Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tidal Power Plants: Another Catastrophe of Modern Civilization.


R. Ashok Kumar July 1984/Revised 12 July 2012

Copyright ©2012 Ramaswami Ashok Kumar


The article looks at typical sites where the tides are apparently favourable for exploitation for tidal power plants to generate electricity. The ecological context is examined and the present method of production and use of energy by preserving energy in natural cycles where man is harvesting the tidal and other resources by maintaining a balance between production and continuity is highlighted. It is shown that this diverse and rich natural ecosystem including man is a permanent culture in itself sustaining a balanced electricity producing and using system in which goods and services are used by one another without losses. The disturbance of such a community by introduction of a monoculture for the generation only and use elsewhere  of a single economic product - electricity - by tidal power plants with the tremendous losses such a mechanical energy extraction and use represents, is wrought with unknown consequences ecological and otherwise for large size plants. Smaller size plants could be economically unviable. Further, since the age of a tidal power plant is an estimated 75 years, it is important to consider the consequences of compressing 125000 year climatic change into 120 years that are expected by the build up of greenhouse gases(GHGs) observed to be accumulating at an unprecedented rate in the atmosphere and the oceans. Also the direct heating effect of dams on the earth connive with the GHGs to accelerate climate change including sea level rise, cyclone intensity increase,landslides,hurricanes, tornadoes,rainfall surges and increased rainfall,sudden floods and earthquakes, forest fires, infrastructure fires and damages to infrastructure at a frequency synchronising with the seasons of rainfall and dry weather. These are resulting in the designs of modern civilization consistently proving inadequate to withstand the ravages of climate change so induced by the contraptions of business as usual artefacts. It is concluded that for the Kandla and other tidal power plants, considering the above setting for the next hundred years, a total and thorough ecological study of the existing site and of consequences after construction, if at all, is absolutely essential, concurrent with the other ongoing studies.


Dramatic climatic changes are expected in the coming years with several glaring lacunae identified in the designs of modern civilization(mc) in meeting its compartmentalised needs and greeds. The major causes appear to be the use of fossil fuels engendered by thoughtless 'progress' without conservation of nature, without energy and financial audit of the plans for 'growth' of a limitless waste of the earth's constituents, deforestation for furthering the cause of empires, concentration of water behind dams without analysis of the cumulative causes of such growth, blind adoption of nuclear power programmes to supply electricity requirements seemingly thought to be met by nukes and greed. Large consequences of such progress has left no community unaffected and the world is moving from crises to crises with the consequences insoluble: changes for the worse in traditional timeless cultures, separation of workplace from the home on a large scale,populations disconnected with the consequences of their ways of life and ways of earning their chappatis, dal and rice. They became blind to the consequences of their actions. They completely failed to see the ecological limits to their actions because they became far removed from nature in their artificial confines: populations saw the effects of pollution, however, in shrinking the family and losing bread winners; populations exploded and prosperous populations shrank. Only when modernism sees the futility of its attitude of ignorance and ignoring natural limits and abdicates its self proclaimed supremacy of creation and creator can there be a changeover from modern self destruction to a normal way of life.


Seen against this backdrop any effort at marine conservation and hence the totality of conservation per se has to take into account this enormously different setting for design for it to be safe. Taking particularly tidal changes and their effects on the coastal ecosystems and the possibility of tidal power plants with a useful life of 75 years being envisaged, study of the altered ecosystem and its further adverse changes deserves a top priority together with close monitoring and implementation of well considered measures.


