REhabilitation of Vibrio Infested waters of VembanAd Lake: pollution and solution (REVIVAL)

Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Department Name: Remote Sensing Group

Abstract

REVIVAL is a project addressing the water quality in Vembanad Lake , the largest water body in Kerala, draining 40% of its surface area and holding 30% of its surface water resource. Some 1.6 million people live around its shores. Its fishing and farming communities follow traditional ways of life; it is a cultural icon of India. Tourism there contributes strongly to state and central revenues.

But Vembanad is highly polluted. The inhabitants are not assured of access to water that is safe for drinking and bathing. In this proposal, we will study the risk to public health from biological pollution in the lake. We will examine how pollution affects health, and how it might lower performance in the workplace, cause loss of revenue, and lower quality of life, threatening orderly and sustainable economic development of the region.

Scientists from India and the UK will join forces to study microbiological pollution in the lake to understand the conditions that allow pathogens to proliferate in the lake. They will find the major point sources of biological contamination in the lake. They will ascertain the organisms in the lake with which the pathogens are associated, how pathogens move within the lake, how their number changes with season, how they infect people, and the environmental conditions under which their virulence is expressed. Data will be collected in the field and by instruments carried on satellites in Earth orbit, as well as by instruments mounted on miniature drones, allowing. Detailed and extensive measurements with daily repetition and observations in places that would otherwise be dangerous to reach. Mathematical modelling will help integration and understanding of the observations, suggest actions for remediation of water quality and reduction of risk to public health, and provide a capability to forecast times and localities vulnerable to disease outbreaks. The results will help the team to design a rational protocol for monitoring water quality in the lake after the project is completed and recommend procedures for water quality remediation. Scientists will advise regulators, environmental managers and above all, the local community on policy actions that will help to maintain good water quality into the foreseeable future. Indian and UK scientists will teach young Indian scientists how to use these methods to address similar problems elsewhere.

A key activity will be the engagement of stakeholders (local communities, economic interests, civil servants) in the planning, execution, and interpretation of the work and translation of the results into action. There will be public awareness meetings at the outset, building on grass-roots initiatives already under way in the community. The project will have a citizen science component in which members of the community will be supplied with novel but inexpensive, simple but effective equipment to monitor water quality properties (temperature and turbidity). The measurements will increase the spatial coverage and frequency of the observations.. The citizen scientists will be informed about the significance of their results, how they help to understand the dynamics of water quality in the lake (including the dynamics of the epidemics) and how that might be translated into evidence-based action for lake restoration.

Improving the water quality in Vembanad Lake will provide a solid foundation for augmentation of public health and welfare, an essential step in improving quality of life and securing a sustainable economic development of Kerala. Involving the general public, as well as economic and administrative interests, will ensure that proposed solutions for lake restoration have a high probability of being implemented, such that economic growth can proceed hand in hand with maintenance of traditional life styles of fishing and farming communities.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of the proposed work will constitute a broad and diverse group including the scientific community; the fisheries and agriculture sector of Vembanad Lake; the tourist industry that relies on the beauty, biodiversity and ecosystem health of the lake; the coir and clam industries around it; the broader community around the lake whose health is at risk; those concerned with stewardship of aquatic resources through ecosystem-based management; and countries on the ODA list that live under the threat of cholera.
The scientific community will benefit from the new knowledge provided on the environmental conditions under which cholera bacteria and pathogenic viruses survive. Since these problems are global in nature, we anticipate that the results will be of immediate interest to all tropical countries where such diseases are known to occur. Our work will assess the pathways by which the pathogenic bacteria are most likely transmitted to humans. A further complication is how the picture might change under global warming: the factors that control the fertility of the Lake (winds, saltwater intrusion, sea level) are all sensitive to change in climate. The fisheries and aquaculture sectors will benefit from the information on coliform bacteria. The food marketing and distribution industry also has a stake here, with its vested interest in there being a sustainable supply of the highest quality fish from the lake.
Ecosystem-based management requires that decisions concerning aquatic resources protect the integrity of the ecosystem. Our work will shed light on the pressures being brought to bear on the Lake from the various communities with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests on the resources of the Lake. Sustainable management requires a healthy population that lives in harmony with the ecosystem on which they depend. We explore in this proposal the pressures, notably from biological contamination, on the health and wellbeing of the community that depends on the Lake. We hope that the integration, interpretation and translation of the results into community action will be a model case study of broad impact.
Society at large will benefit from the proposed work in various ways. The community will be engaged in the research project through Citizen Science, so they will know they are helping scientists assess the pollution status of the Lake and find a solution. The user engagement will inform the Lake community of the biological pollution, and implications for their health. We will engage with them to find solutions, and in ensuring that the stake holders are part of the solution. We have the backing of the Mayor of Cochin Corporation (see letter or support), which is the biggest city on the banks of the Vembanad Lake, who is enthusiastically looking forward to learning how the ecosystem health of the Lake can be revived and restored.
Technological innovations planned in the project: new user-friendly, miniaturized Secchi disc for monitoring water clarity and temperature; and the hyperspectral, drone-mounted radiometers that can be operated from the shore or small ships to study small-scale variability in optical properties of any aquatic system are both innovations that will find immediate applications in any coastal or lacustrine environment, with little or no modification. Furthermore, we have plans to develop simple kits that can be used to test pathogens in the aquatic environment, in partnership with private industry in India.
Mathematical modelling of infectious disease transmission associated with an aquatic reservoir is virtually unknown for the Kerala case, although the circumstances are ideal for the application. Significant impact is expected from this part of the study. Furthermore, the bioinformatics modelling of host-pathogen interaction and metabolic pathways to expression of virulence genes is a novel component that should lead to results of much broader impact than the local case study.

