Context

The continuous loss of forest cover in the Indian Sundarbans has made conservation efforts crucial.

Facts and Figures about Sundarbans

  • The Sundarbans is a cluster of low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal, spread across India and Bangladesh
  • It is famous for its unique mangrove forests
  • It is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine crocodile (Crocodilus porosus), royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), Water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator), Gangetic dolphin (Platinista gangetica), and olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
  • The Sundarbans forest is about 10,000 sq km across India and Bangladesh
  • 40% of the forest lies in India
  • The forest in India is divided into the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and 24 Parganas (South) Forest Division. Together with the forest in Bangladesh, it is the only mangrove forest where tigers are found.
Sundarbans
Credit: WWF.org

Man in the Indian Sundarbans

  • According to a 2010 WWF report, the Indian Sundarbans is home to nearly 4.5 million people
  • The area outside the National Park has been subject to human use for centuries, and mostly converted for agriculture.
  • 85% of the population subsists on single paddy crop
  • Other occupations include fishing, and honey and crab collection from the forests

Threats to the Sundarbans

  • Growing human population with few alternative livelihood opportunities poses a serious threat to the mangrove forest.
  • Encroachment and Reclamation: Conversion of mangrove tracts for aquaculture, agriculture and other non-forestry land use
  • Overfishing: The stock of the fish is decreasing continuously due to the overexploitation and impact of climatic change. The density of the fish in shallow waters has reduced tremendously.
  • Shrimp Culture: Uncontrolled collection of prawn seedlings has emerged as a major problem. There has been continuous trampling of river or creek banks by fishermen and prawn seed collectors.
  • Due to deforestation and illegal poaching the Sundarbans is losing its biodiversity rapidly.
  • Land based livelihood activities are getting impacted due to rising sea-levels, salt-water incursion, coastal erosion, and soil fertility loss.
  • People are increasingly exploiting the living resources of the ecosystem and this puts a question on the sustainability of the region.

Climate Change and its Impact on Sundarbans

  •  A recent Jadavpur University study has pointed out that climate change appears to be an emerging threat to the Sundarbans.

1. Unpredictable Rainfall Patterns:

  • Rainfall patterns are changing over the Sundarbans.
  • Rainfall has decreased during a certain phase of the season, and the pattern of rainfall has changed, making conventional cultivation of crops difficult for farmers.

2. Rising sea level:

  • Rising seas are said to have flooded 7,500 ha of mangroves in the Sundarbans (WWF 2007).
  • The rise in sea level has deprived the people of their main sources of livelihood – agriculture and fishing.

3.Changes in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events:

The months of July to October are always the season for storms in Sundarbans; however, the storms have increased in frequency and are more intense.

4. Coastal erosion:

  • Another factor which contributes to loss of land in Sundarbans is coastal erosion.
  • The constant erosion of embankments built to stop the seas from invading islands is continuously decreasing landmass in Sundarbans
  • Many islands, once capable of supporting hundreds of people, at present lie uninhabited due unprecedented coastal erosion.
Management of the Indian Sundarbans

  • The Indian part of Sundarbans covering an area of 9630sq.km has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve in 1989
  • Project Tiger covers 2550 km2 of this area, of which 1692 km2 is the core area (National Park) and has been declared a World Heritage Site in 1987
  • Conservation and Management of Sundarbans Mangroves: This is a fully centrally sponsored Scheme for Conservation and Management of mangroves in Sundarbans and includes mangrove plantation, protection infrastructure support and eco-development works.
  • The Sundarbans has been a priority eco-region for WWF-India, and it has been working in the Indian Sundarbans since 1973.

 

Suggestions

  • Public awareness and active participation of the local community in conservation measures
  • Policies to address the pressures created on natural resources by lack of human development:It is vital that local communities are pulled out of poverty, which would also relieve the pressure on natural resources.
  • Introduction of endemic plant and tree species that can thrive in changing salinity conditions and can provide co-benefits to local communities
  • Promoting ecotourism to raise funds and awareness
  • Given its global uniqueness, international climate finance should be channelled to India and Bangladesh for the region’s preservation

“A country grows in history not only because of the heroism of its troops on the field of battle; it grows also when it turns to justice and to right for the conservation of its interests.”

Aristide Briand

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