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Save the mangrove forest for ecosystem service

Sunday, Dec 22, 2019 08:15 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Dec 22, 2019 02:40 [IST]

Save the mangrove forest for ecosystem service

Climate change has severely threatened biodiversity worldwide with many species already in the verge extinction and is responsible for a warmer temperature, changing rainfall pattern, and more frequent extreme weather events. Climate change has already caused changes in vegetation, salinity and sedimentation in the Sundarbans that is the only iconic ecosystem with amazing animals like the Bengal tiger left on the earth. Sea level rise (SLR) has further aggravated the loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats particularly in coastal low-lying regions. The mean elevation of most of the Sundarbans is less than one meter (m) above sea level, making it also highly vulnerable to SLR. Combined effect of climate change and SLR is also the major cause of deforestation in the world.
The Sundarbans, located in  the  north-eastern  shores  of  India, is the  world’s  largest  contiguous  mangrove  forest  spreading across approximately 9,630 square kilometers, of  which  5,363  square  kilometers is  reclaimed  area  and  the 4,267  square  kilometers are  protected  mangrove  forests.  A further 6,000 square kilometers of contiguous mangrove forests are spread across neighbouring Bangladesh. The  Sundarban  ecosystem  is  the  most important biologically protective and  taxonomically diverse  ecosystems of the  Indian Sub-continent. The entire  area  is  a  conglomeration  of  river channels, creeks  and islands. About 102  island are reported. Among them, 54  islands  are  inhabited  and  48 islands are forested. The name “Sundarbans” is, as reported, derived from the abundantly growing mangrove trees, locally called ‘Sundari’ (Heritiera fomes). The region is also home to a large number of threatened and endemic species making it critical for integrated assessment and planning for effective conservation in the context of climate change and associated events.
Approximately  200  years  ago,  the  Sundarbans  measured about  16,700  square  kilometers and  was  habitat of  several species  such  as the  Javan  rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), wild  buffalo  (Bubalusarnee),  swamp  deer  (Rucervusduvaucelii),  barking  deer  (Muntiacusmuntjak)  and  leopards (Pantherapardusfusca)  which  due  to change  in  habitat  and human induced pressures have now become locally extinct.
Tiger (Panthera tigris), the largest predator in Asia, historically distributed across much of the continent. The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is one of the sub-species of tiger that is geographically restricted to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Myanmar. The distinction between species and subspecies is sometimes hazy. Although two different subspecies can mate and produce viable offspring, subspecies often are separated by distinct habitats, different environmental adaptations and unique genetic and morphological features. Subspecies are evolution’s intermediary steppingstones on the path to fully formed species.
The Bengal tiger  represents the largest remaining population (~67%) of wild tigers in the world. An estimated 100,000 tigers roamed Asia’s forests, swamps and grasslands a century ago.  At present 3890 individuals are available globally after declining the number of wild tigers by 96% due to  habitat loss, hunting, and illegal trade of tiger parts and these wild tigers are mostly confined to  the protected areas . At present  approximately 1.5 million square kilometre tiger habitat representing only about  7%  is available with reference to historical range. Among the eight subspecies of Panthera tigris, three (i.e., Panthera tigris balica; Panthera tigris virgata; Panther tigris sondaica) have already gone extinct and the rest are either endangered or critically endangered. According to the researchers, tiger habitats in the Sundarbans will vanish entirely by 2070. The Sundarbans mangrove forest is  the world's only mangrove forest with tigers and the largest remaining Bengal tiger habitats in the world. From an environmental perspective, mangroves are recognized as environmentally critical ecosystems. As they store a lot of carbon and are very important for trapping sediment along coast lines. Their role as nurseries for fish is often not appreciated. They are critical environments for crustaceans and fish, as well as acting as buffers for extreme weather events. Mangroves are an effective water regulation system, preventing shoreline erosion that also act as a shelter belt against cyclones and tsunamis. The Sundarbans, due to its geographic location is one of the world's largest and dynamic delta system and also at the forefront of climate change and related events.
The tigers mostly require a suitable prey base and good ground cover for hunting to persist, even in degraded forest . In this context it is pertinent to mention that conservation areas are not strictly maintained by  protecting sufficient habitat and prey, free from human threats, for  self-sustaining tiger populations. The increases of global temperatures  and polar ice melting raises sea level that ultimately causes  the influx of salinated sea water. Thereby growth of  certain plants is inhibited and thus subsequently decreases the availability of certain food types. The Sundarbans’ spotted-deer population, a key food source for the Bengal tiger, is likely to be affected as the tree leaves on which it feeds begin to disappear. All these factors are also responsible  to destroy the Sundri trees and thus the tigers’ mangrove habitat. As resources become scarce, tigers are more likely to stray into human settlements in search of food, increasing the chance of tiger-human conflict that  manifested in human killing, livestock depredation, and ultimately the retribution killings of tigers by affected local communities.The loss of the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem also raises concerns for human populations and other animal species. In addition to  climatic factors, interaction with other species and environmental factors are also responsible to a greater extent, for the changes and losses of biodiversity at both the local and global levels. The future of many wildlife species will largely depend on their ability to adapt or tolerate to a wide range of climatic conditions. Further, the Sundarbans are under growing pressure from industrial developments, infrastructure development, water divergence in upstream areas, wood collection, harvesting of other aquatic resources, agriculture, unsustainable collection of prey species, intensive fish farming, and poaching.
If we critically evaluate the impact of so-called human development, economic growth and progress of society, victims are the  poor people and wild animals. Their natural surroundings are being jeopardized by  agribusinesses and industrialists converting forests to fish farming, honey collection, infrastructure development, ship movement, resort and also industries.  Naturally, huge amount of public money is being spent for infrastructure in the name of development and progress of society as a 'proof' to establish the concern of the government, state apparatus, regulators and politicians. This development cuts across animal  habitats and makes long-range movement more and more challenging as well as the suffering of humanity and damage to the ecosystem with valuable plants and animals. Many of us want to save wildlife but we have less and less space to do so because of the population explosion and rapidly increasing demands for more and more land.
Considering the above fact, it may be pointed out that  tigers are getting a double whammy -- greater human encroachment on the one hand and a worsening climate and associated sea-level rises on the other,  At present management of tigers is a response to a global conservation crisis. Range contraction, population decline, habitat fragmentation, prey loss, and poaching cause and aggravate this crisis. If we really concern to tiger conservation, we must realize the importance of understanding the basic ecology of this apex predator, including the relationship between environmental and anthropogenic variables and habitat use. The government both in center and states should prioritize tiger conservation by designating more areas for tiger conservation, creating corridors for transboundary  tiger movements, continues with strict monitoring and law enforcement to control illegal human activity in the area, avoid unplanned development in the vicinity, and raise public awareness to control human-tiger conflicts in the area. I believe If conservation is  prioritized, the population of Bengal tiger would continue to live in the Sunderban.
(E-mail : dpmcpcb@yahoo.com)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi