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| Last Updated:: 30/05/2015

Illegal exploitation of earthworms from Pulicat

 Middlemen pay Rs 500 to 600 per kg to earthworm pickers and they sell to hatcheries at Rs 3,000-4,000 per kg

  • This activity is rampant in Irukkam and Venadu areas and traders from TN and AP are engaging local people for the worms
  • The lake area on the Tamil Nadu side is spread over 153.67 sq km
  • Some worms may reach 3 metre long

Nellore: Polychaetes, commonly known as earthworms, an important link in the food chain of Pulicat Lake biodiversity system, are being commercially exploited in an unscientific way by some hatcheries which turned into a threat for the existence of several species of top carnivores like fish and birds in the lake. The activity has been rampant in Irukkam and Venadu areas and traders from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have been engaging local people for the worms.  

Pulicat Lake is a saline backwater creek lying along the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and also partly extending to Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu. It has an area of 481 sq km and it is the second largest brackish water lagoon in India after Chilka Lake in Odisha. The area on the Tamil Nadu side is 153.67 sq km.

The wetlands eco system is considered as one among the richest areas of bio diversity. Pulicat, by virtue of mixing fresh water with sea water is found to be an ideal habitat for diverse life-forms. 160 species of fish, 25 species of earthworms, 12 species of prawn, 19 species of mollusk and 100 species of birds, according to ornithologists and forest department personnel. Of the approximately 9,000 species of annelids, also called as ringworms, more than 8,000 are earthworms. 

These worms are the most common marine organisms and can be found living in the depths of the ocean, floating free near the surface or burrowing in the mud and sand of the beach. Some may reach three metre long in size.   Marine worms are often a major component of brood stock diets and hatcheries prefer this as a major source for their units. 

These worms are very useful for organism for monitoring the marine environment, according to scientists. Now, people from Venadu and Irukkam areas were engaged to pick these worms and were paid Rs 500 -600 per kg. Picking these worms has become the main livelihood activity for so many people. In fact, though this is a prohibited activity, many people have been picking the earthworms and handing them over to some middlemen illegally. 

Middlemen have, in turn, been minting money selling at Rs 3,000-4,000 per kg to hatcheries. Wildlife wing of the Forest department has to curtail these practices but there has been no significant action against the local population and the middlemen. A senior official from the forest department said they can do nothing as local people normally do this work under the guise of fishing. Still, they were taking measures to prevent the activity, he added.