Nature has evolved delicate but stable life systems with a rich variety in areas with big tides without exception. Thus the Bay of Fundy has some 20 species which are being harvested by man year after year(Daborn 1977). The web of life in the Bay of Fundy includes many other species, like birds for whom the bay is an important feeding place before their long journey of migration. This fantastic coastal ecosystem is being maintained by the ebb and flow of tides around the present mean sea level, the fresh water flow from the rivers draining into the Bay from the land, the solar radiation and of course the (changing) climate. Each of these species has its metabolic activity run by electricity and chemiosmosis(respiration and photosynthesis). At such sites when man (whose metabolism is also partly run by electricity) came to explore the possibility of harnessing tidal power to produce artificial electricity only, he confronted a living system on which he himself was thriving on a vast diversity of species. For example, the richness of variety of life at the Bay of Fundy, is illustrated by the following list of flora and fauna found there:
2.1 List of flora and fauna found at the Bay of Fundy
Cod, Haddock, Redfish, Hake, Pollock, Wolffish, Flounders, Herring, Mackerel, Tuna, Eels, Salmon, Alewives, Shad, Smelt, Lobsters,Shrimp, Scallops, Clams, Winkles, Worms, Crabs and Seaweeds, marine algae, oyster drill, mud snail, slipper limpet, rough whelk, isopods, amphipods, saltmarshes, Dulse, Irish Moss, Knotted Wrack, green sea urchin, Blue mussel, Salt marsh cord grass, rushes, slough grass, bivalve mollusks and others.
These form in the sea water part of the ecosystem, major production pathways as follows:
Table 1:  Major production pathways in the sea water part of the ecosystem of the Bay of Fundy
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 Phytoplankton x x
2 Zooplankton x
3 Herring
4 Transported detritus x
5 Heterotrophic bacteria x x
6 Suspension feeders,e.g. scallops
7 Macrophytic algae x
8 Sediment ingestion x
9 Groundfish

 Thriving on this ecosystem is a huge variety of avifauna in the Bay of Fundy:

2.2 Avifauna thriving on the ecosystem of the Bay of Fundy

Black Duck and sea ducks(including Common Goldeneye,Buffle Head, Oldsquaw, Common eider and Scoters), Red breasted Merganser, Scaups, Atlantic Brant, Pelagic species like Blacklegged Kittiwake, Common Murre, Dovekie, Razorbill, Puffin, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Tern, leach's Storm Petrel, Black Guillemot, Herring Gull, Great Blacknecked Gull, Common Tern, Double Crested Cormorant, Phalaropes(Red Phalaropes included), Bonaparte's Gull, Cannets, Shearwaters(Greater Sooty and Manx), The Canada Goose, Blue-winged Teal, American Greenwinged Teal, Sanderlings and Red-Knot.

2.3 The Numbers

These birds number in the hundreds and thousands and sometimes millions as they use these mudflats during their migration. How the seas food resources are produced, how the birds and others use these, and how these resources are affected should be understood before man made constructions like Tidal Power Plants and other ocean developments disturb these distribution patterns. Nobody knows the consequences in brief, namely the effect on the bird populations and on the tidal food resources, a tidal power plant will exert. To illustrate the complexity, while studying the Bay of Fundy ecosystem, it could not be explained how there were high populations of benthic invertebrates in the sediments of the Minas Basin, given low values of organic carbon and nitrogen in the sediments(Daborn 1977).

2.4 Some Observations on Tidal Communities and Their Continuity.The particular ecosystem has been studied in some detail reveals some interesting facts which appear to be a common characteristic of ecosystems maintaining a rich diversity of life.First to note is that the number of species of birds using the tidal mudflats is of the same order as the major species inhabiting the tidal mudflats enumerated above. That is the number of species identified in para 2.1 and 2.2 above is approximately 40. A deeper study of this aspect may prove useful in tracing the flow of energy through this ecosystem or in a similar tidal location like that at Kandla.Similarly at Sunderbans.

2.4.1 Harvesting Pattern and Maintenance of Continuity

Drawing upon another ecological attribute we have the following discernible pattern of food resources in the in the area harvested by man(excluding birds):
Table 2 shows that the Herrings are the dominant species that were landed(347 x 10^6 lbs) in a year(1971).
Table 2  Landings in millions of pounds in the Bay o Fundy in 1971

