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Issue #1637      May 7, 2014

Save The Sundarbans

The Sundarbans is a huge tidal mangrove forest and is the largest such salt-tolerant mangrove forest in the world. It is situated on the swampy delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers on the vast Bay of Bengal, in India and Bangladesh. The Sundarbans moist tropical mangrove forests are intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and many small islands.

The Sundarbans is the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world.

About 300,000 people are directly dependent on the Sundarbans forests for their livelihood, while also providing some basic necessities for over a million other people. The interconnected system of waterways makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by boat. People frequent the swamps and waterways to catch fish, while others traverse the area to gather firewood, timber for building, honey, bee wax, crabs, medicinal plants, snails and other items. Due to the delta’s fertile soils much of the region has been converted to intensive agriculture, with enclaves of dense remnant forest left intact.

Over the last 200 years, over 65% of the Sundarbans mangrove forests have been lost. Although the region only covers 6% of the land area of Bangladesh, it contains almost half, (45%) the nation’s remaining natural forest and is a haven for numerous animal species.

The Sundarbans forests, together with the mangroves, are known for their incredibly rich bio-diversity and wide range of fauna, including important habitat for the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Estuarine Crocodile and the Indian Python and other threatened species of wildlife. Additionally, the Sundarbans serves a crucial function as a protective barrier for the 2.5 million people living further inland in villages surrounding the Sundarbans against the floods that result from cyclones and storms.

The remnant Sundarbans mangrove forest covers over 10,000 kilometres, most of which, about 60%, is situated in Bangladesh and the remaining part, around 40% is in India. The Sundarbans forest became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. In India, the Sundarbans wetlands encompass a National Park, Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve located in the Sundarbans Delta in the Indian state of West Bengal. While in Bangladesh, the Sundarbans swampland are protected within three forests reserves.

The name Sundarban can be literally translated as “beautiful forest” in the Bengali, Shundorbon (Shundor, “beautiful” and bon, “forest”). The name may have been derived from the Sundari trees (a mangrove species) that are found in Sundarbans in large numbers. It has also been proposed that the name is a corruption of Samudraban, Shomudrobôn, meaning Sea Forest. Though, the generally accepted view is the one associated with Sundari trees.

Wildlife of the Sundarbans

The wild forested areas of the Sundarbans are critically important habitat for endangered Tigers and support one of the largest populations of Royal Bengal Tiger with an estimated 450 individuals. The Royal Bengal Tigers have thrived in the Sundarbans wetlands and adapted well to its watery environment, becoming skilful at swimming in its saline waters.

The wild forested areas of the Sundarbans are critically important habitat for endangered Tigers and support one of the largest populations of Royal Bengal Tiger.

Other rare and threatened species that live in the Sundarbans are the Saltwater Crocodile, River Terrapin, Olive Ridley Turtle, Ground Turtle, Hawks Bill Turtle, Ganges River Dolphin, Eurasian Otter and Mangrove Horseshoe Crab. The Ganges River Dolphin is quite common in its rivers.

The Sundarbans has 49 species of mammals, including Spotted Deer (Chital), Sambar Deer, Hog Deer, Rhesus Macaque Monkey, Wild Boar, Pangolin, Fox, Flying Fox, Indian Grey Mongoose, Leopard, Fishing Cat, Leopard Cat, Jungle Cat, Bengal Civet, Capped Langur, Irrawaddy Dolphin, Black Finless Porpoise and Smooth-coated Otter, Oriental Small-clawed Otter. Barking Deer are also found on Holiday Island in the Sundarbans.

The aqua fauna of the Sundarbans includes a great variety of fishes, Red Fiddler Crabs and Hermit Crabs. There are crocodiles as well, which can be often seen along the mud banks. The Sundarbans National Park is also especially noted for its vital conservation of the Ridley Sea Turtle.

There is as well an incredible variety of reptiles found in Sundarbans, which includes King Cobra, Spectacled Cobra, Rock Python and Water Monitor Lizard.

The Sundarbans also has more than 260 bird species. It is a paradise for birdwatchers; the list of birds includes such rare birds as the Masked Finfoot, Mangrove Pitta and the Mangrove Whistler.

Proposed power station

Unfortunately, the governments of Bangladesh and India are now planning to develop a coal-based power plant very close to this environmentally sensitive region. And it looks likely the Forestry Ministry in Bangladesh will approve this project unless public pressure can make the government reverse its position or the UNESCO World Heritage and Ramsar Secretariat steps in to voice strong objections to this destructive plan.

This proposed coal-powered plant in Rampal is going to be built on over 1,834 acres of land just nine kilometres away from many reserved sections of the forest. This will definitely have a great impact on the Sundarbans, its wildlife, ecology and biodiversity. For this proposed 1,320 megawatt power plant, Bangladesh will need to import about 4.72 million tons of coal each year. Ships will take this massive amount of coal freight coal to Monga port which is 40 kilometres away from the site of the planned plant at Rampal. And during the plant’s operation the coal will be transported through the Sundarbans rivers and canals.

