A houseboat idling in the lake
|Primary inflows||Achenkovil, Manimala, Meenachil, Muvattupuzha, Pamba, Periyar|
|Primary outflows||several canals|
|Max. length||96.5 km|
|Max. width||14 km|
|Surface area||2033 km²|
|Max. depth||12 m|
|Surface elevation||0 m|
|Islands||Pathiramanal, Perumbalam, Pallippuram|
Alleppy, Cochin, Cherthala
|Official name: Vembanad-Kol Wetland|
|Designated:||19 August 2002|
Vembanad (Vembanad Kayal or Vembanad Kol) is the longest lake in India, and the largest lake in the state of Kerala. It is also counted as one of the largest lakes in India. A lake spanning several districts in the state of Kerala, it is known by different names in different localities viz. Punnamada Lake in Kuttanad, Kochi Lake in Kochi. The Port of Kochi is located around two islands (the Willingdon Island and Vallarpadam) in a portion of this lake known as the Kochi Lake. The celebrated Nehru Trophy Boat Race is conducted in a portion of this lake; in the Kuttanad region, known as the Punnamada Lake. High levels of pollution have been noticed at certain hotspots of the Vembanad backwaters. Government of India has identified the Vembanad wetland under National Wetlands Conservation Programme.
The Punnamada Lake
Punnamada Lake (Malayalam: പുന്നമടക്കായല്) is the name of the Vembanad Lake located in the Kuttanad region of the district of Alappuzha. It is in this portion of the lake that the celebrated Nehru Trophy Boat Race is conducted.
The Kochi Lake
Kochi Lake (Malayalam: കൊച്ചിക്കായല്) is the portion of the Vembanad Lake located in and around the Kochi mainland. Among the several groups of small islands that the Kochi Lake forms home for, are, Vypin, Mulavukad, Vallarpadam, Willingdon Island etc. Kochi Lake is home for the Kochi Port which is built around the Willingdon Island, and the Vallarpadam island.
Geography and hydrography
The Vembanad wetland system covers an area of over 2033.02 km²  thereby making it the largest wetland system in India. Of this, an area of 398.12 km² is located below the MSL and a total of 763.23 km² area is located below 1 m MSL. The lake is bordered by Alappuzha, Kottayam, and Ernakulam districts. It is situated at the sea level, and is separated from the Arabian Sea by a narrow barrier island. Canals link the lake to other coastal lakes in the north and south. The lake surrounds the islands of Pathiramanal, Perumbalam and Pallippuram. The Vembanad Lake is approximately 14 kilometres wide at its widest point. The lake is a part of Vembanad-Kol wetland system which extends from Alappuzha in the south to Azheekkode in the north, making it by far, India's longest lake at just over 96.5 km in length. The lake is fed by 10 rivers flowing into it including the six major rivers of central Kerala namely the Achenkovil, Manimala, Meenachil, Muvattupuzha, Pamba and Periyar. The total area drained by the lake is 15,770 km², which accounts for 40% of the area of Kerala. Its annual surface runoff of 21,900 Mm accounts for almost 30% of the total surface water resource of the state.
The lake has become a major tourist location in the past few years[when?] thanks to its scenic beauty. The most popular location on the shores of the lake is the Kumarakom Tourist Village situated on the east coast of the lake. The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the northern fringes of Kumarakom village. The Vembanad Wetland system was included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands in 2002. It is the largest of the three Ramsar Sites in the state of Kerala. Vembanad lake has been heavily reclaimed over the course of the past century with the water spread area reducing from 290.85 km² in 1917 to 227 km² in 1971 and 213.28 km² in 1990. In the same period almost 63.62 km of erstwhile water spread were reclaimed primarily for formation of polders and to enlarge the extent of the Wellington island of Cochin port. The lake faces a major ecological crisis and has reduced to 37 per cent of its original area, as a result of land reclamation.
