Recycling water on Manora Island

Location: Karachi, Pakistan. 31st Aug 2017

Once a small fishing village with clear seawater, serene beaches, creeks and islands covered with lush green mangroves, Karachi has now been transformed into a hub supporting almost 70% of Pakistan's industry and external trade.

Lying southwest of Karachi city is a small island called Manora. Traditionally a fishing village, the island now hosts naval installations because of its strategic location. Its sandy beaches are also a popular destination for picnickers. The mangrove patches on its north-eastern edges not only add to the aesthetic vista of the island but also act as nurseries for shrimp and juvenile fish, which are a source of livelihood for fisherfolk.

Unfortunately, the picturesque island has its fair share of problems. Detached from the mainland, Manora faces a scarcity of freshwater, and there is a large reliance on tankers for water supply. The beauty of the area has also now been marred with pollution. The seawater contains polluting materials including floating debris, oil, sewage, paper and plastics, easily visible from a boat traversing the channel to reach Manora.

While Manora Island contributes only 4% of sewage entering the sea from the entire metropolis, this has an impact on the attractiveness of its beach, which draws an estimated 150,000 visitors per year. Pollution in harbor areas also has an adverse impact on marine life and reduces the lifespan of naval ships, boats and other infrastructure due to enhanced corrosion.

Vice Admiral Syed Arifullah Hussaini, currently serving as Commander of the Pakistan Naval Fleet, explains: “We needed IUCN’s technical advice and financial support to address coastal environmental issues like pollution in the Karachi harbor area. With MFF’s support we have adopted a low-cost and sustainable wastewater treatment model and established an artificial wetland.”

Artificially-constructed wetland is a technology designed to imitate the processes found in natural wetland ecosystems. The system involves a series of gravel filter beds planted with reeds to treat wastewater passing through the root zone. The system is cost-effective as it is less energy-intensive than traditional wastewater treatment techniques and uses natural materials and processes.

Through this system, the Pakistan Navy is now able to treat 30,000 gallons of sewage water which, according to Lt Cdr Noorul Amin, it is reusing to water the navy’s 3 acres of sports fields and the trees along the roadsides.

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Navy sports fields on Manora

The reuse of wastewater helps save millions of gallons of freshwater and not having to rely on tanker-transported water to green the area saves approximately PKR 6.9 million (US $65.5 thousand) per year. At the same time, the sewage load entering the sea from the island is being reduced, contributing to the protection of marine life, particularly the fish local communities rely on for their livelihoods.

When the project was completed, the Chief Minister of Sindh Province invited senior government officials, policymakers, private sector representatives, MFF staff and media for a demonstration and inauguration of this simple wastewater treatment model.

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Inauguration ceremony for the reed bed wastewater treatment system

“We have successfully replicated it in four of our other units, turning the wastewater into a productive resource with positive impacts on the local environment,” explains Lt Cdr Amin, who has remained involved with this initiative since it began.

With the reuse of treated wastewater, Manora island has become more green. Awareness of innovative solutions to control marine pollution has also increased among the Pakistan Navy ranks, which has resulted in the replication of the model by other navy units.  

This story was contributed by Ghulam Qadir Shah, National Coordinator for Pakistan. Ghulam drafted the piece following the IUCN Asia Strategic Communications for Conservation Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, which took place in July.

Reed bed sewage water treatment system

Reed bed sewage water treatment system, Manora Island © MFF Pakistan

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