Publications

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Description Pathogenic V. cholerae are largely confined to the northern parts of the lake.
The co-occurrence of V. cholerae with E. coli suggests the pollution from high population density areas.
Proper disposal of sewage may reduce the problem to a large extent.
There is a strong association between pathogenic V. cholerae bacteria and phytoplankton concentration, as indicated by the concentration of the majot phytoplankton pigment, chlorophyll-a. The relationships are different in the northern and southern parts of the lake. These findings can be used to map the probability of occurrence of pathogenic bacteria in different parts of the lake, using satellite-derived data on chlorophyll concentration.
An epidemiological model has been developed for the Vembanad Lake, linking reported cases of cholora-like diarrhea in the population around the lake to the environmental conditions in the lake.
Exploitation Route The field sampling programme is ongoing, and has been modified slightly to enable better testing of initial findings. Because of the sensitive nature of the findings, we think it is important to be very sure of the results, and also to find a solution, before approaching the authorities with our findings.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare

 
Description Shortly after the project began, Kerala was struck by once-in-a-century floods, which displaced more than one million people and led to some 400 fatalities. Under the leadership of Dr. Anas Abdulaziz, the Indian team immediately took the decision to place its expertise at the disposal of ministerial-level authorities of the State, and became continuing consultants to them throughout the emergency. The team's help was instrumental in devising and implementing a system of rapid testing for well waters, using the prototype mini Secchi disk (an optical system developed under the project that can be used by non-experts; fifty of these disks have been fabricated by the UK partner PML and made available to the project for distribution in Citizen Science). The engagement with high-level officials of Kerala State, as well as with international observers on the ground, throughout the emergency was important for confidence building; it has developed an outstanding mutual trust and respect with them that should persist far into the future. Also, the well-water-testing program, established immediately after the emergency began, served as a focus to rally qualified volunteers to lend their aid. In summary, the REVIVAL project was an unforeseen and timely factor in strengthening the public response to a devastating emergency. Our team took an early initiative to lead from the front and render service to state officials at the highest level, as they tried to cope with an unexpected and deadly emergency, which unfolded and worsened at great speed. It was a prime example of science in action for societal benefit, with a successful outcome.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment,Healthcare
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Citizen Science Workshop I 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact A Citizen Science Workshop was conducted in August 2019 to engage college students in scientific data collection on water quality in Vembanad Lake. Provided hands-on training in the operation of Mini Secchi disc (developed at PML within the project) and mobile app (developed at CMFRI, India) to around 250 students from different university colleges along the shores of Vembanad Lake. The event was reported by a large number of newspapers and TV channels in Kerala, India.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Citizen Science Workshop II 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This workshop held on 20 December, 2019 targetted the stakeholders of Vembanad Lake. The workshop was Chaired by the Mayor of Kochi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019