A unique characteristic of the lake is the location of the 1252-meter-long Thanneermukkom salt water barrier. The Thanneermukkom salt water barrier was constructed as a part of the Kuttanad Development Scheme to prevent tidal action and intrusion of salt water into the Kuttanad low-lands. It is the largest mud regulator in India. This barrier essentially divides the lake into two parts - one with brackish water perennially and the other half with fresh water fed by the rivers draining into the lake. This barrier has helped the farmers in Kuttanad by freeing the area of salinity and adding another crop in dry season. The Thanneermukkom barrier is located at one of the narrower parts of the Vembanad Lake. Only two-thirds of the original number of gates is opened in July to release flood flow. These gates remain closed mid-November. The main drawback of the structure has been the loss of opportunity for fish and prawns to migrate upstream, and also an increase in weed growth in the upstream. and also, severely restricting the natural flushing of pollutants. The Thanneermukkom bund has also created ecological problems, primarily, the rampant propagation of the Water Hyacinth in fresh water.
The port of Kochi (Cochin) is located at the lake's outlet to the Arabian Sea. In Cochin, the stretch from Kochi Azhi to Munambam Azhi, the serene backwaters are popularly known as Veeranpuzha. It is the northern extension of Vembanad Lake. The town of Alappuzha (also known as Allepey), sometimes called the "Venice of the East" for its large network of canals that meander through the town - is sandwiched between the lake and the Arabian sea. The Vallam Kali (the Snake Boat Race) held here every year in the month of August is a major attraction. Over 1.6 million people live on the banks of the Vembanad lake and are directly or indirectly dependent on it for their livelihoods.
Vembanad Lake is at the heart of Kerala Backwaters tourism with hundreds of kettuvallams plied on it and numerous resorts nestling on its banks. The Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is located on the east coast of the lake. The lake is famous for its scenic beauty and has become a major tourist attraction. A generally safe destination, this place was maligned with one incident of tourist harassment in 2004 was reported in The Times of India.
The Vembanad Wetland system has formed an intricate network of estuaries, lagoons and canals which spans over 196 km in the north-south and 29 km in the east-west directions. Almost all villages in these areas can be accessed via water transport. The major rivers of Muvattupuzha, Meenachil, Pamba and Achencovil rivers, are all navigable up to distances of about 30 km upstream in the tidal reach. The Kottappuram-Kollam segment of the west coast canal system has a major chunk passing through the Vembanad Lake and spans a total of 209 km. It has been declared as a National Waterway.
Vembanad Kol Wetland was included in the list of wetlands of international importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. It is home to more than 20,000 waterfowls - the third largest such population in India. It is also an ideal habitat for shrimps. Major livelihood activities of the people living on the shores of the lake include agriculture, fishing, tourism, inland navigation, coir retting, lime shell collection. The uncontrolled mining of shells from the lake bed is also posing a threat to the eco-system. The sewage effluents and the heavy load of organic material released from the neighboring areas including a medical college at Alappuzha is let into the water and are responsible for the decrease in dissolved oxygen content in the water in the water body.
On July 27, 2002, twenty-nine people were killed when an overcrowded boat capsized in the Vembanad lake. The boat was carrying more people than twice its slated capacity. The boat was a daily ferry service which connects Muhamma village on the west coast to Kumarakom on the east. The crowd were going in for writing a PSC test.
- Ayub, Akber (ed), Kerala: Maps & More, 2006 edition 2007 reprint, p. 48, Stark World Publishing, Bangalore, ISBN 81-902505-2-3
- Official website of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race
- "Vembanad - Kol Wetland". R. Gopakumar and Kaoru Takara,Centre for Water Resources Development and management, Kozhikode.
- "Ramsar Sites In Kerala". ENVIS Centre, Kerala.
- "Vembanad Wetland Conservation Program". Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment.
- "Boat driver held for misbehaving with tourist - The Times of India". The Times Of India.
- "The List of Wetlands of International Importance". The Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland. Archived from the original on 2008-01-02. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
- "Vembanad - Kol Wetland". World Wildlife Fund. 2006-05-24.
- "Over 50 feared dead in boat tragedy". Cnn. 2002-07-27. Retrieved 2002-07-27.
- Wetland or wasteland?
- Bird count 2004
- Official website of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race
- Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Vembanad Lake
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