1 Herring 347

2 Seaweeds 18

3 Cod 12

4 Pollock 12

5 Haddock 12

6 Lobsters 7

7 Alewives 7

8 Clams 5.4

9 Flounders 3.4

10 Mackerel 2.4

11 Hake 2

12 Redfish 1.7

13 Other 0.9

14 Wolffish 0.8

15 Shrimp 0.8

16 Scallops 0.6

17 Shad 0.2

18 Smelt 0.2

19 Eels 0.1

20 Salmon 0.1

21 Winkles 0.1

The variety of other harvested species is large but they are comparatively much smaller in number (varying from 0.1 to 18.1 million pounds. This appears to be a characteristic property of a rich diverse community: a large variety but small in numbers in each variety except for one or two dominant species. See for example an analogous result for a tropical forest(Howe,1983): The important point is that ' in a community, some species are common,some are less common and many are rare. The preservation of a community inevitably requires the preservation of species present in substantially different abundances.' Apparently this conservation aspect has to be firmly borne in mind whenever a study is being made of possible changes in tidal regime owing to man-made causes like dams and large tidal power plants, changes in sea level or climate.

3.0 Harnessing Tidal Effects or Harvesting Natural Food Directly?     

There are two ways of making available energy: by machines or by living things. In the example of tides, the machine is the tidal power plant and the living things are those discussed above.

3.1 Harvesting the Sea in tidal rich areas.

Discovering the diversity of life in tidally endowed areas and finding therein a thoroughly unified community in which there are no losses and productivities are all utilised 100% and in which the driving force is the energy of the sun and of the tides, man entered and harvested some of the natural renewable resources in such a way that production and continuity were maintained; there were no loss in 'catch' substantialy from year to year. Thus in the Bay of Fundy for example, a thriving sea harvesting community exists employing some 25000 people,and with an annual financial value of US dollars hundred million(1972).

3.1.1  Nature of living energy in the tidal ecosystem

Looking closely at the marine ecosystem shows clearly that after all this natural system runs on electricity produced by photosynthesis and respiration in natural photovoltaic cells and natural fuel cells,  in chloropasts and mitochondria respectively, utilising the energy of the sun and oxidation and reduction reactions. Thus, whether it is sea weeds or fish, electricity is nevertheless generated and used(1.2 volts shockless and many hundreds of amperes of current). Apart from electricity, however, chemical potential gradient is also produced and used. Using electricity ATP is produced which is used as the energy currency of the living cell. In the Bay of Fundy ecosystem illustrated above, the total electrical and chemical energy that that would be produced and used, and this is important, utilised in such a way that the energy is preserved in cycles of use, in the marine ecosystem is equivalent to an electric generator of the order of 600 Megawatts(MW) power capacity. This corresponds to an energy turnover of 3100 to 3600 million kilowatthours annually to produce the diverse harvest of marine organisms. When man utilises this harvest, he must return his excrement corresponding to this use back to the sea. Thus would these plants, animals and people ' be joined in a sort of energy community.'(Hinkle and McCarty, 1978).

3.2  Effects of a Tidal Power Plant on the Ecosystem

What would be the effects on such an  ecosystem by the development of a tidal barrage and a power plant? For example, the estimated electricity development in one location(Cobequid Bay in the Bay of Fundy area), was 4028 MW and 12600 GWH(million kwh) with a tidal range of 12.4 m using 106 turbines of 7.5 m  diameter each. But after 15 years of the most comprehensive studies on all aspects including the ecological balance, the net result has been that, only a small  Tidal Power Plant  of 20 MW capacity at Annapolis in the Fundy area is being put up. The reason is that ecologically and environmentally, a huge Tidal Power Plant  would change the whole tidal regime on the Northeast American sea coast with possibly catastrophic consequences for the bird populations and causing drainage problems(Daborn 1977). Similarly another committee found that the 7200 MW, 13000 GWH, mean tidal range 9.3 m Severn barrage, though technmically and economically feasible, to require further studies on its environmental acceptability(Birkett et all 1984). Nearer home, at the Gulf of Kutch, Kandla promises 600 MW at 1600 GWH annually with a mean tidal range of 5.2 m.

3.3 The Gulf of Kutch Tidal Area 

Studies are afoot for a tidal power plant in the Gulf of Kutch. A newspaper report in the Free Press Journal(1984), envisages completion of the project by 1987(report submitted in 1988). The report mentions studies in many areas  but ecological studies do not find a place. The project envisages construction of main dams across Hansthal creek, 3.1 km long, Sara creek, 0.7 km long and Phang creek, 0.5 km long. The area surveyed includes 1400 sq. kms of marshy land.

