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Goa pins ‘bird’ing hopes to attract tourists

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Panaji: Goa which houses 400 of India’s 1,100-odd avian species is now banking on the birds in the hope it can spur the arrival of high-end tourists in the state.

Picture credit: dpauls.com
Picture credit: dpauls.com

Avi-tourism, according to Goa tourism ministry officials, will help the state attract high-end tourists through an inherent strength the tropical state always had, but never capitalized on.

“Goa accounts for 400 out of the 1,100-odd bird species in India. This is a fact which is not known to many. We are in the process of promoting birding as a tourism activity in order to attract high-spending tourists to the state. Avi-tourism is generally associated with family tourism, a concept Goa wants to promote,” Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar told IANS.

Conventionally known as a beach tourism destination which attracts three million tourists every year, Goa’s relatively unexplored hinterland is dotted by five wildlife sanctuaries and one bird sanctuary.

While beasts like the Great Indian Gaur, Royal Bengal Tiger, leopards, panthers, cheetals and blue bulls are already an attraction, the tourism department aims to add more focus to the areas by formally introducing the concept of birding.

For now, Goa has four Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the global programme of the Bombay Natural History Society in tandem with Britain’s Bird Life International – namely Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Carambolim Lake, in addition to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.

Picture credit: goa-tourism.com
Picture credit: goa-tourism.com

The tourism department, in association with the forest department, is also trying to include three more IBAs – Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary and Navelim wetlands in Bicholim – for those keen on avi-tourism.

“Goa has greater potential for avi-tourism than is currently being realized. Goa offers the perfect setting for ornithologists and bird-watchers, which would include fanatics for the highly specialized ones and those who are into it as a hobby,” Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) chairman Nilesh Cabral said.

“Avi-tourism has attracted attention in recent years as an environmentally-friendly activity,” he added.

The tourism department has already tied up with the Bird Institute of Goa, an autonomous society based in Panaji, to promote ornithological interest in the state. The combine would develop bird trails in Goa for tourists.

The GTDC has also resolved to rename 45 rooms at a tourist residency near Old Goa, a popular tourist site close to the Salim Ali bird sanctuary that it operates, after birds found in the area.

The months of October to February are the richest when it comes to avian diversity in Goa, especially on account of the wide range of migratory birds which flock to Goa’s wetland hot spots – namely, the painted stork (mycteria leucocephala), asian openbill (anastomus oscitans), black stork, (ciconia nigra), woolly-necked stork (ciconia episcopus), white stork (ciconia) and the like.

The state’s exotic avian list also includes the frog mouth bird, blue-eared kingfisher, collared kingfisher, Malabar grey hornbill, grey-headed bulbul, rufous babbler and the state bird – the flame-throated bulbul.

Goa Tourism’s avi-tourism ambitions may also get a shot in the arm from the Konkan Railway corporation’s plans to further develop the Carambolim Lake – known as a home for a wide variety of bird-life, including migratory birds – as a birding hub by planting more trees bearing fruits like mangos, almonds, cashewnuts and chikoos around and along the Karmali station, located alongside the lake.

The lake is home to bids like purple heron, gray heron, jacana, pintail, indian stork, cuckoo, waterfowl, egrets, moorhen, lesser whistling teal, shoveler, garganey, red-rumped swallow and the coot – and, in the recent past, even the pink flamingo.

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Research: Having Diverse Natural Areas Near Agriculture Helps Farmers Financially During Calamities

"New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity"

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farmers, nature
University of British Columbia ecologist Diane Srivastava, with a damselfly, an insect often used as an indicator species for estimating biodiversity and assessing ecosystem health. (T. Zulkoskey). VOA

Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse  with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. A study finds that having diverse natural areas near agriculture helps farmers financially during droughts, and the more diverse the areas are, the better. Policies that preserve biodiversity near farms may ease economic pressure in places with severe droughts, the authors say.

“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia who led the study.

Some of that spillover can be tied to the increased diversity of insects in places that host many different species of plants, experts say. Pollinators that help plants reproduce, like bees and moths, and spiders that prey on agricultural pests like aphids and beetles are especially important.

Noack hoped to learn if having biodiverse areas close to farms could help crops be more resistant to drought  and if that impact would be big enough to be seen in farmers’ incomes.

farmers, diversity, agriculture
Farmers reap surprising benefits from having areas that are biodiverse with many plant and animal species nearby, according to new research. Wikimedia Commons

Big data from small farms

The researchers used data from 7,556 households in 304 villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where farmers derive their incomes from traditional agriculture as well as forest products like lumber and firewood.

Noack and his research team looked for a connection between the level of natural biodiversity  in this case, the number of plant species in the area  and how strongly drought affected the incomes of local farmers.

The researchers had expected that greater local biodiversity would benefit farmers, and it did. Farmers in areas with half the biodiversity lost twice as much income when droughts hit during the growing season.

Noack said that initially they thought the effect was just correlated with crop diversity. “Maybe you plant more different crops in areas with higher natural biodiversity because maybe there are just more crops available in those areas and that’s actually what’s driving the effect.”

But that’s not what they found. Even when they accounted for the effect of greater crop diversity, the farmers’ incomes seemed to be stabilized just by being close to diverse natural areas that can host many types of pollinators.

farmers, agriculture, diverse
“If you plant the same sort of crops next to a natural area that is very high in biodiversity versus one that’s very low in biodiversity, [the positive effect] spills over into the agricultural products,” said Frederik Noack. Pixabay
Having access to forests was also an income stabilizer. Because forests are the result of many years of growth rather than just a single season, income from forest products is less susceptible to drought and can offset agricultural losses, the researchers found.

ALSO READ: Government to Launch Solar Scheme for Farmers to Ensure Rs. 1 Lakh Income

Encouraging conservation

Bruno Basso, an ecosystems scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the research, commented in an email that the researchers had been able to show that “biodiversity and forest conservation play a critical role in adapting and mitigating the negative effects of increased climate variability.” Noack hopes that this study can become part of the larger debate about conservation of natural areas.

“Should we just have protected area far away in areas that we don’t use or shall we try to integrate that into normal land use?” said Noack. “This study actually says maybe we should at least have some level of biodiversity conservation in the agricultural landscape because of this positive spillover.” Basso agreed. “New global and local policy should specifically target conserving and enhancing biodiversity,” he said. (VOA)