The Sunderban Reserve Forest, a spread of 4,260 sq. km. with over 2,000 sq. km. of mangrove forests and creeks, is likely to be declared a Ramsar Site soon. Earlier this week, the West Bengal government gave its approval to the State Forest Department to apply for recognition under the Ramsar Convention.
The Indian Sunderbans, with 2,114 sq. km. of mangrove forests comprise almost 43% of the mangrove cover in the country according to a 2017 Forest Survey of India report. Other than the forests, home to about 100 Royal Bengal tigers, the creeks and river systems of the Sunderbans are also part of the reserve forest.
Apart from being the world’s largest tiger habitat, the mangrove forest in the Sunderbans is remarkable for the protection it provides to nearly 4.5 million people on the Indian side and another 3.5 million on the Bangladesh portion from tidal surge generated by cyclonic depression in the Bay of Bengal.
About one-third of the total area is used as a protected area for the conservation of biological diversity. In addition, the abundant fish and biomass resources – timber, fuelwood, pulpwood, leaves, shells, crabs, honey and fish – are harvested by local communities.
The Sunderbans is also a major pathway for nutrient recycling and pollution abatement. The biodiversity of the Sunderbans is also diverse. The delta has the distinction of encompassing the world’s largest mangrove forest belt with 84 identified flora species, of which 34 are true mangroves.
Sunderbans is a contiguous ecosystem spread across India and Bangladesh. Other than threats such as climate change, sea level rise, widespread construction and clearing of mangrove forests for fisheries is posing a danger to the Sunderbans.
The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Adopted in 1971 in Ramsar, an Iranian city, the Convention came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.
There are currently 26 sites in India recognised as Ramsar wetland sites of international importance, including the East Kolkata Wetlands also in West Bengal.