The proposed Rampal power plant will have a disastrous effect on animals, environment and local people, with 7,500 families being displaced. A large number of people are to be evicted, valuable croplands will disappear and there will be negative impacts on the delicate mangroves environment. Over time more of the Sundarbans wetlands habitat will be fragmented, degraded and ruined.

The Bangladesh government fixed the project area without any real economical benefit, technical feasibility, or social and environmental impact study. The power plant would result in drastic changes to the surrounding natural environment, including pollution of the water, air and soil and destruction of more of the mangroves and forests. The scale and adverse impact of this development has motivated the local community and environmental activists to organise protests to stop this dangerous project going ahead.

Many various organisations, political parties and national leaders have spoken against the Rampal plant. The save the Sundarbans message has been simple - “There are many alternatives to generate power, but Sundarbans has no alternative”.

Sundarbans so important

The Sundarbans is the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world. It contains at least 334 plant species and 453 recorded species of animals. And it is a vital sanctuary for numerous wild animals, including many threatened species. As the mangroves forest habitat of the Sundarbans is fragmented and disappears, so will the Royal Bengal Tigers and other endangered wildlife. The Sundarbans mangrove forest is a crucially important habitat for the Bengal Tigers and one of the largest reserves for these tigers.

It is estimated that about 450 Bengal Tigers live in the Sundarbans region, with over 100 in the Indian part and an estimated over 300 in the Bangladeshi section of the Sundarbans. According to the 2011 tiger census, the Bangladeshi Sundarbans have about 275 tigers. Although previous estimates had suggested a much higher figure closer to 300 Bengal Tigers in the area. This is a very significant number considering the population of all Tigers species remaining in the wild in the world is less than 3,200.

The Sundarbans is home to many different species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and fishes. Over 120 species of fish and over 260 species of birds have been recorded in the Sundarbans. About 50 species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians are known to occur. The Bangladeshi Sundarbans now support the only population of the Estuarine, or Salt-Water Crocodile in Bangladesh; the population is estimated at less than 200 individuals. While the Estuarine Crocodile still survives, its numbers have been greatly depleted through hunting and trapping for skins. The Mugger Crocodile is now extinct in the area, probably as a result of past over-exploitation, but it still occurs in one location nearby.

A 1991 study revealed that the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans supports diverse biological resources including at least 150 species of commercially important fish, 270 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 35 reptiles and 8 amphibian species. This represents a significant proportion of the species present in Bangladesh (i.e. about 30% of the reptiles, 37% the birds and 34% of the mammals) and includes a large number of species which are now extinct elsewhere in the country. Two amphibians, 14 reptiles, 25 birds and 5 mammals are presently endangered. The Sundarbans is also an important wintering area for migrant water birds and is an exceptional area for watching and studying birdlife.

Mangrove forests face threats from deforestation and habitat fragmentation through human developments and are rapidly disappearing around the world. The Sundarbans mangroves are already threatened by industrial pollution, the clearing of the mangrove forest to expand agriculture, to construct canals and ports, oil spills and forest clearing for timber and firewood.

Also, mangroves are an important transition from the marine to freshwater and terrestrial systems, and provide critical habitat for numerous species of small fish, crabs, shrimps and other crustaceans that adapt to feed and shelter, and reproduce among the tangled mass of roots, known as pneumatophores, which grow upward from the anaerobic mud to get the supply of oxygen.

Nature tourism is also a developing activity in the Sundrabans. The varied and colourful birdlife to be seen along its waterways is one of the Sundarbans’ greatest attractions. There are some 315 species of waterfowl, raptors and forest birds including nine species of kingfisher and the magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle. And four species of marine turtle have been recorded from the area.

The Sundarbans provides a unique ecosystem with a rich diversity of habitat and abundant wildlife.

The Sundarbans magnificent mangroves forests are one of the most distinctive and captivating places remaining on earth, truly a natural treasure to be cherished. And any additional human intrusions risk the health of the mangrove forest ecosystem, its wildlife and the livelihoods of the forest dependent communities. Join the struggle to stop the Rampal plant, demand alternative energy and preserve the beautiful forests and ecosystem of the Sundarbans.

The Sundarbans are one of the few remaining natural forest areas to support a large number of tigers. So the Sundarbans it is critically important for the survival of endangered Bengal Tigers and other rare wildlife. To ensure the survival of the Royal Bengal Tigers more human encroachment into the Sundarbans must be stopped. The Sundarbans is truly of national and international importance. Raise your voice to protect the Sundarbans mangrove forest and save this unique habitat from being destroyed by further developments.

For more information on Sundarbans look up:http://news.mongabay.com/2013/1111-hance-rampal-coal-plant.html

There are petitions you can sign to support the campaign to stop the proposed power plant and protect the Sundarbans: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Save_Sundarbans_Stop_Rampal

Next article – But then it was too late –They Thought They Were Free – The Germans

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