3.4 Living Energy in the Gulf of Kutch

The fabulous wealth of rich and diverse life in the Gulf of Kachchh presents a vivid picture of a thoroughly unified community disposing the awesome power of solar radiation and tides harmlessly while preserving energy in cycles of use, analogous to the Bay of Fundy Ecosystem(Chavan 1983). Some 55 coral species, marine worm-like animals, some of them found only in the Gulf of Kachchh, bottom dwelling forms, crustaceans like mud crab, Jumbo Lobster, Barnacles, some 200 species of invertebrates(snails, mussels, oysters and octopus), mammals(dolphins, whales), some 200 species of fishes, Reptiles(Green sea turtles, Black banded snakes), a huge number of fantastic birds, luxurient growth of mangroves, and  unique land-building tropical shrubs-species that grow only in saline waters.  Mangroves form one of the pivots of the marine ecosystem.

3.5 Destruction of the Gulf of Kachchh ecosystem by careless industrialisation.

This has caused devastation of marine habitats including mangroves. Misuse of marine flora and fauna,example living corals for plaster for homes, dredging sand for cement and destruction consequently of good coral areas, also around a Marine Park, encroaching by human habitat into the mangrove and mudflat area, industrial oil leaks, and road building on sand(Chavan 1983).

3.6 Kutch Tidal Power Plant must include comprehensive ecological studies. 

Briefly the problem appears to be lack of knowledge of what would happen to the ecosystem, after construction of a battery of barrages in the Gulf of Kachchh as elsewhere- whether it would be catastrophic or not. this entails perhaps at least a  decade long study of the bio geo chemical cycles such as on:

3.6.1. Physiography and ecological characteristics. Geology and a thoroughly revised tectonic framework including effects of dams, Tidal influences on the physical oceanography, The climate, The sediment regime, Biological resources including Intertidal resources, Marine and estuarine sublittoral benthos, Aspects of marine ecology relevant to tidal power, Avifauna, Use by shorebirds. Interrelationships of ecosystems and engineering aspects, Effects on physical oceanography by tidal power development  including climate change for 100 years Effects of tidal power structures on sediment transport, Earthquakes and climate change caused by dams

3.7 Harvesting of Living Energy Cycles in the Gulf of Kachchh

Simultaneously with the consideration of tidal power harnessing for the monoculture of electricity generation only, at the site, and its use elsewhere, must be considered the harvesting of living energy by man, preserving it in cycles of use. What is the present status of harvesting marine fish and other life for food? If life is not thriving in such a way that there exists balance between care and use, what steps have been taken to restore the original balance? For example, can we cite figures like we did for the Bay of Fundy? In any case, such a permanent mariculture striking a balance between plant, animal and human existence, is urgently to be implemented because it is immediately possible to do so. A healthy wholeness of creation is possible by 'responsible behaviour in the present' .  Whether a tidal power plant preserves this system or enhances it, a detailed study may reveal. The chances are, by analogy with other tidally rich areas, a large tidal power plant would be ruled out.  There is a decided complication, however on account of the global effect of the GHGs and the dams exacerbated by the nuclear power programmes and general profligacy of modern civilization's destruction of nature. The modern madness of the nuclear power programmes is revealed by its energy audit(See my website by clicking on my name here. We can no longer make long term studies based on the usual design norms because the reaction of the earth falls outside these design envelopes and hence the glaring lacunae in design is leading to catastrophic failures of modern infrastructure because of climate change effects. What implication this has on the ecosystem can be gleaned by the catastrophic sea and land creature mass deaths followed or preceded by earthquakes, high temperatures via surges of heat waves, flash floods, cloudbursts, cyclones, landslides persistently caused by dams and other greedy interventions into the biosphere including reckless consumptive mining sprees. Monitoring and studies on a global basis together with immediate conservation and life style change seems a must.

4.0 Ecology tells us and we are experiencing the interlinkages of all that is

The Bhagavadgita is timeless in its teachings that everything is interconnected and that the soil and the sea are the great connectors of all life. All diversity is within a universe. In general, man may use the energy of living systems by preserving energy in cycles of use, by recycling and via the sun. In this way man does not convert energy in such a way that he cannot use it again. This negentropic behaviour is via life presided over by the sun. In this way he need not create wastes which become pollutants. Or man can mechanically extract energy out of tides for example, by creating a reservoir behind a barrage, but in the process subjecting nature's thoroughly unified communities to degradation and the threat of destruction, by causing a catastrophic alteration in the tidal resources affecting fish migration and bird population.The consequences have to be carefully studied. Or in the process of extracting energy by fossil fuels, creating conditions which have far reaching adverse effects on tidal power or on other power development or even on the ecology of the whole planet itself. Or he may mistake natural living energy itself to be a storehouse of energy and start extracting mechanical energy and materials out of it- like from the forest(marine or otherwise) or from the bowels of the earth and destroy it. And again create ecological unbalances. He may consider man to be a mechanical slave- a machine in short and replace him by another seemingly quantitatively more effective monoculture- a 'cheap and fast machine' - replace the goose that lays the golden egg - and ultimately destroy the permanence of return - the very reason de etre of a community and of life itself. This may indeed happen when tidal power development or a nuclear power programme destroys the livelihood of fishermen along with the thriving ecosystem.

5.0 Conclusion

Nature typically depends for its strength on a web of resources rigidly interconnected by evolution happening daily. This is in contrast to man(part of nature) who typically in ignorance of true knowledge thinks of monoculture for his short term profits. Exceptions are the thousands of years old traditional Indian or Chinese farmer or the Amishes in the USA, to cite some rare species. Again and again when modern man considers therefore a particular development, he confronts with his monocultural proposal, a diversity of natural resources whose regime he would alter, thinking they are separate- a typical fallacy of thought and action in modern civilization- and hence face a situation new to nature- like in Fukushima or in Genetic Modification- and create a crisis. Previously, modern civilization's disparate actions had local effects and the benign margins of nature were capable of righting these. But now the margins have vanished and with them the factors of safety. Man's effects are being increasingly felt globally, witness how the dams for example are causing climate change worldwide with terrible consequences to modern ways of life, including nuclear explosion effects on infrastructure like nuclear reactors and setting buildings ablaze and causing mines to explode. In effect these are confirming the ageless prophecies of the Gita. This is because he feels in his ego-led personality, he is supreme and will see the consequences of interconnections of modern systems with nature at the conception stage of his creations and hence conquer nature and amass limitless profits forever. Hence he disregards the need to imitate nature beyond understanding and instead put his own proposals into effect without considering the true consequences. Somebody has already been there at work, in the past, in the present and will be there in the future- the harmony
of the universe. Look therefore closely at ecology and it may be that we should tu
ne ourselves to Harmony, the Unity behind all that is.

6. References

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Sri Aurobindo. 1920. Essays on the Gita. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry.

Berry Wendell. 1977. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Avon. New York.

R. Ashok Kumar. 2005. Earthquakes Caused by Dams. At

R. Ashok Kumar.2005. Predicting Earthquakes. At

Howe Henry .F. 1983. Implications of Mutualistic Seed Dispersal for Tropical Reserve Management. Centenary Seminar on Conservation.
Bombay Natural History Society. Bombay(Mumbai).

King, F.H. 1927. Farmers of Forty Centuries Or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan. Jonathan Cape. London.

R. Ashok Kumar. 1983. Concepts for a Civilization Based on Conservation.
Centenary Seminar on Conservation. Bombay Natural History Society. Bombay(Mumbai).

Readers Digest. 1972. Secrets of the Seas. The Reader's Digest Association. New York.

Petrides. G. A. 1983. Can we assume that National parks will preserve nature and wildlife?
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Pillai Gopinadha C. S. 1983. The endangered marine and terrestrial habitats of Minicoy Atoll in Lakshadweep.
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Birkett N., Count B.M., and Nichols N.K.
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Armantrout Neil B. 1983. Fish Distri
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Hinkle P.C., McCarty R.E.1978. How Cells make ATP. Sci Am. 238.3.104-123.

R. Ashok Kumar. 1986. Modern Civi
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