Allah Dino lives in Kaka Pir village, a fishermen settlement in Karachi. He recalls the good days when his grandfather, Yosuf, used to fish in the Arabian Sea. In his grandfather’s day they used simple and traditional methods of fishing yet they caught plenty of fish,  and earned a good amount from it, more than enough to meet the needs of the entire family. These days the sea is polluted and the fishermen find fewer fish and so live from hand to mouth.

Not only Dino’s family but thousands of families in 160 fishermen settlements around Karachi, depend on the sea for their livelihood.

Karachi’s coast is spread over 160 kilometres. Increasing industrialisation, urbanisation, unplanned construction, rise in population and establishment of a number of restaurants on the coast has polluted the sea, which is the cause of depletion of fish population. While these industries provide livelihood for others, they have deprived a number of fishing families of their livelihood. In addition, the entire marine life is at stake, while a number of fish species are on the verge of extinction.

The four industrial zones — Korangi, Orangi, Site and Hub — with about 6,000 industries in Karachi, release their effluent in 12 drains including Lyari, Malir, Umer Khayam and other drains which directly enter the Arabian Sea.

Environmental groups claim contaminants such as chemicals released from tanneries and waste from oil refineries is also dumped into the sea. Due to this fish have migrated from waters near the shore to deep open sea water. No fish is available now for up to two nautical miles from the shore.

Allah Dino says that 30 years back his grandfather and his father used to hold a simple cotton cloth in the sea and catch plenty of fish. Today they must go far out in the open sea for which they need a power boat, 10 people and incur other expenses to catch fish. In the open sea they are under threat of cyclones and tsunamis.

Visiting the coast, one can see the sea water looks black in colour, even the stones of the protection wall have turned black; many bottles, polyethene bags and other waste is visible on the surface of the water.

In August 2003 Greek tanker Tasman Spirit carrying 35,000 tons crude oil from Iran broke into two pieces near the Karachi coast; as a result all its oil was spilled into the Arabian Sea killing thousands of fish and birds.

Nafees Ahmed, a fisherman, told this correspondent that some years back there were mangrove forests, but “the land-mafia chopped down these mangroves and developed plazas over there”. He added that restaurants have been built right on the protection wall, “which are dumping their waste in the sea, causing pollution”. Due to loadshedding of gas, people who are running small hotels on the coast also cut mangroves to use as fuel. He added that while on the one hand this protection wall and establishment of restaurants and plazas on the coast has forced the sea to change its course, on the other hand the lives of residents is at stake in case of high tide, tropical cyclones and tsunamis.

The International Union of Conservation of Nature advisor on coastal ecosystem, famously known as the father of mangroves, Tahir Qureshi, says, “mangroves are the arteries of the soil,” which form a barrier against sea intrusion. But, according to Qureshi, “government institutions like Karachi Port Trust, Pakistani Navy and City District Government are in a fight with each other for land jurisdiction and all of them are harming the mangroves and the marine ecosystem as is the active and influential land mafia.

“About 25 years ago, the mangrove forests covered an area of 5,000 hectares (12,355.3 acres) but now it has been reduced to less than 3,500 hectares (8,648.6 acres). Port Qasim, Karachi Harbour, Mai Kolachi, Boat Basin, Kaka Pir, Baba Bhit, Salehabad, Manora, Ibrahim Haideri, etc. are witnessing shrinking mangroves and as a result, population of birds and fish is on the decline, while shrimps and a lot of other species are vanishing at an alarming rate,” he added. Disturbance to marine life is in violation of the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997, Sindh Wildlife Protection Act and Fisheries Act,” he shared.