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Project Elephant
Project Tiger
Crocodile Conservation
Sea Turtle Conservation
Blackbuck Conservation
Similipal Biosphere Reserve
Nandankanan
Chilika
Bhitarkanika
Mangroves
Vision for the Future
Organisation
Man-Wildlife Interface
Eco Tourism Destination
Wildlife Census
Wilset
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PROTECTION AND LEGAL STATUS

Wildlife Sanctuary
In a bid to conserve the complex and fragile mangrove ecosystem and the endangered flora, fauna associated with it, Govt. of Orissa Vide notification No. 6958/FFAH dt. 22.4.1975 constituted the ex-zamindary forests of Kanika Raj which were declared as P.F. Vide notification No. 33233 dt. 04.10.1961 as a Sanctuary known as Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary. The area of the Sanctuary is 672 Sq. Kms.

National Park
Subsequently, in the year 1998, the core area of Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary comprising of 145 Sq. Kms was declared as a National Park Vide Notification No.19686 / F&E dated 16.9.98 because of its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological and zoological association and importance and for the purpose of protectin

Ramsar Site
The area has also been designated as the second Ramsar site (i.e. Wetland of International importance) of the State during August, 2002. It is a unique area with rich biodiversity as it covers different ecosystems such as the landmass, tidal waterbodies of the deltaic region, estuaries and territorial waters of the Bay of Bengal along with their associated flora and fauna.

Biosphere Reserve (Proposed)
The deltaic region formed by the alluvial deposits of river Brahmani, Baitarani and Dhamara (Bhitarkanika) and the Mahanadi deltaic area, comprising of about 3000 Sq. Km. forms the proposed Bhitarkanika Biosphere Reserve. This deltaic region is a unique bioclimatic zone in a typical geographic situation in the coastal region of Bay of Bengal. It is located in the Kendrapara District of the State of Orissa.

The proposed Bhitarkanika Biosphere Reserve covers erstwhile Kanika and Kujang Zamindari area. It includes at present three protected areas namely Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhitarkanika National Park and the Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

SPECIAL FEATURES
The resilient mangroves serve the protective functions to a greater extent. It protects the hinterland against cyclonic storms during cyclones, super cyclones, tidal surges and other natural catastrophes acting as an effective shelterbelt. In the unprecedented super cyclone of October 1999, the mangroves has withstood the onslaught of cyclonic wind and saved the life and property of millions of people.

Mangrove wetlands perform a variety of productive as well as protective functions. This mangrove wetland in particular is a repository of biological diversity in terms of flora and fauna.

This ecosystem harbours the largest number of saltwater crocodile population in the Indian sub-continent. Other reptilian fauna include Monitor lizard, Indian python, King cobra and varieties of other snake species. It also harbours a number of endangered animals like Fishing cat, Leopard cat, Dolphins and Porpoises.

Bhitarkanika's famous Gahirmatha coast finds a prominent place in the turtle map of the world because of the distinction of having one of world's largest nesting and breeding congregation of Olive Ridley Sea turtles.

Mangrove wetlands including mudflats provide ideal feeding, perching and nesting facilities to a variety of resident and migratory waterfowl.

 

BIODIVERSITY VALUE

Biological Representativeness
The wetland supports one of the largest mangrove ecosystems after Sundarbans, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh in the Indian mainland. It has more than 300 numbers of plant species, which include mangroves, mangrove associates and non mangroves. The floral diversity of Bhitarkanika wetland is known to be largest in India and second largest after Papua New Guinea in the world. Considering the genetic diversity of the wetland and its importance, the mangrove steering committee of Govt. of India have established its National Mangrove Genetic Resource Conservation Centre in one of the islands of this wetland i.e. Kalibhanjadia island.


Biodiversity richness
The area supports rich biodiversity including mangroves and mangrove associates (71 species), largest population of estuarine crocodiles (1358 as per 2004 census), the rare white crocodile (Sankhua), largest Indian lizards (water monitor), poisonous and non-poisonous snakes like king cobra and python, varieties of resident and migratory birds (217 species) and number of mammalian species (spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, fishing cat, jungle cat, otter etc.) In comparison to the national status, the composition of vertebrate fauna / species of Bhitarkanika project area represents 8% mammals, 17.70% birds, 9.40% reptiles and 2.5 % amphibians. The Gahirmatha sea beach, bordering the sanctuary attracts hundreds and thousands of Olive ridley sea turtles for mass nesting / egg laying (World's largest rookery) during the winter months (January to April).

