An integral part of Vizag’s natural beauty, Erra Matti Dibbalu (red sand dunes) is near Bheemili, a town about 20 km away from the city. With a depth of 2 km and width of 2.5 km, the breathtaking view of the meandering maze of dunes and the geomorphic shapes are a sight to behold. Unfortunately, with rapid urbanisation, the scale of the dunes has reduced to a huge extent and is under threat of being lost forever. Further worsening the state, on Tuesday, a few individuals trespassed into the site to shoot a film in Vizag. Taking stock of the situation, the officials from the Departments of Tourism and Revenue immediately stopped the shooting, after a video of the shooting that was uploaded on social media by city-based environmentalists, Sohan and Jayshree Hatangadi, had gone viral.
According to the video shared by Mr Sohan Hatangadi, they were informed by the locals that the film shooting was in progress at Erra Matti Dibbalu. Sharing the ordeal, he said, “The sand dunes are very fragile and could easily be damaged if misused. When we heard that the film shooting was in progress, we informed the Tahsildar of Bheemili. He took prompt action to evacuate the film crew from the area. A big thank you to the Tahsildar, MRO, and other officials. We took the opportunity to educate the film unit about the significance of the geo-heritage site. As they were winding up, we noticed that there was extensive littering of the area. We requested them to get it cleaned. After they left, the place turned quiet again. It is beautiful and I hope that it will always remain this way. We urge you to take an active interest in conserving all our heritage sites in Vizag. We should keep them safe for future generations.”
Reportedly, the film crew had obtained permission for the shooting from the Bheemunipatnam Mutually Aided Co-operative Building Society, in a layout that lies adjacent to the heritage site. Violating the rules, they entered Erra Matti Dibbalu and used earthmoving equipment to flatten some of the dunes to pave the way for the film crew and material.
Speaking to Yo!, Ms Hatangadi shared the geological significance of the site. She said, “Formed as a result of geochemical weathering, this rare natural marvel was recognised as a national geo-heritage site in 2014 and as a protected site by the Andhra Pradesh state government in 2016. The red colour is understood to be a result of ferrugination, where iron coats the sand grains and gets oxidised over time. The only other place in the country to have a similar stretch of red sand dunes is Tamil Nadu, which has the Teri Dune Complex.”
Shedding light on the flora and fauna witnessed in the region, the city-based Heritage Narrator and Environmentalist, noted that the dunes are subjected to wind, water, heat, and erosion. The geo-flora field study suggests that plantation activities are detrimental in the long run for the very sustainability of the dune ecosystem. Erra Matti Dibbalu supports scanty vegetation of certain trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers, creepers, and several grass species, she added. According to Ms Jayshree Hatangadi, birdwatchers from Vizag, including Vivek Rathod, Bhagyasree Venugopal, Avinash, Chetan, and Sanchari, have recorded as many as 23 species of birds in the area.
Despite being popular for its scenic beauty, Erra Matti Dibbalu was grossly neglected for several years. With no proper security in place, the area became a hotspot for drinking and gambling activities. As the geo-heritage site continued to face the threat of incessant littering, the recent trespassing of the film unit to shoot at Erra Matti Dibbalu in Vizag further pushed it into a vulnerable state.
Reiterating the need to conserve heritage sites like these, Ms Hatangadi suggested that the site needs to be fenced with bushes and guards are to be deployed. Adding that legend boards with adequate information in Telugu and English, informing the importance of the timeline of the site’s heritage are required to be installed, she said that trained guides from the local communities should be employed to share the significance of Erra Matti Dibbalu.