Sundarbans threatened by Human Activities
03, Jan 2023
Prelims level : Bio Diversity & Its Threat Mains level : GS-III Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental impact assessment.
Why in News?
- In Sundarbans, a new shrimp farming initiative offers hope for mangrove restoration.
What is the SAIME Initiative?
- Under Sustainable Aquaculture In Mangrove Ecosystem (SAIME) initiative, farmers have taken up cultivation of shrimp at 30 hectares in West Bengal. Additionally, they are restoring mangroves.
- Started in 2019, the community-based initiative of sustainable shrimp cultivation is being conceived by NGOs- Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS) and Global Nature Fund (GNF), Naturland, Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS).
- The mangrove ecosystem is integrated with shrimp cultivation, but when fisheries were expanded inwards, the mangrove ecosystem was excluded.
- Fishing, particularly shrimp cultivation, is one of the key occupations of the people of Sundarbans, which is a complex network of rivers and low-lying islands that face a tide surge twice a day.
- Shrimp cultivation is practised in about 15,000 to 20,000 hectares of the unique ecosystem in India.
Issues and challenges in Sundarbans:
- Small patches of mangroves are being lost gradually and quietly due to their indiscriminate destruction for either coastal development or short-term gains.
- These patches are observed to be enriched habitats of several rare and threatened flora and fauna.
- The continued loss of shoreline mangrove ecosystems has created fragmented and fragile mangrove habitats for rare taxa and framed barriers to their movement and dispersal.
- This irreversible loss of biodiversity is often neglected, which could never be compensated with any ‘cut the established and plant the new’ theory.
What is the issue now?
- The Sunderbans are affected due to the polluted discharges from shrimp ponds. So, instead of popularising shrimp farming, if more indigenous fishing activities were encouraged, coastal threatened biodiversity could be protected and at the same time livelihood options may be provided to the coastal dwellers.
What are Mangroves?
- Mangroves are the plant communities occurring in inter-tidal zones along the coasts of tropical and subtropical countries.
- Mangrove forests perform multiple ecological functions such as production of woody trees, provision of habitat, food and spawning grounds for fin-fish and shellfish, provision of habitat for birds and other valuable fauna; protection of coastlines and accretion of sediment to form new land.
- Among the states and Union Territories, West Bengal has the highest percentage of area under total Mangrove cover followed by Gujarat and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- The India State of Forest Report gives the data about mangroves and their conditions in the country.
About Indian Sundarbans:
- Covers 4,200 sq. km and includes the Sunderban Tiger Reserve of 2,585 sq. km — home to about 96 royal Bengal tigers (as per the last census in 2020).
- It is a world heritage site and a Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance).
- It is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).”
- Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here. Recent studies claim that the Indian Sundarban is home to 2,626 faunal species and 90% of the country’s mangrove varieties.