 


Endemism and Biological Uniqueness
Endemism in Bhitarkanika is not fully explored. Yet, it is expected to be there particularly in sectors like mangrove flora and benthic fauna, soil fauna, aquatic flora and fauna. Among the three species of Sundari trees (Heritiera sp.) available, Heritiera kanikensis or Kanika Sundari is endemic to Bhitarkanika.

Bhitarkanika is endowed with a very complex and dynamic ecosystem and is highly fragile in nature. The ecosystem is complex in a sense that all the sub ecosystem namely fresh water, marine and terrestrial are intricately mixed with each other. The essential factor for maintenance of such ecosystem is regular influx of fresh water from adjoining land and tidal inflow from the sea. Any change in the regime of either factor is likely to effect a corresponding change in the mangrove ecosystem.

Depending upon the degree of inundation, the species composition, richness and diversity varies. Since the area contains older formations and newly accreting landmass, several horizontal zonation of plant communities are met with. The horizontal and vertical zonation of plant communities influenced by influx of fresh water degree of inundation, seasonal rainfall and salinity gradients greatly influence the status of wildlife, their number and distribution


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ECOSYSTEM VALUES AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONS

Ecosystem Value
Mangrove wetland encompasses a host of ecosystems namely; estuarine / brackish water ecosystem, riverine ecosystem, forest ecosystem, etc. Each such ecosystem supports food chains within it to maintain the balance of nature.

Mangroves have been considered as "land builders". It is believed that the roots of mangroves secrete a substance, which modifies the coarse particles into fine ones and help in soil formation. The tangles of stilt roots also help in sedimentation of particulate matter. Network of mangrove roots provide firm anchorage to the banks of tidal rivers, creeks and also the coast line. It effectively arrests river bank and coastal erosion and ultimately helps in controlling flood damages. It also exercises a moderating influence on the cyclonic wind and storm surges. In the past, serve cyclones and tidal surges of the coastal Kendrapara district; particularly the Rajnagar area, is known to have been effectively controlled due to the presence of thick mangrove vegetation in the zone of Bhitarkanika and the adjoining Mahanadi deltaic area.

Ecosystem Functions
Mangrove areas support a range of interconnected food webs, which directly sustain the fisheries. Algae and detritus sustain shrimps and prawns, which provide a food source for species such as Bhekti (Lates sp.) Cat fishes etc. Fish and prawns spend most of their adult life at sea and return to the mangrove areas and vice versa to spawn. Some of the commercially important fishes are Ilisha, (Hilisa illisha), Khainga (Mullet sp.), Bhekti (Lates calcarifer), Kantia (Mustus gulia), Kokill (Anchovella sp.) etc. Prawns such as Penaeus indicus, tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), Metapenaeus affinis and crabs, mainly the mud crabs (Scylla serrata) are exploited in large numbers by the fishermen both in the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Mud skippers, a typical fish reside around and in mangroves. These fishes are able to survive short periods of aerial exposure, skip around on the water and mud and build chimney like burrows.

Ecological Vulnerability
Ecological Vulnerability is due to large scale encroachments, current living styles and dependence of people on Bhitarkanika. Although there are known pollution causing Industries like Oswal and PPL, etc. around Bhitarkanika which could affect the ecological soundness, use of chemicals and pesticides in agricultural fields and effluents coming from large number of prawn gherries has some impact on the wildlife depending on the aquatic habitat.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC VALUE

Economic value
Bhitarkanika mangrove wetland is one of the most productive ecosystems. It adds to the coastal fishery production. The rivers and creeks in the wetland are a major source of variety of indigenous fish. The sheltered waters of mangroves provide nursery ground for commercially harvested prawns and shrimps. Several fish species come to the estuary for breeding. Fishing is the mainstay of the villagers those who do not have any landed property. In addition, the local people depend on the mangrove vegetation for collection of honey, wax and medicinal plants. Around 50 quintal of honey is available per year in Bhitarkanika forests.

Socio-cultural Value
The wetland has a good number of ancient monuments like palace of ex-zamindar, Shiva temple inside Bhitarkanika forest block, Jagannath temple at Righagarh and Keradagarh, Panchubarahi goddess temple at Satabhaya and others such small temples which are culturally significant to the inhabitants.

Scientific Value
The wetland is endowed with a variety of habitats and microhabitats to shelter wide ranging aquatic, terrestrial and avifauna. The animals and birds associated with the mangrove and wetland can be broadly categorized into two groups namely invertebrate and vertebrate. Vertebrate fauna include a variety of fishes, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals.

