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Indo-Bangladesh: Climate Change, tourism causing ‘irreversible damage’ to Sundarbans Reserve

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Sundarbans
Bengal Tiger of the Sundarbans. Image source: blogspot.com/

New Delhi: Unregulated tourism and rapidly increasing temperatures are posing “irreversible damage” to the Sundarbans biosphere reserve, one of the largest mangrove habitats in the world, environmental groups warn.

Uncontrolled tourism is polluting the reserve, which is shared by India and Bangladesh, to an extent that is “beyond rectification,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), told reporters.

“Tourism, especially for tiger viewing, is increasing exponentially in the area and needs to be monitored. It is causing major pollution, as huge quantities of plastic material and other debris are dumped into the water,” she said.

The Sundarbans, a delta of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin, is spread over 9,630 square km (3,718 square miles).

The Indian side of Sundarbans covers a 4,000-square-km (1,544-square-mile) area with a population of around 5 million.

Out of 102 islands within the Sundarbans, 54 are inhabited while 48 are forested. The forested part has three wildlife sanctuaries and a national park, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image source: benarnews.org
Image source: benarnews.org

‘A heightened state of danger’

The largest habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sundarbans is home to five critically endangered reptiles, including the Hawksbill Sea Turtle and River Terrapin.

The endangered and near-threatened species in Sundarbans include the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, Indian Rock Python, King Cobra, Greater Adjutant Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Fishing Cat and Gangetic Dolphin.

According to official figures, about 175,000 tourists visited the Sundarbans tiger reserve, while another 42,000 people visited the biosphere reserve in 2015.

Besides large-scale tourism, climate change is also posing a threat to Sundarbans, according to World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India).

A Climate Adaptation Report released by the group warned that Sundarbans was “already in the midst of a heightened state of danger.”

Atmospheric warming is causing thermal expansion of waters, inducing a sea-level rise of about 12 mm per year, the report said, adding that surface air temperatures over the Bay of Bengal have been rising at a rate of 0.019 degrees Celsius (0.034 degrees Fahrenheit) per year.

“Given the disproportionately heavy impact that climate change is expected to have on this delta area, the need to improve adaptive management and develop more appropriate solutions for this unique system has become acutely urgent,” the WWF report said.

Ratul Saha, who heads WWF’s Sundarbans Landscape team, said, “The current policies and patterns of development have to be completely revised, or else the situation would be catastrophic. The livelihoods and the survival of the people are at risk.”

Climate change has been found to be responsible for several cyclonic storms and increased frequency of extreme weather events in the recent past in the Sundarbans, Saha said. It has also been causing coastal erosion, change in embankments, acidification of waters and submergence of islands, he added.

Cross-border infiltration

Another major threat to the habitat is the increasing salinity in the waters, which is resisting the growth of mangroves, locals said.

Besides rising salinity levels, infiltration from Bangladesh into the Indian side of Sundarbans in West Bengal state is a matter of concern for wildlife conservationists.

“Infiltration does take place. We cannot dispute that. But these intruders come only during the honey season [April-May],” Pradeep Vyas, Chief Wildlife Warden in West Bengal told reporters.

“We are jointly patrolling the border areas with the Border Security Force and Indian Coast Guard to check infiltration,” he said.

Vyas said his department was doing its best to protect the habitat.

“We have banned the use of polythene bags. We are also trying to develop new tourism destinations to take pressure off the over-utilized parts [of the Sundarbans],” he said.

(The article was originally published in benarnews.org)

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    Yes, a fusion of environmental concern and tourism should be done. Ecologically responsible tourism will not only benefit the endangered flora and fauna but also will keep the flow of people and finance coming in.

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Environment Gets A Helping Hand From Philanthropists

The Paris climate agreement, adopted by almost 200 nations in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to "well below" a rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

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Scattered trees dot the once densely forested land, seen from an airplane, in South Sudan. VOA

Leading philanthropists pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to rescue shrinking tropical forests that suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, on the eve of a global climate change summit in San Francisco.

Nine foundations announced the $459 million commitment, to be delivered over the next four years, a day ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit, which is expected to draw about 4,500 delegates from city and regional governments.

“While the world heats up, many of our governments have been slow — slow to act. And so we in philanthropy must step up,” Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, told journalists at an event announcing the pledge.

The commitment roughly doubles the funds the groups currently dedicate to forest protection, said David Kaimowitz, a director at the Ford Foundation, one of the donors.

forest
The Lonar Lake is an exceptional ‘bowl of biodiversity’ and a wildlife sanctuary. Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte Streck, director of Amsterdam-based think tank Climate Focus, said the size of the commitment makes the groups major players in supporting anti-deforestation programs.

Norway has led donor efforts by pledging up to $500 million a year to help tropical nations protect their forests, Streck said.

But the new money committed by foundations could prove more “flexible and nimble” than money from governments, she said.

“The money that has been pledged by the governments like Norway and Germany, the UK, sits mostly in trust funds with the World Bank and the U.N. and it doesn’t get out so quickly,” she said.

Often “there is $20,000 missing here or $50,000 missing here, just to do one thing or develop one study or work with one person or have one consultation — and that the foundations can do,” Streck said.

Other groups that are part of the new initiative include the MacArthur Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

forest
Climate Change Fuels California Fires. Flickr

Help for indigenous people

Funds will mostly assist indigenous people who are forest dwellers, including by helping them secure titles to land they live on so it cannot be sold to private companies without their agreement, said Walker.

“Companies come to our village, our forests and say: ‘You have to leave because I have the license from the government,'” said Rukka Sombolinggi, who heads the Indonesia-based Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

The world loses the equivalent of 50 soccer fields’ worth of forest every minute, organizers said.

Yet forests absorb a third of the annual planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced — and those emissions need to be slashed substantially more to meet the goals set in the Paris agreement.

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The Mangroves of Sunderbans Forests. Wikimedia

The Paris climate agreement, adopted by almost 200 nations in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times while “pursuing efforts” for the tougher goal of 1.5 degrees C.

Also Read: IWC Shuts Down A Proposal To Create a Sanctuary For South Atlantic Whales

The three-day Global Climate Action Summit was organized by Californian authorities and the United Nations to support the leadership of mayors, governors and other sub-national authorities in curbing climate change. (VOA)