By Saroj Swain
19 Jul 2013
Chilika, is the second largest brakish water lagoon in the world has a long coast line touching various parts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha in the East coast of India. The lagoon has the mouth opens to the Bay of Bengal throughout the year resulting maintenance of water salinity as well as availability of various species of brackish water fishes. River 'Daya' a tributary finds her way to Bay of Bengal through the lagoon. The perennial lagoon spreads over an area of 425 square miles.
It is also the abode for the migratory birds in the winter and attracts birds from Saiberia and other parts of the world. The habitat, availability of food and resting spots provides a conducive environment for the migratory as well as indigenous birds. During the peak season over 160 species migrated from the Caspian Sea, Lagoon Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and Southeast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas. The birds cross over thousands of miles to come to this place. The restrictions for poaching have also helped in conservation of the species in the lagoon. Many endangered species of plants and animals also take shelter in the lagoon enriching the biodiversity and survivality. The water spread area of the Lagoon ranges between to 350 square miles during the monsoon and summer respectively.
Islands, Irrawady dolphins and birds in the vast water mass is a beholding place for the visitors, tourists and attracts many ornithologists for research. Kalijai, a legendary goddess in island attracts many pilgrims for worshipping. Nalabana Island Forest of reeds spreads over 6 square miles is declared as sanctuary for protection of birds. More than 400,000 waterfowls of different species find their nests in the core area.
The ecosystem of the lagoon provides livelihood for more than 150,000 fisher folk living in 132 villages situated on the banks and islands in the lagoon. The refuses from Bangladesh also earn their livelihood by fishing from this lagoon. Small wooden boats known as 'dingis' are used by the poor fishermen and motor propelled small boats are used for fishing. A night spent catch in the lagoon fetches livelihood for many fishermen to look after their family. The abundance of natural resource is plenty but depleting day by day due to increase in nonstop trafficking for fishing without any break during the breeding season. The trading practice does not benefit the fishermen much due to the presence of middle men and low capacity for investment by the fishers.
However, the biodiversity of the lagoon is challenged in many ways like change in changed climatic conditions, Siltation, Proliferation of fresh water invasive species, choking of the inlet channel, shifting of the mouth connecting to the sea, etc. Development Authority (CDA) has taken various ameliorative measures for restoration and maintenance of bio diversity on priority basis but more interventions are required for conservation as well as augmentation of socio-economic conditions of the fisher folk community around.
Chilika, the estuarine lagoon is one of the gift of nature if not preserved now , not only the deletion in natural resources but also the livelihood of thousands of fishermen will be in threat.
In 1981, Chilika Lagoon was designated the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention due to its rich biodiversity as shown by the facts that:
1. Over a million migratory waterfowl and shorebirds winter here.
2. Over 400 vertebrate species have been recorded.
3. As an estuarine lagoon, it supports a unique assemblage of marine, brackish and freshwater species.
4. Several rare and endangered species are found in the region.
4. The lagoon supports fisheries that are the lifeline of the community.
5. The lagoon is of great value in preserving genetic diversity.
6. There is an Increase in weeds and aquaculture activities.
Over the years, the ecosystem of the lagoon encountered several problems and threats such as:
1. Siltation due to littoral drift and sediments from the inland river systems
2. Shrinkage of water surface area
3. Choking of the inlet channel as well as shifting of the mouth connecting to the sea
4. Decrease in salinity and fishery resources
5. Proliferation of fresh water invasive species and
6. An overall loss of biodiversity with decline in productivity adversely affecting the livelihood of the community that depended on it
7. Fights between fishermen and non-fishermen communities about fishing rights in the lagoon and consequent court cases.
Since such natural water bodies are God gift and rich in biodiversity, we must think about its sustainability. The greatest impediment to achieving sustainable development, however, is depletion and degradation of natural resources, which represent the essential ingredients for human survival and the 'fuel' and building blocks for human well-being and economic development. The long-term sustainability of ecosystems is critical, therefore, since they are the ultimate source of these resources.
I had an opportunity to visit the lagoon on 19.07.13 for a preliminary survey of ornamental fish diversity and thought to share among the friends of JPG. Thanks for going through the article and your valuable comments.