The Saltwater crocodile "rear and rehabilitation" operation is a success story in Bhitarkanika and the crocodile population in the Bhitarkanika river system has been gradually built up. The captive reared young crocodiles have been released in the creeks and estuaries and above 2200 crocodiles have been released in phases since 1977. Some of the released crocodiles have bred successfully in the wild and above 45 clutches of eggs have been located, which is 6.5% more in comparison to 1975-76.

Bhitarkanika is a living laboratory for Scientists / Biologists perusing studies on Biodiversity and human values. Scientific research on the endangered Saltwater crocodiles and Olive Ridley Sea turtles over two decades and half in Bhitarkanika have yielded much scientific data / information on the species and its habitat. Much study need to be done on the flora and fauna which are still remained unexplored.

Ecotourism Potentiality:
Bhitarkanika has become an identified tourist destination in Orissa and is a paradise for nature lovers, conservationists, and biologists. However, the Ecotourism potentiality is yet to be fully explored. Some infrastructure are presently available in places like Chandbali, Dangmal, Dhamara, Habalikhati, Gupti and Ekakula for catering the need of tourists which are being developed and upgraded. Number of tourists in Bhitarkanika in the past three years are as follows:

2001- 2002 : 28,000
2002- 2003 : 24,000
2003- 2004 : 22,000



DEMOGRAPHY AND PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOOD
Above 9 lakh people in about 900 revenue villages and hamlets live in and around proposed Bhitarkanika Biosphere Reserve (410 villages in the sanctuary area). The people who live in the villages adjoining mangrove forest blocks earn a part of their livelihood from the mangrove ecosystem, which constitutes about 100 villages. The livelihood patterns of rest of the villages directly or indirectly influence the very existence and survival of the flora and fauna of the mangrove ecosystem. It is, therefore, essential to provide alternative means of livelihood for the people living in about 100 villages to reduce their dependency on this eco-fragile ecosystem and to take measures so that the land use pattern and also livelihood issues of the rest of the villages shall not exert any negative influence on the existence and survival of this coastal mangrove ecosystem.

THREATS
Encroachment of forestland:
Encroachment of forestland by the migratory people and conversion of the same into common homestead and agriculture land are the main problem in this locality. This has put tremendous biotic pressure on the potential mangrove forests. In the encroached land, the tidal creeks are being blocked by earthen bunds, which prevents the natural tidal flow and gradually the mangrove vegetation perish from that area.


Aquaculture:
In and around the site, a large chunk of the agriculture land adjacent to rivers and creeks have been converted to prawn farms. Even number of people from outside the area have purchased private land along the coast as well as along the creeks and converted the same to aquaculture farms. They are discharging the untreated effluents from the farm to nearby rivers and creeks and thereby affecting the aquatic fauna and the mangroves.

Fishing:
Fishing in the rivers and creeks by the surrounding local people is posing several adverse factors, the major being obstruction of migratory routs of fishes and blocking of free movement of crocodiles. Sometime, fishing by the local people leads to virtual closure of creeks, thereby the tidal inundation is hampered to a considerable extent. Fishing in the near shore and off shore coastal waters resulting in mortality of endangered Sea turtles, Dolphins, etc. Movement of fishing vessels in the congregated breeding ground of Sea turtles is affecting the social facilitation in Ridleys and disturbing the mating pairs.

Live Stock and Grazing:
An estimated 70,000 cattle depend on the forest and meadow located therein for grazing during cropping season. This puts pressure on mangrove vegetation especially Avicennia species.

CONSERVATION MEASURES
To wean the poachers away from poaching, a massive awareness programme has been undertaken The efforts are supplemented with the establishment of anti-poaching camps at strategic points. To encourage eco-tourism, training camps for eco-guides and boat-man associations are being organised.
Habitat Development
Habitat development inside the sanctuary is being done with funds received from MoEF of Govt. of India. These measures include raising up of plantations, digging and renovation of creeks and digging of ponds.

 

Management Strategy
The State Forest and Environment Department have taken several measures for conservation and management of this unique wetland and its rich biodiversity, with the support of the Ministry of E &F, Govt. of India. These measures include:
· Building of Data base
· Protection of salt water crocodiles and sea turtles
· Protection of migratory waterfowl and other species prone to poaching for meat
· Weed control
· Restoration of the feeding and roosting habitat of water fowls
· Pollution control
· Creation of awareness about the values and functions of mangroves and wetland
· Research and development activities
· Community participation
· Capacity building
· Institutional strengthening
· Promotion of eco-tourism