he idea to plant casuarina trees on the beach first came from Amma–before the tsunami. In May of 2003, with the opening of the Ashram’s new Ayurveda Research Centre on the beach, Amma and the ashramites planted casuarinas and coconut trees throughout the building’s beachfront compound. At that time, Amma had said that she wanted to see the entire coast full of trees.
Then when the tsunami came on December 26th 2005, the trees planted in the Ayurveda compound–which in the past year and a half had grown about five meters tall–seemed to cut some of the wave’s force. It was similarly noted in Tamil Nadu how coastline ripe with mango trees saw less damage on average than barren coastline; in places the trees seemed to reduce the inflow of water by as much as 75 percent.
The Ashram discussed the plan with the village leaders and panchayat heads, and they enthusiastically agreed. The village leaders know how important an issue erosion is in Alappad, as the panchayat’s beaches have suffered greatly from erosion during the past 20 years. In places where there used to be vast expanses of beach, today there literally is almost nothing, with only a government-constructed seawall protecting the shore from further loss.
Soon the Ashram held a one-day workshop with the village heads and officials from the Department of Forestry. It was decided to plant the casuarina trees along the seashore, mangroves near the backwaters, and some fruit and medicinal plants in the residential areas.
Some of the villagers interested in participating in the project were taken to Tamil Nadu, where similar anti-erosion programmes have been underway for several years. This had a real impact on the Alappad villagers. “I saw how the plants helped keep the soil in place, and I want to see the same success here in my own village,” said Sadi Devi, one of the women participating in the programme.
Seeing the enthusiasm of the villagers in Alappad, the Forestry Department is now interested in spreading the programme throughout Kerala, with the intention of covering 280 kilometres of coastline. It seems Amma’s wish to see Kerala’s shoreline full of trees may come true sooner than later.
Alappad Panchayat is the collection of villages near the Amritapuri Ashram where 142 people were killed during the 2004 tsunami. The villagers themselves are helping in the planting of the saplings. The project—Harita Theeram, or Green Shores–will see the planting of 300,000 casuarina saplings in total on the Alappad Panchayat peninsula by 2008.