By Dr. Abdul Razak Shaikh,
Shortage of freshwater is a global issue and changing the climatic condition or global warming has made water supply unpredictable in many parts of the world. Therefore, there is a vital need for exploring the productivity of inland saline groundwater and suitability of organisms to be farmed in such waters.
The Utility of saline water for agriculture has long experimented but cost-effective and practical solutions are rare. On the other hand, marine the environment provides for viable production systems and is being cropped with marine animals and plants all over the world, which is known as mariculture. Besides mariculture, the aquaculture of marine animals and plants in saline groundwater in inland areas is relatively a new type of aquaculture (known as inland saline aquaculture) and has progressed in many parts of the world.
Inland saline groundwater is being successfully used to grow marine fishes, shrimps, etc and many other organisms. The production of high-value marine fish and shrimp in inland saline well water is a growing industry in several countries.
In Pakistan, inland groundwater reserves over a large area of the country are saline and the saline land in the irrigation command area exceeds 11.1m acres. About 40,000 hectares are abandoned within the Indus Basin annually due to secondary salinization. There are large numbers of saline groundwater pockets in the canal command areas. In Punjab, 23pc of the area has poor groundwater quality, while in Sindh, 78pc of the groundwater is saline as the area of fresh groundwater is confined only to a narrow strip along the river Indus. Furthermore, about 56pc of the total irrigated land in Sindh is affected by salinity.
Saline water (more commonly known as salt water) is Water that contains a high concentration of dissolved salts (mainly NaCl).
One hundred and eighty meters deep underground saline extracted water of Thar Coal Block II is being used for fish and agriculture production to bring more revolutionary changes in the desert of Thar.
A spokesman of Sindh Agro Coal Mining Company told that the company became successful to cultivate bio-saline crops by underground water of Thar Coal Block II which was a big achievement in the history of science.
He said that in the 2nd phase of such experiments, the company established some ponds for fish production and breeding which are filled with underground saline water of Thar Coal mining blocks.
The experimental production of seven types of fishes has been started in these ponds. These types include Morakhhee, Rohu, Kuriro, Theli, Gulfam, African Catfish and Dhangri. This program will be extended on a large scale after its successful results.
After the succession of this experiment one lac seeds of fishes will be leave in Gorano Pond to enhance the fish production which is located some thirty-five kilometers away from Thar Coal Block II.
This program was started last year on a small ground and the survival rate of fishes was about ninety percent while two lac kilos of fish could be produced by the Gorano reservoir.
It will not only lead to the production of fishes in the Thar Desert on large scale but it will also provide employment to the local people and traders.
This is the first time in the history of Thar Desert that fish production has been started and the succession of such experiments and programs would accelerate the pace of development in this area.
A brief ecological survey conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) over Gorano reservoir being filled with saline water pumped out from Thar’s coalfield, has reflected positively on the pond. The report finds that Gorano, which is a wetland of subsoil saline water, is attracting various birds which feed on fish.
Successful fish farming and aquaculture projects are underway in the reservoir. Gorano has now become a prized eco-tourism site which cannot only attract tourists but also create new economic opportunities for local communities. However, the report noted that the salinity level of the water is very high and that it will gradually increase more with a high rate of evaporation, particularly in dry and hot seasons of the year. This water pond was artificially created on 1,500 acres of land. It is situated in Taluka Islamkot of Thar district some 30 kilometers away from Islamkot Town.
According to the survey, before the land in question was filled with water the authorities had counted 4,199 local desert trees growing on 834 acres of land. The trees on remaining part of over 600 acres were not counted. These trees are still alive but all the 4,199 trees have been submerged in the pond and will not live longer, the report cautioned. To compensate for the loss, it suggested plantation of local tree species.
Last year SECMC commenced a pilot project of fish farming in Gorano with over 100,000 fish successfully grown in the saline water and termed fit for human consumption, according to the company. With the introduction of fish, the fish eating birds have started visiting the reservoir pond.
Some species have even started breeding on the partly submerged treetops, according to the report. However, no wild ducks and waders come to the pond due to the absence of their food. The report suggested measures to attract these birds to the pond.