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and the BMC, tarballs that travel towards the coast can get stuck to the fishing nets in the sea, making it difficult for fishermen to clean. Deposits of tar along coastal areas following high tide ingress is a common phenomenon during monsoon.
Sarita Fernandes, a research scholar in coastal and marine policy – who raised a complaint with MPCB last year and later filed a RTI on the pollution board’s investigation – said that authorities dismissed the phenomenon as a annual occurrence. “I agree that it is an annual occurrence but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find the reason behind it. These deposits emit foul smell, they can get stuck to fish nets, causing harm to marine life,” she added.
A 2014 research paper found off shore oil field as the source of tarballs found at four beaches in Gujarat between July 15 to 17 in 2012. The investigation was carried out by eight authors from NIO, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Chennai-based consulting group COWI. Chemical fingerprinting of the oil and transport modeling techniques were used to determine its source and study the impact.
Shaunak Modi, a member of Marine Life in Mumbai, which has been documenting marine life along the coast, said: “Similar scientific analysis of the composition of the tarballs on Mumbai beaches should be conducted so their origin can be understood.”
A study published by NIO in 2013 stated that “oil-well blowouts, accidental and deliberate release of bilge and ballast water from ships, river runoff, discharges through municipal sewage and industrial effluents” also leads to the formation of tarballs. Noted cases of tarball occurrences have been witnessed at Goa beaches since 2010 as well as at south Gujarat, Mangaluru and Los Angles beaches.
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