By Priyanka Sarkar
Pic Courtesy : Swapan Kumar Sarkar
The Sundarban area is one of the most susceptible regions to climate variability in West Bengal, this forested landscape withstood amid all threats. Marked as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sundarbans is a verged landmark to the mangrove habitat.
The area is home to mangrove forests that act as a shield for the coastal communities. Functioning to reduce high tides, these forests help to prevent soil erosion. These mangrove forests are home to some critically endangered species of flora and fauna. The Royal Bengal Tiger, Estuarine Crocodile, Indian Python, Wild Boar, Rhesus Monkey, Monitor Lizard, Gangetic Dolphins mark the major attractions. Trees dominate the flora of the region along with gewa and passur.
Naturally protected by the diversified ecosphere of the Indian subcontinent, this island is an accumulation of myriad inlets and tributaries. Sundarbans is viewed as a guardian of the tribe governed to protect its future through eradication. But the severity of cyclones, natural system modifications, pollution, shift in agricultural patterns, global warming, proliferation in salinity levels, deforestation highlight how it is striving to stand still through all environmental issues.
West Bengal - a highly cyclone-prone area has witnessed a massive trail of destruction due to storm surge. Furthermore, Sundarbans has always been the worst-affected zone. Aila, Amphan, Fani, Bulbul, Yaas struck the state’s shores- tearing a path of destruction, sweeping away homes and ruining farmlands.
A hamlet primarily dependent on agriculture, honey collection, fishing & assemblage of prawn seed collectors - these professions acquire high risk from the predators in the Sundarbans. Besides, human interference, loss of forest cover and environmental issues also act as a threat for the wildlife clan.
Pic Courtesy : Shuvarthi Guha
Without effective fencing in place, there is significantly increased risk of negative-human interactions. With restoration efforts having begun by the Forest Department, Rapid Response Facility (RRF) is supporting World Wildlife Fund (WWF India), in collaboration with the West Bengal Forest Directorate and the local community, to replace at least 50 km of nylon net fencing in strategic locations. This includes purchase and replacement of damaged bamboo poles and fibre/nylon netting. (https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2154)
Mangrove landscape remains crucial for Sundarbans for decades. To hypothesize an accompanied livelihood alternative concerning the communities of Sundarbans, a thorough study on the existing livelihood occupations and associated land-form needs immediate action. A deliberate road map & meticulous evaluation is required for the preservation of this realm.
These require immediate action to the ecological and human existence crisis in the region, through attainable paths to balance the imperatives of conservation and development.
With the help of the Government funding and resources, The Sunderbans Affairs Department have tried to implement a number of initiatives such as creating roads, bridges, drains and conduits, development of mangrove plantations, and improving the conditions surrounding agricultural and fishing activities. In 2017 the Government had sanctioned an amount of 300 Cr. to the Department to boost the infrastructure around the Sundarban area.
As per the Conservation 2020 Assessment of IUCN World Heritage Outlook, the values of Sundarbans National Park remain in relatively good condition overall, and the management of the site is in part effective, although some concerns exist. The site is threatened by multiple on-going threats from both within and external to the site. While it appears that some of the site’s biodiversity values (rare and threatened birds and reptiles) are largely of low concern, threats to aquatic mammals, degradation of the floral diversity (globally endangered Sundri mangals) and on-going ecological processes has been, and continues to be, a major issue. (https://worldheritageoutlook.iucn.org/node/1021)